UK Finance/Consulting - either you earn tons or little to nothing?

Hi everyone,

I'm an undergrad (Finance) at a target in the UK and at a point where I have to seriously think about where I want to start my career and what priorities I want to have. I have great respect for everyone who makes it through 80-100h weeks in IB and 70-80h weeks in consulting but even though the work sounds incredibly interesting, that's not the lifestyle that I wish for myself. So I have set myself the challenging tasks of finding a job where I can make the most out of 50-60h in a typical week at 60-70h, maybe rarely 80h, in harder weeks and peaks. 

Being originally from Germany, I noticed something odd in the UK. I feel like for graduate positions, there are two extremes: IB or consulting for £70k+ all-in or £25-35k all-in for "regular graduate positions". I don't really see many jobs that are in-between in terms of salary, and if there are any, then they are just discount versions of IB/consulting (e.g. FTI consulting, according to the WSO database, is supposed to pay £42k entry-level for the same hours as the £55k MBB). 
Another example of the lower end extreme are the Big 4: there are graduate roles that pay just shy of £30k in London and on LinkedIn there are people from LSE/UCL/ICL doing them even though honestly, if you add up rent and cost of living that their parents have paid for a year in London, they come out below (!) their take-home pay at the Big 4. For putting yourselves through three years at some of the most prestigious unis in the world.

What roles/industries/areas of finance and consulting are there that pay, say, £45k per year where you work 50-60h? The only ones that I found were in Asset Management but I honestly see a big risk of automation in that sector. Also, I think it's difficult to start at a company where you can build a great career and that you are likely to be capped by your education (i.e. not having a PhD for earn the big bucks).

Any opinions?

Comments (15)

Most Helpful
  • Prospect in PE - Other
Dec 6, 2021 - 7:33am

Your analysis is mostly correct, though I'd argue T2 consulting (or specialist technical stuff like Newton) somewhat fills that middle salary gap. For 60 hour weeks while still earning £45k+ you're basically looking at:

  • Possibly strategy consulting, but 60 hours would be on the low end (£50k or so for non MBB)
  • Asset management and finance (standard finance base, maybe 20-50% bonus depending on role)
  • Possibly some IBDs with sensible hours (e.g. Macquarie GIG, very cool shop infra/commodities wise but what they're doing is more principal investing) (standard finance salary, probably slightly lower bonus than most IBDs)
  • FAANG+ (both non-SWE and SWE roles) (non SWE caps out about £60-75k depending on role, not sure on SWE roles but I think around £80k-90k?; this includes vested equity)
  • Quant/algo trading roles at HFs (will pay £250k+ for the right people, which is ridiculous)
  • Technical/economic consulting (Newton, FTI (would not view them as second rate, they have a different USP to MBB), etc.) (£45k plus 5% bonus)
  • Some biotech roles pay very well (average is probably low 40s, but £60k+ is very possible)
  • Select engineering positions (chem eng and materials especially are very sought after, plus engineering at F1 teams etc) (same range as biotech) 
  • UK law firms - top/second tier London law salaries are ridiculously good for the skills required now, and if you avoid the Americans and some of the Magic Circle the hours are not too bad at all (trainee salaries for first two years are around £50k, increasing to £90-105k or so on qualification if you exclude US firms) 

Also, just for reference, there are strategy jobs at Big 4 that pay under £25k for fresh graduates... which is kinda sad. 

Dec 6, 2021 - 9:03am

This is missing roles on the sell-side which aren't IBD. Research, S&T, corp banking etc. can all fit OPs criteria (although slightly team dependent). Lots of middle office stuff at banks pays ~40k too.

And as an aside about B4: pre-qualification comp is shit because B4 knows they can get away with paying that low. They know most people leave after qualification and it's designed that way. They know people use then as a springboard. For people who struck out of IB or whatever recruiting but got B4, they haven't got much of an option.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Dec 6, 2021 - 11:09am

Well, yeah? 

Most career paths aren't high paying.. there's a reason there's a bell curve of income. 

