When deciding what would be the best route for me upon completion of my A levels, I was torn. I knew I was not sold by the idea of university, but was not ready to let go of the idea of achieving a degree. I decided to apply for university to keep my options open.
Even before I started looking at jobs I knew I wanted a finance career, in either insurance or banking. Luckily for me, my school had a dedicated careers advisor, who organised numerous careers conventions and recruitment company visits to the school. This is when I first made contact with the Brokerage Citylink, and when I was first introduced to the idea of working and studying towards a Bachelor’s degree at the same time, something I did not realise was an option.
I can still remember the speaker telling us about the Commerzbank Vocational Trainee scheme, and I knew then and there this was the job that I wanted. If successful, I would be working in the heart of the City, one of the world’s largest financial centres, for Germany’s largest corporate bank. Not only that, I would spend the next three and a half years working towards an HND, Bankkauffrau (German banking) qualification, and a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Management. It was the perfect job for me.
Main trainee responsibilities
The job I was offered at Commerzbank was within the Corporate Banking arm of the bank, which provides a range of products and services primarily to FTSE 100/250 companies in the UK. For the first two years of my vocational training, I worked within the Cash Management team, which offers clients specialised products to ensure efficient cash flow throughout the company. My main responsibilities were creating and processing client contracts and documentation, using online systems to check account statuses, setting up online banking and cash-pooling, liaising with the payments department and dealing with customer queries.
In November 2015, I moved to the Trade Finance team within Corporate Banking, which offers large companies products which ensure safe and efficient financing of trade throughout the world. Within this team I checked documents against Letters of Credit, liaised with clients regarding financing transactions and worked with Commerzbank traders to borrow funds. Due to the international nature of the work, ensuring all transactions/parties are compliant with relevant sanctions/embargoes rules is very important.
The work and university aspects of the scheme require various skills. Here is a list of skills which I have found most useful when working as a Vocational Trainee:
- Organisation: to ensure not all college work is left to the last minute!
- Time-management: to ensure equal time and effort is given to both work and college work.
- Commitment: deciding what is more important, finishing that essay which is due, or going out with friends.
- Self-supported learning: the majority of the degree is done individually and relates directly to your role.
- Being prepared to make sacrifices: lectures at college are sometimes at the weekend, and assignments have to be completed in the evenings or at weekends.
The first challenge, as with most school leaver jobs, is the gap between school life and working life. You are a ‘small fish in a big pond’, and have next to no knowledge of your new job, but will soon be expected to undertake the same responsibilities as a permanent member of staff. However, the Commerzbank mentoring scheme provides support and guidance for younger trainees, who are just starting out on the scheme.
Time management is another big challenge; the scheme requires the ability to juggle a full day at work, and then having to write an essay or revise for an exam in the evenings and at the weekends. Working with such large companies also means everything has to be done quickly and efficiently, in order to allow clients to continue trading. Especially with our largest clients, there is no room for error. For example, some transactions are worth over $50million, which is a lot of money for a company to have outstanding whilst they wait for us to settle the funds.
To overcome this, I make two different lists; one for the working day, and one for my college work, which helps me to organise my time efficiently and prioritise the tasks which will take the longest. I also keep my end goal in mind; the thought of a permanent job in a department I like, and a good degree motivates me to continue working hard.