Accounting & Finance Placements, Internships and Work Experience 2020

This is your essential guide to finding work experience in the accountancy and finance sectors.

It's essential that you gain work experience whilst at university, especially in the accounting and finance industries. The competition for graduate roles is fierce, so you have a much better chance of securing a role on your dream career path by securing an internship or placement whilst you're studying. Click below to jump to the areas of this guide that interest you most:

Finance Work Experience 2020

According to the Institute of Student Employers, there was an average of 79 applications for each graduate job in financial services. It’s more competitive than the Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling competition.

However, if you get finance work experience you will significantly increase your chances of securing a graduate job.

How getting work experience in finance will improve your graduate prospects

Talent-spotting

Companies use their insight, internship and placement programmes as talent-spotting exercises. These work experience schemes are used to find talented students (while they are still at university) and nurture them for future graduate roles.

Across all of the companies that feature in the Top Student Employers, 54% of placement students and interns were offered graduate jobs. This is why getting work experience literally increases your chances of getting onto a graduate scheme.

Test-driving

There are so many different pathways in finance. There are more options than flavours of ice-cream in Italy. You could work as an actuary, in risk analysis or in investment. But how to choose?

When you do work experience in finance, (particularly a placement or internship), you’ll have the opportunity to work across various areas of the business. You can shadow someone working in asset management as well as someone working in risk analysis.

Think of it like you’re test-driving one or two types of careers in finance. This will give you a much better idea of what type of finance you’d like to work in. And armed with that information, you can apply for a graduate role with much more certainty and conviction than a person without work experience. Confidence and conviction will really make you stand out against the other 78 people fighting for the job.

Continue reading for a breakdown of work experience you can get in finance whilst you’re at university...

finance internships

Finance Internships

Duration: 4-16 Weeks
For: All years
When to apply: Sep-Mar

Finance summer internships can last anywhere between four weeks to three months. There’s a real variety of schemes available in most areas of finance.

Have a peruse of students’ reviews of finance internships and you’ll see there are opportunities in risk, investment and insurance. Wherever in finance you’re thinking about as a career, there’ll be internships available.

The content and structure of each internship is different, it really depends on the employer and the type of finance you’re working in.

Either way, most internships tend to include:

  • Training (for example in using specific software that traders or analysts use)
  • Inclusion in social activities and events
  • You’ll work as part of a team. They’ll help you with your individual tasks and you’ll get to learn from them too
  • You’ll have a supervisor. Your supervisor will be like your manager during your internship
  • The workload will reflect what it’s really like to work in finance - intense but manageable

REMEMBER: Finance internships are available for students from all subjects. You do not have to be studying a finance-related degree to apply or be accepted! In fact, most employers are looking for interns from a variety of academic backgrounds.

Find finance internship jobs

Finance Internships in London

London - the home of over 8 million people and just as many pigeons, is also the home of a hell of a lot of finance internships.

If you’re living outside of London, there’s no reason to fret - there are internships in finance available all across the UK, however, there is a high concentration of opportunities in the capital.

Interns in London tend to be paid more than counterparts in other regions, due to the high cost of living. (Sandwiches are more expensive in London.) Below is a list of the companies that have finance internships available in the capital.

  • Barclays
  • Morgan Stanley
  • UBS
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • HSBC
  • Citi
  • PwC
  • Credit Suisse
  • EY

Finance Placements

Duration: 5-13 months
For: 2nd years
When to apply: Sep-Jan

Finance placements are an opportunity to get 12 months of work experience in a bank, professional services or accounting firm, or any other financial institution.

Placements take place in between the penultimate or final year of a degree, (usually between second and third year).

You’ll take a year out, and work as a full-time employee for a company, before returning to university to finish your degree. You’ll get paid a salary, and generally have responsibilities similar to recent graduates.

The best time to apply for placements is between September and January - most of the companies that feature in the Top Undergraduate Employers fill their intake before the new year. However, there are still likely to be finance placements available right through until May.

Watch this video put together by a former finance placement student (turned vlogger) who discusses her experiences on placement.


All finance placements will be slightly different, just like milk in every country is a bit different. We’ve pulled together some of the recurring tasks and responsibilities mentioned in our reviews to give you an idea of what you might encounter:

  • Gain insight into a broad spectrum of key areas in finance, including budgeting, financial analysis, payroll and treasury
  • Interacting with colleagues in all areas of the business, often in non-finance roles. This could be other students working within the business for training purposes. (Often, a placement will optional extras like presentation training and workshops in communication or verbal reasoning.)
  • Preparing and presenting marketing research results and recommendations to internal stakeholders - possibly to senior management
  • You won’t be sat at a desk staring at spreadsheets for 45 hours a week.
  • Learning about how finance can make an impact across a business, for example, focusing on how a company can balance environmental impact with economic performance.

Search for finance placements

“The average graduate starting salary on offer in 2019 from the Finance and Banking Industry is £32,500.” High Fliers: The Graduate Market in 2019

Finance Insight Days

Duration: 1-10 Days
For: 1st/2nd years
When to apply: Sep-Mar

Insights days are mostly for first and second year students. They are the shortest type of work experience you can get in finance while you’re at university.

