Group exercises at investment banking assessment centres

Investment banking recruiters like to keep the precise content of their assessment centre group exercises a closely guarded secret. But if you're aware of typical tasks and structure, you’re unlikely to have any major surprises.

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While generic ‘teambuilding’ tasks are sometimes included, most exercises relate to the division in question.

Group exercises, aka case studies or group discussions, are a common element of investment banking assessment days. While generic ‘teambuilding’ tasks are sometimes included, most exercises relate to the division in question. Don’t assume that you will be set the same scenarios as friends applying to different divisions at the same bank.

Help yourself predict your group exercises by re-reading your research into what, fundamentally, the job in question involves, eg identifying the best investment opportunities or marketing new products.

While it is not possible for in-person assessment centres to take place due to social distancing restrictions, they may be held virtually using an online platform. Much of the advice in this article is equally relevant to in-person and virtual group exercises, but we also have a new article specifically about virtual assessment centres, including virtual group exercises. Group exercises at virtual assessment centres typically use breakout rooms on the digital platform to divide candidates into smaller groups. The tasks are likely to be discussion based rather incorporating a practical element like some in-person group exercises.

Typical group exercises at investment banks

Typical group exercises that have been run at investment banking assessment centres in previous years include the following.

  • Trading game/simulation. Has previously been used, for example, at ICAP and Barclays. At Barclays, candidates worked in teams and had 15 cards to trade with other teams.
  • Investment exercise. Has been used previously at Citi. Involves discussing various options for investing a given amount of money and reaching a group decision.
  • Launching a new financial product. For example, candidates at UBS have previously been asked to develop a marketing strategy for a new product with a given budget.
  • Group exercises unrelated to banking. For example, for its research and quantitative analytics graduate schemes, Barclays has previously asked candidates to build a run for a ping-pong ball that will maximise the time it takes to travel from one end of a table to the other. In a virtual assessment centre, it is unlikely that you would be asked to complete a practical activity such as this; your task would be more discussion based.

Structure of group exercises

A group size of six to eight people is typical, but smaller groups may be used in a virtual environment to ensure everyone has the chance to speak. Discussion time may be extremely limited – an analyst at Morgan Stanley reports having had only 10 or 15 minutes to reach a consensus in a group exercise, or – a little more lenient – candidates at UBS mention having had 20–35 minutes for group discussions.

A common element is to have a spanner thrown in the works part way through by the recruitment team. For example at UBS, this has been known to take the form of an ‘urgent email’ highlighting a problem such as a regulatory concern or a similar competitor product.

What banking recruiters look for at assessment centres

Precise requirements vary from role to role. However, banking recruiters typically use assessment centre group exercises to identify graduates who can work under pressure, adapt quickly to deal with new information and work collaboratively with colleagues.

Some investment banks design their assessment centres to find candidates who possess a particular trait. For example, they may specifically focus on tasks intended to seek out graduates who are able to assess information under pressure.

Article last updated 3 March 2021.

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