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How to get a graduate job in retail banking or insurance if you don’t have a numerical degree

You don’t need a numerical degree to get a job in retail banking or insurance. Most employers accept graduates from any degree discipline into these finance roles.
A degree from a non-numerical background appeals to employers because you may have different approaches to problems.

The type of mathematical ability needed to apply for a role in retail banking or insurance is often at the level you will have already experienced during your GCSEs, which means that you shouldn’t require any degree-level knowledge. You do need to be comfortable working with numbers, but it is just as, if not more, important to be able to deal with people.

John Morewood, senior specialist emerging talent at HSBC, explains: ‘Organisations want to recruit graduates with the right interpersonal skills and attitude. The world of financial services is about people – leading them if they are employees or meeting their needs if they are customers – so these skills are the most important thing and not the subject matter of a candidate’s degree.’

A notable exception to this is actuarial roles, where the majority of employers only accept applications from candidates with a numerical degree, such as actuarial sciences or mathematics.

Which retail banking and insurance employers accept applications from any degree background?

Employers that usually hire graduates without a numerical degree include:

  • HSBC Retail Banking and Wealth Management
  • Barclays
  • Lloyds Bank
  • Aviva insurance scheme
  • Lloyds (of London) – the insurance market
  • GAB Robins

However, requirement change from year to year so do check with the employers before applying. Some employers, such as Mercer and Aon, specify a numerate or ‘semi-numerate’ degree, which is a course that includes one or more modules related to maths. These could be science or IT subjects, business and management studies, economics, engineering, medicine, psychology, social sciences and policy. This list is not exhaustive and a candidate can give details in the application to highlight any modules that demonstrate numerate ability.

How numerate do you need to be to apply for a graduate job in retail banking and insurance?

You will need to be comfortable with the kind of figures used in banking and insurance and how to convert numbers into these formats. This is the kind of maths you will have learned at school so it is something you will have practised before – nothing too scary! You need to be able to understand and use:

  • Decimals
  • Fractions
  • Approximations
  • Averages
  • Percentages
  • Ratios
  • Basic arithmetic

How will numeracy be tested in an application for a graduate job in retail banking and insurance?

Employers often include an aptitude test as part of the application process where you will be required to answer a series of maths-based questions within a time limit. These normally consist of questions in which you are given a range of data in table or graph format and have to identify the relevant information and do some basic arithmetic. You may be required to calculate expenditure or profit, spot trends or work out percentages and ratios.

To prepare for a test you should revise GCSE standard maths and then practise as many numerical aptitudes tests as you can online. It’s a good idea to keep doing this until you familiarise yourself with the type of calculations you will be doing and you feel comfortable with answering the questions under timed conditions.

Numerical skills may also be tested at assessment centres using case studies. This may involve being given a fictional report and demonstrating that you understand and can analyse the data. Often this is more likely to rely on your commercial awareness than mathematical ability, but you may need to complete simple calculations as part of the task.

The skills you need for a graduate job in retail banking and insurance

A degree from a non-numerical background appeals to employers because you may have different insights and approaches to problems than those from numerical disciplines. You can use your degree as a selling point to demonstrate the other key skills required for the sector. These include:

  • Interpersonal skills – a client-facing role will involve discussing an individual’s financial situation and providing advice, as well as developing a network of local business contacts and dealing with complaints
  • Good leadership and team working skills – in retail banking, for example, typical responsibilities could include recruiting, training, supervising and appraising banking staff
  • Analytical skills – you need to be able to understand and assess data
  • Problem solving – you’ll have to identify problems, prioritise actions and meet deadlines successfully 
  • Verbal and written communication skills – work could include writing reports and maintaining statistical and financial records
  • IT skills

Use any relevant experience to demonstrate these skills on your CV, such as any group projects you may have done, any data analysing work you’ve done for your dissertation or any reports you’ve written.

It's also important to emphasise any numeracy skills you’ve practised outside of education on your application forms. This can include experience such as cashing up in a part-time job or being the treasurer of a student society.

The resourcing and employer brand manager at Mercer, Giovanna Miceli, told TARGETjobs Finance: ‘A couple of years ago I recruited a candidate with an English degree into an investment analyst role. On the surface, it wasn’t a numerical degree but she emphasised to me how she’d elected to study additional numerical modules. This highlighted her numerical ability.’

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