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Take It to the Bank

Banking & Finance, General, General advice September 30, 2008

Take It to the Bank


Working in the City as a high-flying banker may be the dream for many graduates, but getting a foot in the door can be incredibly difficult. However, the City is not the only place you find bankers, and if you’ve set your heart on this sector, there are plenty of other opportunities you can explore.

Many graduates are attracted to banking, and especially investment banking, because of the high salaries they can earn. Because of this, applications for banking jobs and internships always outstrip the supply, and so you have to be really determined and focused to succeed. For a start you are going to have to have an excellent academic record with most banking institutions specifying a 2.1 or higher degree. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a degree in mathematics, but graduates who have studied accountancy, law, business studies or economics may find these useful. Just as important as your academic results are your soft skills, with recruiters looking for people with excellent communication skills, numeracy, time management, and the ability to be a team player. You also need to look smart and professional. Increasingly, language skills are coming into play as the major banks look to expand their overseas business. Recruiters will also be looking for drive, determination and ambition; they want people who are hungry for success, and so you will have to demonstrate your interest and knowledge of financial markets. One of the best ways to do this is to read the Financial Times, The Economist and the Wall Street Journal, and keep track of what is happening with stocks and shares. Finally, if you don’t succeed at first, try, try again. Many people in the sector apply for several jobs before they are accepted.

Once you’ve got that all-important first job, you are going to have to buckle down to even
more learning as training within the banking sector is continuous. According to the report
The view from Europe: Productivity and change in UK financial services, by 2014 financial services will rely more heavily on high-level skills than any other industry, except education. In 2004, the total premium paid for high-level qualifications increased by nearly £1.4 billion, and the total premium for medium-level skills increased by another £2.3 billion. This suggests that financial services fuelled, through recruitment and training, a £3.7 billion market for skills. Graduate training programmes in the banking world usually last for two years and include on-the-job training through a number of attachments at different branches and regional head offices. These are supported by in-house courses in areas such as leadership, customer services, IT training, and management.

If you believe you have what it takes, then the next step is to decide which area of banking is for you.


This is the area where the really big bucks in banking can be made, but don’t be under any illusions, you are going to have to work exceptionally hard to earn your salary. Careers within this sector can be very stressful with plenty of pressure and long hours. You will have to keep up with stock market conditions and economic trends in order to deal with everything from mergers and acquisitions, to dealing with private client portfolios. You’ll be advising your clients about their investments and tailoring funds to suit them with half-yearly investment reviews. Investment bankers often work 100 hour weeks, working over the week end when they have big deals to close. Salaries are typically made up of a basic wage, supplemented by a performance-related bonus. For new trainees the breakdown is usually 50/50 but for Managing Directors bonuses can make up 80 per cent of their total earnings. The range of typical starting salaries is £31,529 to £41,765. The average starting salary is £36,647. This may rise to £50,000 within a couple of years. After three or more years, salaries can be in the range of £48,000 to £70,000. Those with significant experience can earn around £150,000.


The UK retail banking sector employs over 330,000 people and looks after 130
million bank accounts, and the range of jobs available within it continues to grow.
These days it is not just about cashiers and bank managers, but also IT specialists,
people with HR skills, customer service skills, and specialists in law.

Retail banking refers to the major High Street banks most of us have accounts with.
People who work in retail banking look after customers’ current and savings accounts,
mortgages and overdrafts. They may advise customers on the benefits of certain of their
financial products, including savings schemes and insurance. Because of this you’ll need
excellent customer-facing skills to work in the sector. You also need good IT skills as so much of banking these days is automated. Retail banking tends to be less pressurised than investment banking and the hours are definitely shorter, but the rewards can still be considerable. As in investment banking, many employees in retail banking have performance-related bonuses as well as a basic salary. Many of the retail banks’ graduate training schemes offer starting salaries of between £20,000 to £25,000, with bonuses, and access to preferential rates on the banks’ products. High level bankers can expect to earn £100,000 or more, depending on experience and responsibility.


Jobs within private banking mirror those at the major High Street banks, but their clients tend to be extremely wealthy individuals. They may own their own businesses and need advice on everything from their tax bill, to foreign currency deals and exchanges. What clients are looking for is discretion and integrity from their banker and so you need exceptional people skills in order to build the close relationships you must have with them. Jobs in this area include client advisers and portfolio managers, who may well look after their clients’ stock and share portfolios. Relationship managers are charged with bringing in new clients and work with a team that researches and analyses data on potential investments. Hours in this area of banking tend to be longer because clients are paying a premium for your time, and so expect you to be available whenever they want you. You may also have to travel in order to have meetings with clients. Once again, pay is usually performance-related and salaries can reach £150,000.



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