Retail banking: graduate area of work

Graduates working in retail banking roles deal with personal finances in a fast-paced environment that's all about excellent customer service. If you're a natural innovator and people person with managerial aspirations, you'll fit right in here.

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You can work in most retail banking roles, including branch management, with any degree discipline.

Retail banking, which is sometimes known as personal financial services, is what most people think of as high street banking. It concerns providing financial products and services, such as bank and saving accounts, insurance and mortgages, to individuals. Some banks also include their business banking wing in their retail banking division.

Retail banks are essentially retailers, so they need to combine meeting financial targets with good customer service. They turn a profit by charging fees for services or interest for borrowing money. When financial markets experience turbulence, some companies introduce more stringent criteria for borrowing money and increase their interest rates.

Operating in a crowded marketplace

The personal banking market is competitive and customers are said to be increasingly financially savvy. Retail banking organisations have to constantly innovate to survive. Innovations focus around:

  • technological advances, such as mobile banking and anti-fraud measures
  • banking product ranges and terms – banks are branching into new areas such as insurance
  • customer service

There has also been an increase in regulation, with a bigger focus on giving impartial and fair advice to customers.

Graduate job roles in retail banking

The main graduate jobs in retail banking are found in branch management or relationship management. However, other roles are available in marketing and products (eg developing, managing and promoting products such as mortgages), risk management and compliance. Employers include retail banks, building societies and supermarkets offering financial services.

On a branch management graduate scheme, you will typically spend your first 12 months receiving intensive training and working towards a professional qualification (see below). You will manage teams of people during a series of placements and will spend time on the floor dealing with customers in at least one of the bank’s branches.

Lorraine Burke, a management trainee at HSBC explained to TARGETjobs: ‘As a management trainee I perform a mixture of customer-facing and back office roles, receive coaching from colleagues and undertake a range of projects. Most of my work is carried out in conjunction with the management team and other colleagues within my branch, though I have also developed relationships nationally through projects, courses and networking.’

In your second year you will typically specialise in a particular area, such as mortgages or investments, and you may be put in control of a particular service team.

This will involve recruiting, managing and motivating employees, meeting targets, creating new products and services, and dealing with customer complaints.

If successful in your second year, you’re like to go on to a permanent branch manager role depending on your particular employer. After a couple of years, branch managers usually become area managers.

The importance of being flexible

Retail bank branches are found throughout the UK and most employers will expect you to be flexible about where you are based. The chances are you will have to move around in your first couple of years with the branch.

You may be able to state a preference for your branch location and some banks will operate regional schemes, but this is not guaranteed and a lack of geographical flexibility could prevent you from pursuing the best career opportunities.

You will also need to be able to adapt easily when it comes to working hours. ‘My branch is open seven days per week so I need to be flexible around my working hours, including sometimes working longer hours during busy periods or assisting at branch networking events,’ said Lorraine.

What degree background do I need to work in retail banking?

You can work in most retail banking roles, including branch management, with any degree discipline: your ability to manage, motivate and communicate is more important to most employers.

For example, Santander , HSBC and RBS require a 2.1 from any degree background for their retail banking graduate schemes. Some employers will require you to have a good maths GCSE grade.

Other than a strong degree, you’ll need:

  • The ability to manage, motivate and inspire people
  • The ability to meet financial targets
  • Customer service skills

Graduate retail banking salaries

Starting salaries for retail banking graduate management schemes are usually in the region of £18,000–£25,000, and some employers will offer additional bonuses, benefits and relocation allowances.

Following training, salaries will rise to £21,000–£40,000 with bonuses for hitting branch targets. Salaries will continue to rise throughout your career – central management roles can earn over £80,000.

Professional qualifications for retail bankers

If you want to give financial/investment advice to customers, you need to pass an appropriate qualification. Choices include:

  • Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning (run by the Chartered Insurance Institute – CII)
  • Diploma for Financial Advisers (run by the London Institute of Banking & Finance)
  • Diploma in Professional Financial Advice (run by the Chartered Banker Institute)
  • Investment Advice Diploma (Private Client Advice Route) (run by the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment)

If you want to advise on mortgages you will first need to pass one of the following exams:

  • Certificate in Mortgage Advice and Practice (run by London Institute of Banking & Finance)
  • Certificate in Mortgage Advice (run by the CII)

For some roles, you might be encouraged to take an accountancy qualification with, for example, the ICAEW. Your employer will usually advise you on which qualifications to take.

Job descriptions related to retail banking

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