I highly recommend consulting as a career. I cannot imagine doing anything else. I worked for a financial services software company (doing work similar to a consultant) for 5 years; then I jumped ship and went to work for a major international consulting firm in their Financial Services practice for 10 years; then I started my own consulting firm (specializing in Financial Services) 5 years ago. Starting my own firm and working for myself has been one of the best experiences of my life.
I agree with what the other answerer said about 5 years of experience being a little light to be an independent consultant, but here are some suggestions…
1. Look for a transitional job (a "consulting-ish" job that is still part of a financial services company). For example, if there is a Program/Project Management Office (PMO) at your company, you should look into working for them. As a consultant, ALL of your work will be projects. You will definitely need expertise in Project Management (how to plan and organize a project, how to run a project, how to deal with issues that arise during the project, etc.). Some PMOs are just "paper-pushers" (i.e., they're not really in the thick of things and don't really add much value beyond filling out useless project forms). If that is the nature of your company's PMO, then steer clear. Another alternative for a "transitional" consulting job is to get involved with a project in your company (preferably a major project such as a systems installation). I've advised many of my clients who were in the same boat as you (good experience but bored and looking for something more) to use their financial services expertise on a systems project and use it as a springboard to a new career in IT, business analysis, project management, etc. One such client was an underwriter who volunteered to be on the testing and deployment team for a new loan origination system. He worked hard and learned the dynamics of testing and deploying computer systems and now he works as a business analyst (which is closer to consulting than underwriting).
2. While you are waiting for the perfect job or consulting opportunity to come along, read up and study the following topics:
a. Project Management — James P. Lewis is my favorite project management author. He has a very good primer on PM. Also, you should review the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) that is put out by the Project Management Institute (PMI).
B. Consulting — Consulting and Project Management usually go hand in hand, but they're really different skills. There are many good books on consulting out there, but I recommend Peter Block's book called "Flawless Consulting." Also, Mahan Kahlsa's book called "Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play" (which especially stresses consultative sales). Anything by Maister is good (such as "The Trusted Adviser").
C. Your Business Operation — There's another book called "The Business of Consulting" which I remember thinking was good but I can't remember the author's name (the author was a woman). The thrust of her book was to help you get your internal operations straight (billing, hiring, firing, contracts, etc.). You should go ahead and set up your business even if you don't have clients yet. That will help you prepare. I established an S Corporation about 4 months before leaving my old consulting firm. It was nice to have it ready when the first client came along.
D. Your methodologies — You should think through how you would do different kinds of work and document it. You could have one methodology for how to do marketing consulting projects; another for how to do auditing consulting projects; and a third methodology for how to do sales consulting projects. The more organized you are, the better. Having a documented methodology also helps you explain what you do to your clients. The more organized you appear to your clients, the more they trust you. The more they trust you, the more they will buy from you.
2. You may want to see if you can land some "quick hit" jobs (or maybe even volunteer your services to small financial services firms while you continue your "real job"). If you do some "trial run" consulting gigs for little or no money, you will learn a great deal. The most important thing you will learn is whether you truly enjoy consulting. In addition, you will learn what you're good at and what you need to improve in your consulting and project management approach.
3. If you do decide to strike out on your own, you may want to find a more experienced consultant (like myself) to sub-contract under. That way you can operate under their umbrella and learn the ways of consulting from them. Just make sure they're someone you can trust. The way that I learned consulting was to work for more experienced consultants; I learned what to do and what not to do from them. Another advantage to sub-contracting is that it takes off some of the pressure to sell (which is often the most challenging and intimidating part of independent consulting).
4. Auditing is big right now. You may want to use your auditing experience to launch your consulting practice. I know many financial services consultants whose practices consist of nothing but helping their clients examine whether they're complying with Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) or the regulations of other governing bodies (both external and internal).
5. If you have a degree, you may want to interview to be hired as an employee at a major consulting firm. They're always looking for good, smart people and having "industry experience" is often (not always) valued by these firms. You would learn a TON by working for these firms and having the name of a good firm on your resume is always impressive to future clients. Examples of such firms are Accenture, KPMG, Deloitte, etc. You can probably find other (smaller) consulting firms that specialize in Financial Services work.
6. Think about where you will get your clients. My philosophy is to stay within the Financial Services industry (specifically Mortgage Banking). Since Mortgage Banking people all know each other, every project could result in multiple referrals. If you skip around from industry to industry (which many are happy to do), then the referrals are usually not as numerous. Some consultants specialize in a particular skill rather than a particular industry (such as training development consultants). Focusing on industry has been my approach and so far it has been very successful.
7. Finally, I would NOT recommend quitting your job and then hunting for a client. Rather, I would look for a client in your spare time (or do some work on the side while you keep your "real job"). When you get a decent contract at a decent hourly rate for a decent amount of time, THEN you can quit your job and go full-time working for yourself.
I'm always excited to hear about people wanting to go into consulting. Please let me know if you have any other questions or need more information.