What’s it like to do a placement year in Accounting and Finance?

Jack Davey - BSc Accounting and Finance with Professional Placement studentJack is a BSc Accounting and Finance with Professional Placement student. In this blog, he tells us a bit more about his placement at Hargreaves Lansdown, what he learnt and the skills he developed, along with top tips for students considering a placement year. 

Who are Hargreaves Lansdown?

Hargreaves Lansdown (HL) is the UK’s number one platform for private investors. Based in central Bristol, their purpose is to empower people to save and invest with confidence via their online website and app. HL aims to provide the best client experience, building long-term relationships, whilst ensuring the service they offer delivers an investment solution for clients at every stage of their life.

What did your role entail, and what departments did you work in?

Initially, being a placement student, I was worried my role may have been superficial. However, I quickly realised it wasn’t. Since joining in Summer 2020, I’ve had the opportunity to rotate around four  different teams within my department, Client Accounts. In each rotation, I’ve been treated as though I were a regular member of team, being set my own workloads and having expectations to complete tasks under the same time conditions as any of my colleagues. During the year, I spent a period of time working alongside HL’s Financial Advisors. This provided me with a great insight into the role of an Advisor, which is a career path I’ve been interested in since starting my university journey. I also spent time with the Corporate Actions Team. This team focuses on external company changes and events such as mergers and acquisitions. Again, this allowed me to experience an avenue of the financial industry I am interested in pursuing after graduating.

What was your key learning?

I’ve learnt a huge amount during my year with HL. One of the most notable developments has been my ability to collaborate with others. Due to the nature of my placement requiring me to join multiple different teams during the year I’ve had to quickly adapt to these teams and how to best work with each member of the respective teams. I’ve been able to develop a great network and hope this will benefit me in my future.

What was the most enjoyable aspect about your placement?

The most enjoyable aspect of my placement has certainly been the people I have met and worked with. The sense of community at HL is so strong and one of the key things I’ve found is that everyone is so understanding and willing to help others. Due to the city-centre location of the HL office I’ve also been able to spend time with colleagues outside of work going for socially-distanced food and drinks throughout the year. In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to meet great people on the teams I’ve worked in and my fellow placement students. I’m positive I’ll continue to stay in contact with them for many years.

Would you recommend other students take part? Why?

Without doubt, I would recommend anyone that’s interested to do a placement year. I feel the placement year has provided me with a different perspective towards the financial industry. It’s allowed me to experience, in real life, theories and topics that I’ve learnt about at University, which I hope will allow me to better succeed in my final year. The placement has allowed me to develop skills that I hope will open doors and provide me with talking points I can use in future interviews for graduate schemes and beyond.

Given you spent much of your time working remotely, how did you find this?

Understandably, the past year has been difficult for everyone. I feel fortunate that I’ve had my placement to keep me focused and motivated during the pandemic. Working from home hasn’t always been easy but HL have continuously provided support to assist colleagues with any challenges they’re facing. As with any new experience, it often takes time to adjust to how things work and what‘s expected of you. With the use of Zoom, I’ve been able to speak with my team daily and ensure I’m still building connections and developing my social skills even whilst been sat in my front room alone. Working from home does also have some clear benefits. I’ve had the opportunity to work more flexibly, take on additional work outside of my standard hours and save a lot of time (and money) on the commute to the office.

How do students go about the process of finding and applying for a placement year? What did it entail and what support did you get?

I was always interested in spending some time working before I finished my university experience. I applied to both internships and placement schemes with the HL placement year being one of these. The application stage was difficult. As with many placement schemes, there were many stages to the application process including online testing, an assessment day and multiple phone calls and interviews. I felt very supported during this process, the University were willing to help me at any stage. I was fortunate to know another student applying to a similar placement scheme that meant we were able to discuss our applications, and go through the process together.

What support have you received during your placement?

There’s been a huge amount of support provided to me during the year. At the start of my placement, I was paired with a mentor whom I regularly meet to discuss how I am, if I have any issues or questions and to provide any support if needed. In addition, I’ve had weekly meetings with my team managers to ensure I understand my work and again to raise any concerns or issues. I also speak regularly with the other placement students who are completing their placement with HL in different areas of the business to discuss how we are and to provide support to one and other. Since the day I joined HL I’ve felt very supported, the sense of community within the company is so strong and everyone has always been willing to help and assist me whenever I’ve needed it.

What skills from your degree course have you been able to apply and develop during your placement?

One aspect of the placement at HL is that in a small team, the placement students complete a year-long project alongside their standard work and then present it to a panel which includes CEO, Chris Hill. This project allowed me to develop my ability to work in a team and my presentation skills. In addition, studying a finance-based course, I’ve also seen a lot of the theories and topics I’ve learnt at University in application. For example, different theories seen in the finance side of my degree such as asset pricing and portfolio management.

What are your plans for after you graduate?

One of the key benefits of completing my year with HL is I now have a better understanding of what I need to achieve from my degree in order to start my career. Before my placement year, I was unsure if I would have to move to London in order to work within the finance industry. Now, I can see there are many opportunities within Bristol to succeed in the industry and I intend to apply to graduate schemes in Bristol where possible.

How has your placement year helped your work towards your career ambitions?

As previously mentioned, HL have allowed me to tailor my rotations to my interests. This has allowed me to gain a great insight into different aspects of the finance industry that suit my interests, alongside growing my network. In addition, I believe my placement has enhanced my motivation to succeed when I return to University to complete my final year. I now better understand what my education will allow me to achieve and I am determined to succeed with my studies in the hope of keeping as many future doors open as possible.

Finally – for other students, what are your top tips for:

  1. Finding and applying for a placement?

  2. Making the most of your time whilst on placement?

  3. Getting the right life/work balance?

Firstly, when it comes to finding placement schemes, it’s really important to spend as much time as possible researching. I started by looking at companies in the finance industry near me and then looked into what opportunities they had on offer. I’d also recommend speaking to other students and University staff as they’re likely to have had experience or know of people that have followed similar paths.

Secondly, to make the most of your time on placement try to get involved with as many opportunities that are presented to you as possible. During my placement I pushed myself out of my comfort zone as often as I could. For example, I regularly presented in team meetings which allowed me to develop my confidence when speaking in public.

Finally, getting the right work life balance can be difficult at times. Alongside standard working hours, I also had to complete different pieces of work as a part of my university course which forced me to plan my time to ensure I was maintaining the best work life balance as possible. Working from home does help with maintaining a better work life balance as I’ve been able to avoid the commuting time. However, it’s really important for you to know when to switch off and enjoy your time away from work as much as possible.

Hargreaves Lansdown building