If you're thinking of applying for a graduate job with a finance orientation, you're probably contemplating something in the front office of an investment bank - something like sales and trading or M&A, where you can earn six figures in the first year and many multiples of that thereafter.
But what if you're making a mistake? What if you should be applying for a job in assurance with a Big Four accountancy firm instead? EY would have you think this is the case.
What are assurance jobs?
The nature of assurance jobs is in the name. When you work in assurance, your role is all about validating the information large companies release to the public. - You check that the information is correct and provide assurance (or maybe reassurance) that what the company is saying is true. You might provide this assurance with regards to companies' quarterly and annual accounts, or you might assure everyone that what a company says about its approach to climate change or sustainability is correct. You are effectively a guardian of the truth.
Karen Hochrein, EY's Global Assurance Talent Leader, says students don't always understand the social significance of assurance jobs. "As auditors we exist to raise confidence in capital markets and to serve the public interest," she says: "There's a real sense of purpose." Without assurance, investors would never know whether companies' accounts were valid and investing would be much more risky. There would also be far more potential for fraud.
But aren't assurance jobs boring?
Most people think that assurance jobs, which include old-fashioned 'audit' or accounting, aren't very exciting. Hochrein would like to disagree. When you work in assurance, particularly in audit, you often spend time on site in clients' offices. This offers variety, says Hochrein: "You get exposure to different clients and industries and a real understanding of how business works."
More importantly, Hochrein says technology has the potential to make assurance jobs far more exciting than they used to be."Technology will dramatically change the work of auditors," she says. "In the past, for example, we would look at a sample of the transactions that took place when we were auditing accounts receivable, whereas future technology will look at all transactions and humans will only be required to look at the exceptions. As technology and analytics are incorporated into auditing, there will be fewer routine tasks."
What kinds of people do assurance jobs?
All kinds of people do assurance jobs: Hochrein says you can go into assurance with any educational background - be it art history or computer science. Soon, however, she predicts that there will be more need for people who are comfortable using technology and analytics tools as these will be incorporated into the assurance process. (Right now, EY is also hiring STEM graduates for a dedicated assurance analytics team. - In the UK it has a team of 32 people based in Newcastle and 78 in the UK in total).
What are assurance salaries like?
Admittedly, you're not going to earn as much in assurance as in an M&A or even a technology job in an investment bank. Starting salaries are around £25k and after five years you won't earn much more than £60k. By comparison, after five years in M&A at a top investment bank you should be earning close to £150k ($200k).
So, what's the lifestyle like in assurance?
The good news is that while you will almost certainly earn far less in assurance than in a banking job, you will also work far less frenetically. Most junior bankers work anything from 70 to 80 hours a week. In assurance, however, at EY the standard working hours in London are 35 a week (37.5 in the U.K. provinces). Admittedly, most people work more than this when overtime is factored in, but they work far less than in banking. "If people are working more than 55 hours a week, it reduces their productivity," says Hochrein who has a personal campaign to persuade staff to work less and to spend more time looking after their health. "We are trying to bring our partners closer to our people to stop juniors from overworking," she adds.
Of course the travel associated with assurance jobs can be wearing - particularly if you're working for a client in an industrial park miles from anywhere, but Hochrein says EY tries to mitigate this too. "Yes, you travel to work at client locations but it is up to the team to collectively make decisions on when people should travel and whether there are days people can work from home," she says. In other words, you won't necessarily get home from the industrial park on Friday night and leave again on Sunday afternoon....
Will I ever get made redundant from my exciting assurance job?
Probably not. While banks are forever chucking people out, assurance is a steady sort of career where you're far more likely to leave of your own accord than to be laid off just before you're paid your annual bonus. In fact, huge amounts of people do leave assurance voluntarily. - In the UK, Hochrein says 50% of EY's newly qualified auditors quit within a few years of passing their exams. However, this isn't seen as a huge deal - EY expects a high level of staff turnover and people often come back again later in their careers (EY's global chairman and CEO, Mark Weinberger, left three times and came back four). As such, Hochrein says assurance careers offer a high degree of job security, and that this is something graduate applicants increasingly value and recognize.
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