Unlike investment banking who number conglomerates among their clientele, the heart of retail and commercial banking is personal finance - with the likes of you and me as the main customers. It's no wonder then that exceptional communication and people skills are key to excelling in this sector.
Often your role will be to convey complex financial information (after understanding it yourself) in a jargon-free, professional way.
Retail is the face of many a bank on the high street, as well as on the phone and online. It's why leading employers look for a number of smart graduates to join them each year to uphold their high standards and out-compete the rival banks.
Graduate careers in retail and banking offer the chance to work in a range of strategic, operational and consultative roles which each demand different skill sets and personality types.
How the industry has changed
The market place of banking and finance is fiercely competitive and very crowded. Just think how many adverts you come across - on TV, online, mobile or billboards - pushing the latest product/service that might benefit you as the consumer. At the same time, there is a sprinkling of new start-up banks popping up whose aim is to learn the lessons of the financial crisis to provide a better and more reliable service to the consumer.
With technology increasingly changing the way we bank, innovative products are becoming an ever more important part of retail banks' repertoire of services. Such products are being designed to not only increase customer security but also to provide better access online, e.g. tablet and mobile.
Whatever future developments have in store for us, a career in retail and commercial banking will be dynamic and at the forefront of consumer technology.
Your role as a graduate in retail banking
Graduate roles in this sector have been primarily focused on relationship and branch management. However, due to changes in technology and an increasing need to compete with other brands, there are also opportunities within marketing and product teams. In addition, compliance and risk management are just as crucial to retail and commercial banks as to investment firms so this is another entry point for an analytical graduate.
Most graduate placements tend to last 18 to 24 months and over that time you'll gain a in-depth understanding of the bank's products was well as hone your client-facing skills. In your second year, you will usually become much more focused on a particular area within the company, according to the businesses needs, your skills and interests.
On completion of a graduate placement, a number of companies offer the chance for those who have excelled to springboard into management and leadership positions, which obviously come with greater responsibilities and higher salaries.
Top skills for excelling in retail & commercial banking
- Communication: Both written and oral.
- Ability to listen and empathise: this is key to ensuring that you provide the right solution to a potential client or customer and they go away happy
- Strategic and problem solving capabilities: You'll possess the patience to work through a problem, generate a potential solution and support your solution with clear evidence as to why you believe it is the correct one. It's a key competency tested at interview.
- Commercial acumen: After all, you're at the heart of the financial sector that makes so much of the world go round.
- Teamwork: You'll be required to work with lots of different people from different departments and with varying skills. If you want to climb the retail and commercial banking career ladder, you'll need to demonstrate this from day one.
- Flexibility: Branches and employers have bases all over the UK and your role as a graduate may require you to travel and/or be based elsewhere. Sometimes you can state where you want to work at the point of application, but this cannot always be guaranteed so do check with the recruiting teams to find out what might be possible so that your expectations are managed.
Learn more about the skills you need for a career in Finance.
- 2.1 from a good university, in any degree discipline
- Some employers may ask for a good GCSE Maths grade, but the A Level is not normally compulsory
- Good work experience which demonstrates that you have the ability to work in an office environment with a team
Salaries in retail and commercial banking
While the packages might not be as beefy as they are in investment banking, the opportunities for advancement are plentiful and quick. Graduates can start on a range of salaries, from £20,000 rising up to £25,000. That said, a number will also provide generous relocation packages and/or allowances if you are posted to a specific region. And depending on the career route and company you pick, your salary should steadily rise and those in central management positions can earn in excess of £75,000.
Discover retail and commercial banking graduate opportunities
Take a look at finance graduate programmes to get your career off to a flying start.