How to get a job in retail banking, insurance and financial services
Your first step should be the employers advertising on this website. Careers services also advertise vacancies and hold careers fairs and events, at which you can meet recruiters and talk to their graduate employees.
Choosing where to apply
This will largely depend on the area of finance you want to work in. Beyond this, it is important to choose an employer you will be happy working for. Would you be more comfortable working in a larger organisation with lots of fellow graduates or a smaller organisation where career paths tend to be more flexible? You can gain a feel for organisations through their recruitment literature, their corporate websites and through meeting their representatives at careers fairs and interviews. Remember that you are selecting the employer as much as they are selecting you and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Applying for jobs in retail banking
Generally graduate recruitment in retail banking is considered a three-step process:
Online application forms
These cover all the information you would expect to include in a CV and are sometimes accompanied by a numerical reasoning test or personality type questionnaire. Check the relevant company’s graduate recruitment guidelines on its website or brochure.
These are normally held on the company’s premises or sometimes in local hotels or colleges. They are attended by representatives from the business area to which you have applied.
These last from a few hours up to two days. Assessment centres include group exercises, case studies, in-tray exercises and psychometric tests. These are designed to identify whether or not you have the technical and/or personal skills to succeed in the job.
If you’re lucky enough to be offered more than one place – or if you’ve got a job offer and another interview coming up – and want to wait before accepting or rejecting an organisation, pick up the phone and explain the situation to the HR department. It’s in their interests that you find a workplace that suits you best and they’ll appreciate your honesty.
Jobs in insurance
The insurance sector financially safeguards organisations and individuals from unforeseen risks and circumstances. Insurance companies provide financial products and insurance brokers work on behalf of the client to find the best product. Many retail banks now offer insurance services. The industry is so diverse there are many different job roles for graduates.
What will I do?
The main graduate roles are in:
Insurance underwriters decide whether to insure clients and work out what the client should pay in premiums to offset the risk.
- Managing operations
This involves managing and developing people and systems to ensure that transactions and claims are processed.
This entails working out how much a client has lost and how much the insurance company should pay out.
Roles in this area involve gauging clients’ needs, developing products in line with these needs and selling the developed products to clients.
- Support functions
These include marketing, HR and IT roles.
- Actuarial work
This has its origins in the insurance industry but now also spans other business areas requiring long-term planning such as insolvency. Actuaries evaluate the financial implications of decisions or determine the probability of events and assess risks. They may also be concerned with accepting new policies; with legal and taxation matters affecting life assurance; or with investing funds. Large insurance employers provide graduate schemes.
Qualifications and skills
Insurance-related roles are generally open to graduates of any discipline but some employers ask for a numbers-related degree. You study for an appropriate professional qualification while working. To professionally qualify as an actuary as a graduate, you need grade C in Honours Mathematics in the Leaving Certificate (or a minimum grade B at A level) plus a second class in any degree (or a third in maths).
Depending on your role, you may liaise with professionals from a wide range of other sectors, so it is important that you have good communication skills as well as being comfortable with numbers (if you do not have a finance degree), an ability to work on your initiative as well as part of a team and also an ability to work to deadlines.
Working hours are often those of a standard office. Some roles, eg brokerage, may require Saturday work. While many roles are office based, others involve some travelling.
Gaining work experience
It will greatly enhance your recruitment chances if you complete work experience in a retail bank or insurance company. It may lead to a job offer, as many finance recruiters use it as part of their graduate recruitment process. It is vital that you prepare your work experience application as scrupulously as you would for a permanent position.
Many financial employers run formal internships. These are typically available in the summer (usually lasting ten weeks) and are mostly designed for penultimate-year students. They give you a taster of the different types of work the organisation does, as well as networking opportunities. Application deadlines for internships are usually in January or February, so check company websites for closing dates. Some organisations also offer shorter 'taster' programmes or longer industrial placements.
How to get an internship
Check the websites of the larger financial organisations to see if they have formal internships and if not, contact them to see if you can get work experience during the summer. When applying for an internship or a summer job, you need to convey your desire for a finance career in your application. State your reasons for wanting to work in finance and for this organisation, and demonstrate your knowledge of the sector as well as their products and services.
Banking, insurance and financial services is such a competitive area for graduates that those who haven’t researched the sector and employers they are applying to will get left behind. It will help your application and interview experience to know the services that the employer offers; the typical graduate entry positions and career paths; some recent developments within the organisation; and who the recruiter’s main competitors are.