You need to think carefully about which area of banking you would like to be in, because although there is a possibility of moving between the two, this is very rare. Things to consider include:
Who would you like your customer to be? Is it the average person on the street, the wealthy individual, the large corporation or the small/medium business owner?
Who do you want to work for? Retail banking is customer-focused, and the work you do will be determined by what the public wants and needs from their banking services. Investment banking on the other hand is driven by the financial markets, and is not so directly linked to customer service.
What do you want your work lifestyle to be? Graduates are often attracted to investment banking because they have heard about large salaries and bonuses. But consider your work lifestyle too. Long hours with evening and weekend work is common in investment banking. Likewise, there can also be times when you have little to do. Retail banking roles are generally more predictable, with steady hours.
Where do you want to work? All the large investment banks are based in big cities. Retail banks may have their headquarters in the city, but there will also be numerous local branches. With both types of banks, there may be opportunity to work abroad. However, while in investment banking your attention is always on the global monetary market, with retail your work would be focused on the country in which you were based.
What are your skills and interests? This is important to think about, not just to help you decide between investment or retail banking but also which specific role you would like to do.
Front, Middle or Back?
When trying to decide what job you would like in banking, think about whether you want to be in the front, middle or back…
Front office roles are generally client-facing, talking directly to the company or individual which you are serving. These jobs are involved, one way or another, in creating profit for the bank.
The middle office does not directly generate profit for the bank, but does support those in the front office to help them do their job effectively. So those within the legal department make sure everyone is operating within the boundaries of existing laws and regulations. The people within Treasury keep colleagues informed of the financial status of the bank.
Back office jobs involve all the things that help the bank in its day-to-day running. For example technology/IT roles, HR positions and jobs within operations.
Each of these areas is just as vital to the success of a bank as the others. So don’t limit your choices simply based on how important you think a job is – rather look carefully at what matches your interests and skills. Potential employers will also want to see that you understand how a role that you are applying to fits within a company, and how your work would influence others. So research is the key!
How do I find out what is right for me?
Spring Insight – most of the major banks now run a programme in the spring break for first year students where you can get a taster for different aspects of the business. This experience will give you a better understanding of different sectors of banking, and are becoming vital for later securing an internship.
Internships – an internship is not only crucial if you want a graduate job in banking, but it is also a great opportunity of discovering what you do and do not like.
Networking – get talking to people who currently work in banking and ask them about what they do. The Careers Centre organises many different events where students have the opportunity to talk directly with employers. Use LinkedIn to follow companies and where appropriate, ask questions. Some websites also have forums and live Q & A sessions, for example http://news.efinancialcareers.com/uk-en/qa/.
Spend some time online – putting the effort in to research of your own can pay dividends in helping you clarify things. And the information gathered will also be useful when it comes to making applications and preparing for interviews. Use www.careersbox.co.uk and www.careerplayer.com to see video case studies and hear banking employees talk about their jobs.
City Course – each year the Careers Group organises a unique event for students to spend time gaining an insider’s perspective on a career in the City. Organisations participating have previously included the Bank of England and Barclays Capital. This is a fantastic opportunity to get a better understanding of the banking and financial industry in general, and to make contact with current employees. Further details can be found here: http://www.gradsintocareers.co.uk/events/meet-employers/the-city-course.aspx.