Life is full of sweeping choices, some calculated, others forced. Before you know it, you have reached a crucial chapter of life which will dictate your future to a greater degree than you can imagine. Looking back now on an extensive career in Tier 1 banking, I immediately jump back to my time back at school and university – the pressure of the choices I needed to make then, now feels humbling yet at the time were persistent and extremely stressful.
Questions like how do I pick an industry that fits me, how do I choose where to invest my education, money, efforts in order to build a career. For my part I always knew that it was going to be something related to the economy. The importance of economics on every facet of society combined with the social prestige and the apparent abundance of job opportunities back at that time enticed me into choosing to invest my efforts into studying Accounting and Finance.
If the thoughts of the corporate environment, stressful day to day, long hours, important meetings, analyzing numbers make you anxious then Banking is certainly not the field for you. The glamour and salaries are tempting and these must be weighed against the realities we can get into later. Like with any career, you won’t enjoy every day – you’ll face challenges, wins and losses and its important to understand as much as possible what you’re getting into.
In The Beginning
In my first year at University I was still confused about what exactly I was doing in economics – if you feel like that then don’t worry because you are not alone. I was hearing so many new things that I didn’t understand and the career path had almost infinite possibilities that left me very confused on how I proceed from there.
Should I focus on a corporate career, should I focus on accounting, do I like auditing, do I see myself devoting hard effort to pursuing a career that required me becoming a chartered accountant, am I creative enough to be in marketing? I knew that the sooner I would find myself in a position of adding experience the better and that only added to the pressure. Back in those days, we weren’t so privileged to have websites that can be an aid in your quest to land a first job or an internship.
As a consequence, you had to be very self-organized. My story is no different to most people’s and it starts with an internship in a Bank branch in a retail, client-facing position. That experience made me realize that Banking was the industry for me. When you are choosing an internship, you have to make sure that at least you have the will to know more about this industry so that it will be time well spent from your side.
During an internship within your desired career path, you have to give your absolutely best, try to learn as much as you can whilst also investing in crucial networking in the sector because it might come handy in the near future. Be active and curious because there is a whole world out there to explore.
Study, study, study and then study some more
Banking requires studying, a LOT of studying. You are getting into an extremely competitive industry with high calibre colleagues that have invested a lot into their personal and professional development. That means that you have to forget that after you finish your bachelor’s degree it is game over for your education. Far from it. You have to invest a lot of time and energy into upgrading your CV by adding to your core skills without forgetting to enhance your soft skills as well. Usually, in order to be accepted into a banking position you have to obtain at least a master’s degree.
Even the most tedious banking positions nowadays require a master’s degree. Similarly to the internship search, you have to search well in advance which Master’s degree will hand you the knowledge and the confidence to beat the competition and get you the job you want. Furthermore, it is advised that your Master’s Thesis topic should not only be in accordance with a field of interest but also in an alignment with recent developments in Banking. Moreover, if you are really ambitious and dedicated to work in an important position within a bank or in the broad corporate world you have to obtain a professional qualification. Getting a professional qualification is a big commitment from your part and you have to know it in advance before starting.
As mentioned previously, even entry positions in Front Office, Risk Management, and to some degree the back office requires a master’s degree and as a consequence reaching the upper echelons also require something more specialized, a professional qualification.
There are qualifications for financial analysts (CFA), auditors (ACCA/ACA/CPA/ICAEW), internal auditors (CIA), risk management (PRM), Financial Modelling (FMVA) etc. The saying goes that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest and this is not far from the truth. Many Directors and Managing Directors go on to complete MBA’s and Executive MBA’s.
Networking is key
Personal branding and networking are extremely crucial. Many introverts find networking a lot tougher than studying or working hard. Ultimately, you will have to understand that networking is not just an option but more of an obligation if you want to increase your probabilities of success.
Networking should begin from the very start of your studies and you shouldn’t limit yourself just to related events that are being held on campus. Almost every university will give you the chance to participate in external exams and competitions like Bloomberg, CFA challenge, debates, exchange programmes etc. and it would be worthwhile to be as involved as you can. Networking is even more important during any internships you may have so try to impress your managers and a more permanent opportunity may arrive in the future. Networking will offer access to information and in some cases referrals that may lead to a job interview, and you might just make some longstanding friends through it also!
Stay Up to Date
The Banking Sector is very dynamic so you have to follow the developments in order to be more competitive. For example, the trend in worldwide banking is the continuous implementation of technology while the traditional old retail banking is leaving us for good. As a result, there is a high need for professionals that can combine financial knowledge with IT skills. SQL, Python and R are frequently present in job posting requirements.
You can easily master those skills with online courses that in some cases can be offered totally free of charge. Even better you can also invest in a FinTech Master’s degree that will keep you better equipped to survive the huge involvement of technology. Blockchain will change the world as we know it and banks slowly but steadily are starting to accept the new reality and they are preparing their business model accordingly. Another example of following the trends in economy would be my own personal experience. I live in Greece and back in 2008, back in the time when the global economic downturn started, I saw an opportunity behind the disastrous effects on our economy.
As the result of the crisis was the creation of almost 60% of non-performing loans, I decided to educate myself about NPLs and banking provisions for bad debt and I got rewarded by getting hired from a systemic bank in a position of NPL management. Nowadays, many of those bad debts have been sold to foreign asset management funds and people with NPL management skills are highly sought after. At the same time, a guy living in Switzerland for example, should be focused on wealth management skills. Different countries, different skills.
Wrapping things up
The daily routine in a banking position is a fulfilling experience and, in most cases, quite exciting. Helping a company to grow or applying restructuring skills to help a business in jeopardy is highly rewarding. If thoughts of meeting with clients and living in a demanding and competitive work environment feels like personal and professional development, then start early and create you very own tailor made plans that will lead you to the banking job that you are dreaming. As time is of the essence, spend it wisely.
Harry has an MSC in Financial Management and an MBA. He worked for a systemic Bank in retail branches and in SMEs Special Assets Unit. Currently he is working as a Business Client Advisor for a well known German Bank.