Anyway, the situation is the same regardless of which country you're talking about. Some career paths lead to high incomes and others cap out at moderate incomes. Some have higher incomes throughout the career (relative to other professional jobs), others it only ramps up if you become relatively senior in rank after several years of being in the field and getting promoted

Professional services firms, financial services firms, healthcare services orgs, top technology companies, biotech companies and real estate firms are probably the most likely industries to provide the most certain paths to a higher income trajectory due to how important human capital is to those businesses (+ economies of scale) and the relatively lower overheads but there are also countless management or sales positions in a whole bunch of industries that also pay well (just less certain of a path to get there). 

To be frank though, the only way to make considerable wealth is to start businesses not be an employee. 

EDIT: there's the obvious media / entertainment / art play but it's winner takes all there / power law distribution there. oil & gas also used to be a big earner but we all know where that's headed. 

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Dec 6, 2021 - 11:40am

I mostly agree. The reason why I asked this question is really that I would love to stay in the UK after I graduate, but I feel like it's either high pay for really high working hours or okay working hours for really low pay. I will likely have to go back to Germany to find myself a job with 50-60h that pays within that gap that I have described because these are much more common here. Big 4 pay a €48k base plus bonus plus part of your overtime and after 5-6 years, you get your €100k all-in. I guess this is due to the German industry paying so much (even average graduates can go and earn €50-60k starting salary for 40h weeks there - but salary is usually capped just below €100k unless you are a unicorn) and I was just hoping there'd be something similar in the UK. Which there is - thanks for the answers btw - unfortunately I don't really see myself in these industries, except maybe consulting.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Dec 7, 2021 - 5:59am

running the math on gross v net, germany doesn't seem that hugely different?

if most grads are getting €40-50k gross, that's €25.8k net to €30.3k net. That would be £21.9k net to £25.7k net, gross you're looking at £26.8k gross to £32.4k gross - almost the exact same range you'd expect for a typical grad (in a professional job) in the UK.

just like in the UK, some higher earning grads make more like £32k gross to £50k gross which translates (taking into account net) to €50k gross to €75k gross in Germany.

not seeing how germany is substantially better on a net basis here.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Dec 7, 2021 - 6:37pm

Fair post but you're ignoring the exchange rate. While the pound/euro is now like 1.15, for all intents and purposes you should be comparing at a pre-Brexit exchange rate of like 1:1.5 to assess COL in UK, the current pound/euro rate is only really relevant if you go to EU to holiday

More substantively, you're broadly right and its a very depressing state of affairs. Though bottom line all starting jobs are kinda crap, the key (IMO) is to use them to leverage yourself into a job that offers better QOL and v. good pay (compared to avg. population) that you would not have been able to get without first slogging

Dec 7, 2021 - 7:54pm

You dismiss AM but I don't know why? There's soo many different Asset Classes other than Public Equities. I'm on a Structured Credit desk and I promise you i'm not worrying about automation. The only problem for you will be actually getting into a Research seat on the buyside here. Much easier said than done, hahaa.

  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
Dec 7, 2021 - 8:28pm

OP saying 70-80k for grads in banking and consulting? Since when did MBB pay so high? Thought MBB was barely 50-60 for grads and isn't banking paying something like 80-90k all in for grads? 60 base + some 50%bonus or whatever. Pls correct me the if am wrong 

Dec 8, 2021 - 3:13am

The English language is full of fun little rules that can make learning the language a bit complicated. Looks like this Google account isn't associated with an AdSense account. That's okay. You can either sign in with the Google account associated with AdSense.

Dec 8, 2021 - 5:34am

Either engineering or sales at tech companies will pay 35K+, some considerably more. Even relatively no-name places like Gartner will pay 40-70K GBP in your first year if you exceed target. There's almost no entry level FAANG gigs in the UK, although Salesforce (incl. Mulesoft) and a bunch of other names that nobody on this forum talks about pay well in sales. Would look at sales gigs in tech basically, particularly Cloud if you want to make good money without dog hours.

Source: In FAANG in London

Basically, tech sales

  • 2
  • Consultant in Consulting
Dec 8, 2021 - 7:00am

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