To confuse us all, most banks and financial institutions have different names and labels for their various insight schemes. Advertised on RateMyPlacement and in our reviews you will find ‘insight days’, ‘insight weeks’, ‘finance vacation schemes’ or ‘open days’.

In the banking industry, a lot of companies call their insight schemes ‘spring week internships’.

Here is a list of the typical goings-on of a finance insight scheme:

  • Insights into the day-to-day life of a professional working in finance
  • Shadowing graduates and experienced members of staff. You usually choose a person working in a particular area of the business that interests you
  • Guest speakers from within the firm/company
  • Tips and advice for assessment centres for future internship programmes, as well as for graduate applications for finance roles
careers in finance

Careers in Finance

There are more careers available in the finance sector than there are types of lemur in Madagascar.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the main areas of finance...

Acturial

This role involves analysing risk. Professionals in this area could find themselves working on anything from predicting future financial trends to calculating the costs associated with natural disasters.

Read this short blog, I’m an Actuary (written by an actuary) for a wee bit more insight into what actuaries gets up to when they’re working.

Auditing

This area of finance focuses on finding out whether a company’s accounts offer an honest view of its financial activity and standing.

Insurance

Insurance helps individuals and companies to limit the financial impact of a damaging event or accident, therefore limiting the risk posed by such an event.

Such is the unpredictable nature of the world, and because people are generally pessimistic, there are a million different types of insurance available.

Did you know for example, a company in America issues alien abduction insurance? Broken heart insurance is also a thing, protecting brides and grooms from a partner having a sudden change of heart, or running off with the photographer.

Investment

This branch of finance centres on the performance of funds and wealth that’s been invested in order to earn a return, involving pensions, trading, stock broking, risk assessment and data management.

A career in this field is particularly attractive to many students because of the massive earning potential. Getting an internship is super, super important to get into investment and similar job roles, and most professionals have a masters or a PhD.

Risk Analysis / Management

As the name suggests, risk analysts spot potential risks that could impact a company, like new legislation, fraud, market fluctuations and commercial changes.

The film Margin Call is a good Friday film for anyone interested in a career in risk analysis.

Tax

Tax advisers help companies and clients to pay the correct amount of tax, benefit from available exemptions and also stay up to date with any tax legislation changes. It’s mostly related to tax accounting, which we discuss in greater detail below.

Accounting Work Experience 2020

Now onto the world of accounting. Traditionally seen as a boring sector, but that’s not really accurate. Just a lazy stereotype - like the perception that cats like milk. Not all cats like milk.

There are such a range of different options and available to students looking at a career in accounting. You could end up working for a government institution, fighting financial crimes or helping businesses scale up.

So read on and on and even a little bit further than that to discover everything you need to know about getting work experience in accounting.

Types of Accounting Work Experience

There are three main types of accounting work experience you can apply for while you’re at university: placements, internships and insight schemes.

They vary in duration, and are designed for different stages of your degree. All are really good preparation for a career in accounting, and will give you a bit of insight into the specific field of accountancy you’d like to pursue.

Let’s break them down:

accountancy placements

Accountancy Placements

Duration: 5-13 months
For: 2nd years
When to apply: Sep-Jan

Placements have various labels - just like Snoop Dogg. You might hear them referred to as industrial placements, a year in industry, or the more charming name, sandwich courses.

Accounting placements involve a year long stay with an accounting firm. This provides students with the opportunity to get extensive experience in one area of accounting, or to get a more varied experience and rotate across different areas of a business.

Because accounting placement students are with a company for an entire year, they are treated as regular employees. That means they do real work, getting involved in key projects, working on real accounts - just like a fully qualified accountant.

There are of course some things that placement students can’t legally do with accreditations, but a placement remains a marvellous opportunity to be exposed to the inner workings of an accounting firm.

Search for accountancy placements

Accounting Internships

Duration: 4-16 Weeks
For: One and all
When to apply: Sep-Mar

Accounting internships are often called accounting summer internships, because the majority take place during the summer.

The content of an accountancy summer internship depends on the duration (they can last anywhere between one to three months), the company and the type of accounting the internship covers.

One thing to take note of is that, although the word ‘internship’ creates the image of a student making tea and taking sandwich orders for the lunch run, the opposite is the truth.

Accounting interns get stuck in, they do real work for an accountancy, finance or professional services firm. They’ll meet clients, work on ongoing and important cases and generally be given the opportunity to make a real impact.

Find accountancy internship jobs

Accounting Internships in London

If you’re looking for an accounting internship, you’ll find a high concentration of opportunities in the capital.

London is the financial epicentre of Europe (and Brexit-aside), will continue to offer the majority of opportunities for undergraduates looking for accounting experience in the UK.

All the big banks, professional services companies and government institutions have a presence in the capital. The competition for accounting internships and placements in the capital is still fierce, despite the number of jobs available.

It’s best to start applying early - aim to get your applications for summer accounting internships in London between September and November.

There are of course a range of opportunities outside of London; most firms have regional offices, and smaller, local accounting firms also take on students seeking work experience.

