Bristol is a leading financial services centre with many major international and national companies locating head office functions here. We are particularly good at retail banking, and local employers advertise local apprenticeships at level 2, 3 and 4 at various times throughout the year.
What is a retail bank?
There are many different types of banks, including investment banks, merchant banks, and private banks – most of which you’d expect to find in London. However, a retail bank is simply one serving everyday personal customers which you would traditionally see on the high street just like any other major shop.
These retail banks include the big-brand employers such as Lloyds, Barclays, Nat West and HSBC, as well as another huge player: Nationwide Building Society. There are also familiar names such as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Bath Building Society, Halifax, The Co-operative Bank (Co-op Bank), Santander and TSB. Whilst the most appropriately named ‘retail bank’ locally is perhaps M&S Bank, conveniently located in the M&S shop at Cribbs Causeway.
How are they changing?
For those retaining a branch on the high street, the retail banks can often look less like a traditional shop and more like a games arcade with walls of machines to take your money, pay you money and even provide information about your transactions.
Customers demand speed of service, convenience and increasingly make use of other means of accessing their funds. With fewer customer-facing staff needed in the branches as a result – and sadly, often fewer high street branches as well – roles have developed for off-site support teams to help customers via telephone banking and online.
Who is it suited to?
The sort of people suited to retail banking will vary hugely depending on the role. Those in the ‘frontline’ – whether in the branches or on the telephone remotely – will need strong interpersonal skills and a love of people. Most of all they will need incredible customer service skills.
This is not for the faint-hearted: there is only one thing which can anger a human being as much as health-related issues and that is a problem with accessing their money! The nicest person can become a raging bull overnight until you have resolved their problem, and this can require a considerable amount of stamina and good judgement as well.
In the branches, you can expect to need relationship-building skills, compassion and a genuine interest in getting to know your customer and their needs. You will be an ambassador for the brand and be expected to convey an extremely professional impression.
Additional skills required right across the sector include business administration, team-working, time-management, attention to detail and good communication; with more specialist skills needed depending on the division you are considering. In a head office for example, there will be architects, lawyers, actuaries, brands and marketing, IT, and commercial support functions to name a few. It is not all finance and money!
The application process can be rigorous and lengthy depending on whether you are applying for a frontline or leadership position. There are graduate opportunities which your Uni careers team can discuss with you, but also apprenticeships at various levels including higher apprenticeships with Lloyds and Barclays. Check the latest details easily on the careers pages of their websites and in their adverts for vacancies during the year.
To get relevant experience on your CV, look out for opportunities for summer internships and even approach your local branch to see if they offer work experience opportunities. But do not despair if you cannot get the perfect match. Transferable skills can come from aligned experiences as well and working at a charity shop on the high street, for example, can give you customer service experience and general employability skills such as time-management, team-working, organisational as well as evidence of responsibility if allowed on the till. All will be of benefit to your CV and application.
What to expect in leadership roles
Starting out as either a higher apprentice or graduate you can typically expect to rotate around the business gaining experience in a variety of areas. Don’t expect this to be a job shadowing opportunity: in return for a generous starting salary, the banks will be expecting you to deliver and allocate you projects and challenges from the outset, more than likely involving long hours.
On top of this, you will very likely be completing a qualification in the background and can therefore expect to work extremely hard and be pushed to the limit to see what you are capable of. You’ll be in smart business attire and expected to create a professional impression from day one.
What to expect in customer-facing roles
Starting out in customer-facing roles will be easier, but do not underestimate the expectations of these giant employers with high standards who face tough regulation and strong competition. Even in a branch location, you could be asked to work Saturdays or work flexibly to accommodate the needs of the customer who will be at the centre of everything the company is doing.
And finally, …
Many of the banks have been advertising recently, and we can expect more apprenticeships in the future. If you can put the customer at the heart of everything you do and work in a fast-paced and extremely demanding professional environment, then it is definitely worth a look. As always, think outside the box as this is not all about finance – quite the contrary!
Careersnearhere: It’s Your Future – Let’s Get It Started.
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