To work in finance you need an analytical mind, an eye for detail and the ability to work with large amounts of information and data.

The lifeblood of any organisation is the investment that’s put back into it. Greater revenue means more money to develop new products and better training for the people who make it all happen. And, of course, bigger rewards for everyone who’s involved. It’s here that the pharmaceutical industry really stands out. You need only take a look at the figures.

A global operation

Over a fifth of all money generated by our industry goes straight back into creating new pharmaceuticals. In 2010 that equalled £4.6 billion – over 28% of all UK industry-supported research and development. And Britain can be extremely proud that close to one in 5 of the world's top 100 prescription medicines were discovered and developed in the UK – with a trade surplus from international sales reaching over £6 billion in 2011.

That this is such a global operation means that the challenges and opportunities available to anyone beginning a career in finance don’t come any bigger. As you can imagine, given the scale of the industry and the abundance of distinct areas within the development process, teamwork is essential if financial management and investment are to be effectively co-ordinated. A huge amount of reporting must be carried out and correlated so that companies can have a complete and accurate picture of how effectively their money is being used. But as well as paying close attention to detail, you need vision. Because creative and well thought-out strategies form the building blocks on which future research can later capitalise.

Cutting the cost of medicines

Efficient management of finances can make or break a project. Handled well, it can dramatically cut the costs of medicines once they reach the shelves – greatly benefiting patients. The industry has proved to be highly successful here, cutting the real cost of NHS modern medicines by 30% compared to prices a decade ago. By adding to this work, you could help deliver even better results and be a driving force behind the next generation of medicines.

Main areas of finance

There are four main areas to finance in the pharmaceutical industry: management accounting, financial accounting, internal audit and tax, and treasury. The opportunities you’ll find and the skills you need vary in each. 

Management accounting

The chief concern of management accounting is the preparation and presentation of information to people at all levels within the organisation in such a way as to improve their decision making at tactical, operational and strategic levels.

Financial accounting

Financial accounting is about the preparation and presentation of the statutory information which the law requires. This includes the preparation of financial statements in accordance with current Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (GAAP), and working with management accountants and external auditors to ensure that the company’s accounts represent a true and fair view of an organisation’s financial position.

Tax and treasury

Typically, people working in tax and treasury are concerned with strategic decisions that will affect the whole company.  They might be concerned with liquidity management (making sure companies have enough cash to pay their bills and investing any surplus funds), corporate finance/funding (seeing that companies have all the money they need) or foreign exchange and interest rate risk management (avoiding dangerous investments).

Internal audit

Internal audit makes sure that a company has appropriate controls in place and that it runs efficiently by drawing up and implementing good working practices. They do it by providing an independent review of controls and work processes, and investigating how improvements can be made.

Shared Service Centres

In the last 10 years, there has also been an increase in the number of routine accounting transactions that are now carried out in Shared Service Centres.  These Shared Service Centres are usually focused on providing routine financial accounting services to the company’s businesses in a number of different European or worldwide markets.  The most popular transaction to be handled centrally in this way is the payment of suppliers (Accounts Payable function) as the processing of invoices tends to be fairly standardised.  However, some companies are now also extending these centralised services to include the majority of financial and management accounting.

People who work in finance

Communication skills are very important because you’ll normally need to work with different sorts of people throughout an organisation.  If you work in a European or Global Shared Service Centre, language skills may also be beneficial.

Although most senior roles are fulfilled by qualified accountants (normally ICAEW, ICAS, CIMA or ACCA qualified), there are host of more junior roles available to school leavers and graduates who want to work their way up whilst working towards a professional qualification.

Entering the industry

There are numerous levels at which you can enter the industry.  Shared Service Centres often have entry level roles suitable for school leavers and may also offer training programmes for those who wish to continue studying and develop their careers further.  Job titles vary but these roles will often either be describe as an Accounts or Financial Assistant, or refer to the section the role supports such as Accounts Payable Assistant. Graduates will normally join a company in a training role which would enable them to study a professional qualification and gain practical experience. They could expect to move into more senior roles as they progress through exams and gain experience, with professional qualification usually taking a minimum of three years.

Last modified: 20 September 2023

Last reviewed: 20 September 2023