Getting work experience and internships in retail banking, insurance, regulation or actuarial science

Advice on applying for internships and placements in finance, as well as how to make a good impression during your work experience and what options are available.

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You typically apply for a specific vacancy, so you'll need to have some idea of what you want to do before you apply.

Your chances of getting a graduate job in retail banking, insurance, regulation or actuarial science will be boosted if you get an internship in the industry while at university. Here we answer your work experience questions and give you tips on how to apply.

Will there be work experience opportunities with finance employers in 2021?

As of February 2021, most retail banking, insurance, regulation or actuarial employers are advertising internships, first-year insights and placement years based in their offices, rather than virtually. This is subject to Covid-19 restrictions being lifted before the summer; it is possible that, if social distancing and remote working were to continue, they would be cancelled or moved online. We think this is much less likely to happen than it was in 2020. However, if it does (or you are worried about having missed out on doing work experience in 2020) you may find the following advice useful:

Why is it a good idea for me to get finance work experience/internships?

  1. It’s an opportunity to try out the financial services industry and see how any technical knowledge you've gained from university can be applied in the workplace.
  2. It’s an opportunity for you to network and make contacts that could help you in your future career.
  3. It’s an opportunity to see whether an employer and/or a type of job role is right for you.
  4. It could smooth your way into a graduate job with the employer: most financial services firms – from insurance companies to banks – aim to hire 60–90% of their interns. At some employers you’ll skip most of the recruitment process and go straight to interview. At others, you might be offered a job straight away.
  5. Even if you don’t get (or don’t accept) an offer from your internship company, your industry-related work experience will boost your other graduate job applications because it provides evidence of your commitment to the sector and suggests that you have made a considered career choice.
  6. Similarly, the internship recruitment process will be good practice for your graduate job applications, giving you experience of interviews and online application forms, for example.
  7. In this competitive graduate market, most of your graduate competition will have finance-related work experience.

What types of retail banking, insurance and financial services work experience are available?

The work experience options at retail banks, regulatory and insurance firms include:

  • Insight programmes: these are usually for first years and can range from insight days to a week-long internship. Insight weeks have traditionally taken place in the spring but in 2021 are likely to be later in the year. For example, NatWest Group is set to run its female insight week in September.
  • Summer internships: these are usually for penultimate-year students and typically last for 6 to 12 weeks during the summer holidays. Most financial services firms, including the Financial Conduct Authority, Lloyds Banking Group, Lloyd’s of London, HSBC, Lane Clark and Peacock and American Express, are offering these in 2021.
  • Industry placement years: targeted at those who take a year-in-industry as part of their degree, which is a 12-month contract offered by financial services employers including Nationwide, the Bank of England, Aon and Allianz.
  • Ongoing internships: some retail banking and insurance organisations may provide internship opportunities as and when there is a business need for them.
  • Ad hoc shorter periods of work experience: some employers have been known to offer some more informal work experience for a week or two. This type of opportunity may not be paid.

When should I apply for financial services internships?

Vacancies for most work experience opportunities open around September/October and close in December the year before you want to start work experience. A few firms have closing dates in January or February and a few more will advertise vacancies on an ad hoc basis, so keep an eye on targetjobs.co.uk and employers’ websites. Some close applications for their internship when the vacancies are filled, so apply as soon as you can once the programme opens for applications.

How do I apply for retail banking and insurance internships and placement years?

Typically, would-be interns apply via the same application system as applicants for graduate vacancies – although it may be a little shorter. Bear in mind that you will typically apply for a specific vacancy in a specific department, so you will need to have some idea of what type of job you’d like to do.

Any tips on applying for internship vacancies in finance?

Although recruiters won’t expect the same amount of knowledge or experience as they do of candidates for their graduate schemes, they will be looking for the same skills, attributes and application techniques as they do from graduate candidates so follow the graduate application advice on TARGETjobs:

Think about your skills and how they might be relevant to the role you’re applying for. These can come from any part-time jobs and extracurricular activities. Recruiters like to see applicants who have done their research and can explain why they are interested in a career in this sector. Academic qualifications alone won’t get you a place – it’s important to show that you have an aptitude for the business. Make sure you keep up to date with what’s going on in the world by reading the business press and not just on the day of your interview. There’s no point in saying ‘I’m passionate about retail banking’ and then not being able to answer a question like ‘What's the current base rate?’

What does an internship involve at retail banks and insurance firms?

Internships and placement years are structured and purposely designed to give you an insight into the work. However, the work you will be given to do will also have real benefit to the business. Internships usually begin with an initial training programme or induction. Then your tasks may include some analysis work, IT testing or researching a market, depending on the division you’re in.

It’s also likely that you’ll be given a project to work on jointly with other interns and asked to present your findings to senior members of the firm at the end of your internship.

How can I impress while on my finance internship?

  • Remember that you’ll be working in a professional environment: make sure you’re on time and dressed appropriately. View the internship as an extended interview.
  • Maximise the variety of different experiences you get while you're there. Be sociable and get to know lots of people within the organisation. Don’t be afraid to volunteer for more work if you see something that needs doing and you’ve got time to do it.
  • Recruiters look for interns who can work as part of a team and get along with their colleagues, so don’t be tempted to ‘do another intern down’ in an attempt to make yourself look better. It won’t.

What if the internship shows that it's not for me?

If you find that the area of work or the organisation isn’t right for you, remember that it’s much better to discover this during an internship than after you’ve graduated and accepted a permanent offer.

Lucy Filer, a graduate at Allianz who previously completed its summer internship, told TARGETjobs Finance: ‘Doing an internship will help you figure out where you might want to work in the future. There are people who do an internship and don’t enjoy it, and that’s also really beneficial because it means they’ve found an area that they don’t want to work in.’

If you want to work in financial services but not for that company, you can use the experience in your applications to other companies to explain why you are applying to a different division – again, this shows you making the considered career choice recruiters like to see.

If you’ve decided that you want to work in another career area entirely, your experience is still valuable. You can talk about how what you didn’t like about financial services has guided your decision to apply to them. The transferable skills you gained in the internship will also boost your application: teamworking, communication, being in an office, time management and meeting deadlines will all look good.

Article last updated 18 February 2021.

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