Insight Schemes in Accountancy

Duration: 1-10 Days
For: 1st/2nd years
When to apply: Sep-Mar

Insight schemes are the shortest type of accounting work experience you can get while you’re at university. The duration of different companies’ insight programmes really does vary; some schemes are only a day long, others up to ten.

Accounting firms and professional services companies have a range of different names for their own insight schemes - which makes it a bit confusing.

KPMG label their insights as vacation schemes, a term usually associated with legal work experience. Other companies call them spring internships, because they usually take place during the Easter holidays in springtime.

Despite these different names and labels, all describe the same thing, and represent a really good first step towards a career in accounting.

A typical accounting insight scheme will include

  • Rotations around different areas of a business
  • Workshops about applying for graduate schemes and training contracts
  • Q&As with experienced professionals
  • Information about future internship programmes
  • Insights into company culture

Why choose a career in accounting?

Choosing to pursue a career in any sector or job role is a big decision. But if you’re studying an accountancy-related degree, the chances are you’re thinking of pursuing a career in accounting.

This short but admittedly strange video offers some insight into why accounting could be such a brilliant career for you to chase after.

“The average graduate starting salary on offer in 2019 from the Accounting and Professional Services Industry is £30,000.” High Fliers: The Graduate Market in 2019
finance internships

Types of Accounting

Here’s a characterful and alphabetical breakdown of the main types of accounting that you could work in one day.

Financial Accounting

Otherwise known as financial reporting; this branch of accounting basically monitors a company’s financial transactions.

A financial accountant will produce financial statements for an organisation using GAAP standards (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). They had fun with the name there.

Forensic Accounting

This specialty uses accounting to analyse financial data for legal proceedings. A forensic accountant will work on cases of fraud or embezzlement. They’re job is to try and find duplicitous data or reconstruct missing data.

Most forensic accountants work freelance or as consultants (just because most organisations don’t need a full-time forensic accountant).

You can read this smashing write-up: A Career in Forensic Accounting for a little bit more background.

Internal Auditing

An internal auditor scrutinises a company’s finances, looking for fraud, to identify waste or any flaws in the company’s financial systems.

Governmental Accounting

A governmental accountant looks after the financial performance of institutions within the public sector. Just like Liam Neeson’s bad-ass character in Taken, these types of accountants have a particular set of skills, and often specialise in their field for years and years and years.

Management Accounting

Management accountants assist a company’s management team. They produce information for internal operational reporting.

That description is a bit jargon-y, so put it in less annoying language, managerial accountants produce the stats and financial information that a business relies on to make day-to-day decisions, and plan for the long-term.

Public Accounting

Accountants in this field carry out work (usually related to accounting) for businesses and individuals. It’s client-based. Most public accountants carry out auditing, tax and general consultation about financial affairs.

Tax Accounting

Tax accountants are experts of tax regulations, and are fond of tic tacs, among other things.

Accountants that specialise in tax abide by the regulations set by the Internal Revenue Code. The will advise companies and individuals on any changes in tax laws, and which rules they have to follow when preparing tax returns.

Fun Fact

The FBI employs over 2,000 accounting special agents (basically forensic accountants) who use their skills to solve crimes. It was accountants who finally brought down Al Capone; his reign of terror only came to an end when he was convicted for income tax evasion!

What is a Chartered Accountant?

The title ‘chartered accountant’ (or the letters ACA/FCA) are a sign that a person has...

  • undertaken a minimum of three years of in-depth training
  • passed exams in auditing, business strategy, financial management and taxation
  • is committed to their own professional development, so to keep their skills and knowledge and skills up to date

There are three professional institutes of chartered accountants in the UK:

It’s also a good idea to take a look a these bodies for more information about accounting qualifications and what they entail:

Training Contracts

To become a chartered accountant and reach certified status, you’ll need to secure a training contract.

A training contract is an agreement between yourself and an employer; you will work for them, and they’ll pay for your training and accreditations.

The contracts themselves are accredited and approved by one of the three main industry bodies mentioned above (namely the ICAEW, ICAS or Chartered Accountants Ireland).

Accountancy training contracts are thorough, generally lasting from three to five years, as they build upon what you learned at university and combine professional training with a set amount of work experience and exams.

Each of the industry bodies has its own individual assessments, so you’ll need to research these beforehand to see which one suits you and your learning style more.

The Best Accounting & Finance Companies to Work for

We’ve compiled a list of the top companies that offer accounting internships, placement and insight schemes.

All of these companies feature in our Top Undergraduate Employers 2019/2020, a list which is based on student-written reviews submitted on RateMyPlacement last year.

Last year’s accounting interns and placement students have decided that these companies offer the best work experience...

  • Bloomberg
  • PwC
  • EY
  • KPMG
  • Deloitte
  • BDO
  • Grant Thornton
  • Volkswagen Financial Services
  • Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
  • Barclays
  • HSBC
  • American Express
  • Lloyds Banking Group
  • RBS
  • Bank of England
  • Santander
  • MUFG
  • Handelsbanken
Finance Industrial Placement Student

Finance Industrial Placement Student

National Grid

Placement Year (10 Months+)

"They have great training and development opportunities which are a great prospect for my personal growth"
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