Finance Management: Rewards you can bank on

Wherever there is money, someone is looking after it. It's a job that may be short on glamour but offers rich pickings
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The Independent Online

You have to go back a long way in history to find a society that didn't have a system of accounting and book-keeping. Whether the means of exchange involved pieces of silver, doubloons or cows, someone was always deputed to keep an eye on the figures.

In principle, very little has changed over the centuries, or even millennia. No organisation, from the church bridge club to the richest multinational, can survive without someone controlling the books.

What has altered is the number and variety of careers involving some form of financial management. All, however, require one thing as a bare minimum: an ease with or, even better, a love for numbers. But don't think you need a maths PhD for every job. A few highly specific finance roles, such as market analysis or complex forecasting, require advanced mathematical qualifications, but many others require no more than GCSE maths, plus the ability to pass a numeracy test and good communication skills.

There are four broad areas offering careers in managing money: the City, pensions and insurance, banks and building societies, and accountancy. The City of London is home to leading investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers, as well as commercial arms of more familiar names, such as Barclays or HSBC. These businesses advise big companies on mergers and acquisitions, financial strategy, raising capital and dealing in shares and currencies.

If you're unsure whether this is for you, you could do worse than take the online "Where Do I Fit In?" test at the Goldman Sachs website (www.gs.com/careers).

Alternatively, read career profiles on recent graduate recruits. For example, JP Morgan's site (www.360career.com) includes a wide range of personalities, including James Bannister, a geography graduate from Leeds University, who joined in 2000, and is now working in credit sales, and Francesca Lanza, who arrived with an engineering degree from Milan Polytechnic a year later, and is now dealing in equities.

City banks pay well and salaries can rise steeply. The jobs are highly sought after, with intense competition, even among the academically highly accomplished. If the City offers the highest returns, accountancy, in all its forms, offers the largest number of career places for graduates, and a touch more stability, too.

But there's one cast-iron certainty for entrants to this career path: they'll be doing a lot of studying in the first couple of years, alongside a demanding job, and sitting exams that may make university finals appear a breeze. These qualifications are a requirement to practice, and are set by one of a small number of chartered bodies.

After qualification, accountants can operate as generalists, doing the books for their own or client businesses. Or they can specialise in more detailed areas, such as tax accounting, takeovers and mergers or insolvency. Many also become business advisers in a wider sense, a development that has mirrored the transformation of the Big Four firms - PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG - into what they style as professional services firms, offering traditional audit and accountancy with a range of business consultancy services.

However, the Big Four certainly don't hold a monopoly in the accountancy area. There are numerous small and medium-sized firms up and down the country, all offering an identical career path, and diversity of activity too. It's also, for many years now, been a career just as attractive to women as to men.

High street banks and building societies recruit large numbers of graduates each year. However, the majority of these are general trainees, where management skills become more prominent than financial expertise. This can be a good way to start for graduates who are not yet sure how deep they want to delve into the intricacies of finance, rather than the personal, customer-based, side of the business.

Some of the biggest pots of money around belong to pension funds and life assurance companies, and it's money that has to be managed, of course. The generic job description for this activity is fund management, although there are fewer established graduate entry paths into this area of work than for banking and accountancy.

So, although the way money moves around our world is morphing all the time, the essentials haven't changed. Money is ever present, and there'll always be jobs closely associated with its management. They might not be the most glamourous careers, but they're certainly among the most stable and rewarding.

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