The financial institutions are crying out for graduates with the abilities to carry their businesses forward - and you don't need to be a mathematical wizz-kid. Paul Gosling adds it all up
The growing shortage of qualified accountants has led to increased demand, and higher pay, for new graduates taken on by the banks and accountancy firms. Graduates with a good, numerate degree from a leading university can expect a warm welcome in the finance sector.

Robert Walter Associates is a recruitment consultancy specialising in placing qualified and part-qualified accountants. Taking on new graduates has become more prevalent, says Jason Garner, director of the banking division at Robert Walter.

Mr Garner says: "Banks are getting graduates at the earliest possible stage and training them up internally, rather than letting the professions do it and then taking them on at post-qualified stage. The best banks are keen to see these graduates qualified as accountants as soon as possible. Others will see them as good employees, without the need for any form of accountancy qualification."

Larger investment banks may be willing to offer a promising graduate pounds 25,000 as a starting salary, using them in middle offices to support traders, or to work in corporate finance.

Any graduate going into the finance sector in the City should expect a salary of around pounds 20,000, says Mr Garner. The most attractive graduates are those with maths or science degrees from Oxbridge or a red brick university, or from one with a respected scientific orientation. Students from the new universities are less in demand, though the right graduate is very employable.

"The finance sector is opening up a whole range of career opportunities for high-flying graduates with the skills necessary to succeed in a demanding business environment," suggests Tom Lovell, manager of recruitment agency Reed Graduates. "In return, companies are offering attractive salaries and a whole range of benefits.

"Graduates with good degrees in analytical disciplines, particularly mathematics, who can combine excellent communication skills with high levels of problem-solving and numeracy may find themselves with a choice of job offers as employers compete for the best available.

"Such is the competition that organisations in the finance sector are having to become more flexible when recruiting because industries such as IT, management consultancy and telecommunications can now offer extremely attractive and competitive packages. To obtain a place on fast-track training schemes, however, a full range of qualifications and competencies are needed to shine above the rest."

Mike Tiley, head of the careers service at the London School of Economics, which is part of the University of London careers' service, says that the demand sparked by the banks is now spilling over into other employers, particularly among the big accountancy firms. There is also a growing demand for British graduates to work in the financial markets overseas. Deloitte & Touche in Chicago has recently approached major universities seeking good graduate entrants, as has one of the big South African banks.

Mr Tiley says that with the expansion of accountancy firms into other activities, particularly corporate finance and consultancy, they are seeking more graduate entrants who are not necessarily being groomed to become qualified accountants, but are needed for the greater variety of tasks that firms are becoming involved in.

David Miller, national graduate recruitment partner at KPMG, confirms that it is seeking more graduates now, for a wider range of activities. "There is no doubt about it that there is a big demand for qualified accountants from the banks and in the financial firms," says Mr Miller. "That is leading to increased numbers of new graduates being employed across the board.

"Mature areas of our business, such as the audit department, have a steady number of graduates joining. Other areas are building up more entrants, such as corporate finance, corporate recovery, management consultancy, public sector, information risk management, and, of course, tax.

"There are a whole series of specialist vacancies. These jobs could lead to a whole range of different qualifications for graduate entrants."

Mr Miller says a new graduate entrant working for KPMG in London will attract a salary of pounds 20,000 working in tax, or a minimum of pounds 18,000 in audit or other specialisms, with time off for study and examinations.

Roly Cockman, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, says that graduates with a degree in any subject can consider a career in finance. "I don't really think the degree subject matters, quite frankly," he says. "Anything that involves a modicum of numeracy helps, but even archaeology is no bar to the right person.

Employers would prefer someone who has done a degree that shows that they can cope with academic rigour. Beyond that it is really what this person has to offer. The inter-personal skills are, if anything, more important than the degree you have."

Mr Cockman agrees that the most desirable new graduates can demand high salaries. "From our last survey the top 10 per cent will earn more than pounds 20,000," he says.

"That is not just in the finance sector, but the people who are pushing up the salaries of that 10 per cent are the investment banks and financial consultancies."