Top perspectives

Head of Real Estate at Barclays Capital, Brendan Jarvis, gives Hannah Langworth his views on the workings of the banking business – and its future prospects

Could you outline your career in the banking world?

This autumn I'll have been here at Barclays for 39 years. I started off in the retail bank in 1972 when I was 16 in a small rural branch with only eight members of staff. I've had the opportunity to develop my career at Barclays in a variety of roles, which has given me a great understanding of the organisation as a whole. This experience has been invaluable and through my hard work I've seen a natural progression in responsibility in the roles I've had. This progress has ended up with me taking charge of the real estate team across Barclays Capital and Barclays Corporate.

A bank like Barclays is such a large and diverse organisation that I've been able to move around significantly without changing employer, which I think is a powerful advantage for any prospective employee looking to join an organisation - I've had such a variety of opportunities and challenges, but have remained with the same institution for the whole of my career.

How would you explain how investment banks function and make money?

I once had a job washing-up in a restaurant and, over a period of time, came to understand how its business worked. Later, I realised that an investment bank functions in a not dissimilar way. Essentially, both restaurants and investment banks source great ingredients at an affordable price, then prepare them and sell them on at a profit in response to client demand. At a bank, you have people focused on particular financial products, and they're like the chefs in a restaurant kitchen preparing the food. A restaurant's maître d is like a sales person at a bank - they both get people through the door, tell them what's available, and what options they might consider. And the waiter who brings the dishes to the table is like a coverage person who works closely on meeting the specific needs of particular clients.

Like the restaurant business, banking is a service industry - everything you do has a customer at the end of it. In retail banking, your typical customer is a salaried worker with a car loan, a savings account for their holiday, and a mortgage. If you're clever, when they come to the desk to cash their cheques, you might notice that they have a travel brochure in their bag and ask them where they're going, and remind them to come in again to buy travel insurance from you. You might add that if they pay for it with their credit card, liability insurance is included for free. And if they haven't got a credit card, you'll explain why they should have one. This process is known as cross-selling, and it's how you retain customers and build the business.

An investment bank works in a comparable way; you tend to deal with organisations as your customers rather than individuals, but you still have to be focused on building relationships, and on cross-selling. An investment banker should aim to become a trusted advisor to a client, and should always consider how they might potentially offer other products and services to them.

How do investment banks and divisions within investment banks, formulate their business strategies?

All banks are split up into industry sectors which makes it easy to monitor who in that sector is most active, who's making the most noise, when there are new entrants to the sector and so on, so that the bank can make decisions about who they want to work with.

Some banks choose to build up particular specialisms. If an automotive team has done some fantastic work recently, the bank might decide to develop that particular team by making some new hires.

If an industry is growing rapidly, investment banks will make sure they're tooled up to service it. For example, during the dot-com boom most investment banks grew their telecommunications teams because they knew that there was strong client demand in this area.

Which areas of investment banking do you think offer particularly exciting opportunities for graduates at the moment?

I think that my sector, real estate, is always interesting because property is at the centre of the economy. I always say to people: "Look out the window" - because each one of the constructions they see is a piece of real estate with probably some form of bank financing involved in it. Consequentially, there's always demand for real estate advice from us, from occupiers, investors, developers, construction companies, or from a regeneration point of view, which makes working in this area varied and exciting.

Barclays has always had a real estate team, and will always have one. And the real estate industry has become more and more interesting during the current downturn, because property was at the heart of the financial crisis, and much of what's happened in the banking world since then.

Is now a good time to join an investment bank?

Throughout my career I haven't learnt as much when economic conditions have been positive. I think it's probably better to arrive in an industry when things are changing than when things are benign.

When I joined the banking world in the mid-1970s, huge seismic changes were taking place because of the South American petrochemicals financial crisis. Working in that very volatile environment has equipped me well to deal with what's happening now. Those people joining banks in, say, 2000 may have thought for six or seven years that banking is a predictable business, but then must have had a shock. But this kind of crisis happens periodically, and if you work through some difficult times you'll have learnt a lot and will have evolved an ability to prosper in whatever new circumstances you face during your career.

When today's student readers of The Gateway are senior figures in the finance world, how will investment banks be different to the institutions we see today?

I think the core functions that investment banks fulfil for the outside world won't change fundamentally. But I think banks will change significantly internally. There will be regulatory change because of the economic and financial events of the last few years. The current uncertainty has been difficult for banks, but I think once all the changes have been determined, the industry will learn to live with them.

What have you learnt about investment banking from your experience of the industry that you think might surprise people?

It's not all about spreadsheets and numbers. The more you work here, the more your creative side is brought out. For example, as you come to understand how a client's business works, you end up working strategically alongside the chairman or the chief executive.

I think banking is a fun place to be. You work hard, but you grow very close to the people in your team and they, and your clients too, can become friends for life. I often don't regard what I do as work because I'm immersed in something I enjoy.