Working with the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment, we look to answer some of your more pressing questions about the banking industry.
Do I need a degree and, if so, in which subject area?
A degree is the minimum requirement for most entry level positions. Competition can be fierce for graduate entry into the major institutions offering opportunities in investment management, research and corporate finance and most require a degree of 2.1 or higher and some have a preference for graduates from particular universities.
However, these represent a small proportion of career opportunities compared with the breadth available elsewhere across the UK.
Although not necessarily a prerequisite, it is an advantage to have a degree with good mathematical content, such as physics, engineering, accountancy, economics, finance or business. However, it depends on the area in which you wish to work and your ability in more than one language can also be a factor.
What type of person are companies looking for?
The UK financial services industry attracts significant talent and diversity from home and abroad. It is an industry that both demands and rewards ongoing professional development. Besides working hard, you will need to be genuinely interested in business and finance in order to keep pace.
The business and finance reports on TV and in quality newspapers and periodicals will help to improve your understanding of business, markets and how the industry meets the differing needs of consumers. You will not get through your first interview unless you show yourself to be interested in the industry itself.
Working in this industry requires considerable resilience, resolve and resourcefulness. These attributes apply whether in a front office investment role, branch banking, a call centre or working as a financial adviser.
Flexibility under pressure is also vital. You might be asked for a written analysis and opinion on something, to contribute to a team based project, to explain something to a customer and help colleagues to meet a last-minute deadline, potentially all in a day’s work. Managing yourself is the essential to managing everything else well.
Because the industry operates globally, some people work unusual hours. An early riser will be ready to go to bed by the time the Far East market is opening.
Each role has its own blend of knowledge and skills. However, there are three universal skills within the industry: up to date technical knowledge, excellent communication skills, and the ability to work ethically and within the regulations. Being successful in any role requires the ability to balance both technical and people skills.
For example, a technically brilliant financial adviser is unlikely to succeed without excellent communication skills to help ensure that the advice is fully appropriate for every individual customer.
Similarly, finding workable solutions and understanding how to get the best out of people are equally important attributes, particularly in the more senior positions. Working ethically and within the regulatory framework is about ensuring that the needs of clients are prioritised ahead of making profit, risks minimised and problems investigated quickly.
So it is important to consider what you do and don’t enjoy doing, and to dig behind the job title to ensure that the role matches your strengths, motivation and personality.
How long does it take to qualify and will I need to continue training?
This will depend on the area of the industry in which you choose to work. You will probably be expected to pass an introductory exam or regulatory threshold qualification within six months of joining, the latter being essential for professional job roles that require regulatory approval.
Financial advisers must gain a full qualification within 30 months of starting their desk training, but for all professional roles the employer always has the decision about when a trainee is ready to work without supervision.
In keeping with other professions, you will be expected to update and develop your knowledge throughout your career via continuing professional development (CPD). Ensuring that people remain competent to undertake their job function is a regulatory requirement for all firms. CPD is usually achieved through a balance of in house and external training, reading technical publications and shared development opportunities such as industry forums, discussion groups and mentoring opportunities. Most firms will fund training and exams, but you may be expected to put in the study time outside work hours.
What are my career prospects?
In addition to a strong academic CV, even the most basic work experience gained within the sector can provide an edge because it adds credibility. It is important to get a foothold in the industry, whether in a permanent or a contract role, because it is generally easier to move within an organisation or to another firm if you are already learning and contributing within the industry.
You will need to be proactive about advancement; it also helps to talk to people in different jobs and consider how you can best prepare yourself for interesting opportunities that may arise.
Where can I get work experience?
Many City firms run work experience or summer intern schemes. These are highly sought after and you may be expected to work for free. However, they are worthwhile and can lead to permanent positions after graduation.
Opportunities can also arise through applying directly to firms, and by talking with people who already have contacts in the industry.
The National Council for Work Experience [(www.work-experience.org)] is another good source of information. Additionally, there are financial services employment agencies that may be able to help you gain experience within a temporary, temp-to-perm or contract position.
When should I apply?
Each firm will have its own application procedures and timings for applications. If you know which firms you want to apply to, it is worth contacting them as early as possible to ensure that you are on their mailing list and do not miss their deadline. Take a look at graduate banking jobs , for vacancies and deadlines.
What if I want to take a year off before taking up a position?
The graduate recruitment process is time consuming for employers with large numbers of applications to filter and interviews to conduct. Most prefer applicants who have been offered roles to start as soon as practicable. If you are thinking of taking a gap year you should seriously consider how you might use that time to enhance your experience and skills; a year spent surfing and spending may be not appreciated by employers looking to recruit people to work hard and make money!
What about opportunities for more mature entrants?
There are many roles where age has its advantages. Private client relationship management is an area where firms are interested in recruiting mature employees to respond to the investing public’s perception that older advisers have more experience and greater credibility. Financial advice is another rewarding area where mature entrants can thrive. IT support, operational, risk management and compliance areas all require cool heads and sound judgment, offering good opportunities for mature candidates.
Are there equal opportunities for graduates with disabilities?
Disabled graduates compete successfully in the job market partly because of legislation, the advocacy of disability organisations and increased awareness among employers of the need to revise their recruitment and selection processes. Historically, the industry has thrived on diversity. Nationally, it is also the biggest investor in IT and it has the size and scope to offer breadth of opportunity to people of different abilities.
How do foreign students apply for work permits?
New rules have been introduced recently. Please refer to the UK Border Agency guidelines and eligibility rules at the border agency website.
Are there opportunities to work overseas?
There are many opportunities ranging from working in overseas locations, UK based responsibility for a particular region or aspect of business involving frequent travel, or occasional trips for specific purposes.
Most opportunities occur within wholesale institutions because retail banking, broking and advice is largely geared towards UK customers. Specialists can find themselves having to travel, for example staff involved in IT and operations may help to introduce new systems and processes in an overseas office.
Working abroad may involve taking more exams, learning a foreign language, understanding different customs and handling different attitudes to work. It may not be any easier working abroad, but the world can still be your oyster.