BNP Paribas's European Corporate Group (Fixed Income) Head and EMEA Head of Debt Capital Markets, Tim Drayson, and Graduate Recruitment Manager, Natalia Garland, tell The Gateway about the bank's summer internship programme.
A global bank in a very civilised West End location; a stable retail performer with a reputation for financial wizardry. The Gateway is intrigued and so starts by asking Tim to describe how he sees BNP Paribas.
Tim tells us how the bank's breadth of experience in both retail and commercial investment banking provides cross-selling opportunities and many benefits to clients, and then discusses BNP Paribas's long-standing reputation for excellence in complex capital markets work: "Clever solutions for clients using capital markets products are at the heart of our business."
Tim draws a link between what he calls this "very smart" aspect of the bank's work, and its clued-up attitude to risk: on the financial crisis, he comments, "The reason the bank didn't get into a significant amount of trouble is that the culture here isn't about doing trades just to make short term profits. We always sit back and ask ourselves, does this transaction really make sense?"
Tim then moves from the bank's business to its working environment: "We are a very consensual organisation. Everybody's expected to work as a team. We're more focused on intelligent co-operation than solo performance. If we hear that someone's struggling to come up with a solution for a client, then people will make the time to help."
Sounds like a good place for students to take their first steps in banking. At this point, Natalia takes over to explain how the internship programme works. It starts with some thoughtful preparation: "We choose the managers and the teams who receive interns carefully so that we know they will give good work to the students." The internship is non-rotational, allowing participants to get to know one area of the bank well, but does include two one-week desk changes, which are also carefully planned: "We meet the intern's managers to get a good understanding of where an individual's key talents lie", and such insights, along with the interns' own preferences, are used to arrange these two weeks, making it "quite a bespoke programme."
The interns also receive extensive training, starting with an induction week, which covers both soft skills and also essential business knowledge including, "an introduction to capital markets, analysing company accounts, and derivatives basics". Interns also attend extra electives training, which are tailored towards the work of particular desks. At this point, they are also introduced to the charity project on which they will work together over the summer, which last year was organising a launch party for a community partnership initiative. Training continues throughout the programme; interns attend weekly workshops, one-off specials such as trading simulations or business presentations and are also welcome to go along to training sessions put on for staff.
What kind of tasks do interns do? Natalia stresses the preparation that goes into making sure that the intern will be integrated into the work of their allocated team, which includes the identification of a project for them to complete over the summer. This care taken doesn't mean that you'll be artificially sheltered from the challenges of a job in banking, however - Tim gives an example of how an intern might get right into the thick of things: "If the team is pitching a bond issue the following week, an associate might say, here's the book we did for a similar company's pitch - make the necessary changes and go to the syndicate desk for prices." Tim also explains that efforts are made to integrate interns into some parts of the bank that, because of the specialised nature of their work, could find it harder to involve an undergraduate: "For one derivatives desk, we've written an introductory package for everyone in the team so that when interns arrive, the team have things to show them, and ideas about what jobs can be effectively done by the student."
We think it sounds like a great programme, and, as we are sure that many readers of The Gateway would agree, ask what's needed to get a place. Natalia tells us the bank is looking for those who are ambitious, but also modest: Tim goes into more detail: "We want people who have a hunger to do a deal, to do business, or to solve a problem" but who are also prepared to give assistance to others who need it, "even if it doesn't directly contribute to their own success."
To get to the nitty gritty, Natalia says that BNP Paribas targets students with top grades who have made a conscious decision to go into investment banking - and it's important to realise that having advanced numeracy skills is a significant advantage for some desks: "For the trading side, we will generally consider those with a quantitative degree". For roles in sales or marketing, degree requirements are more flexible but, as Tim notes, "even if you're a salesperson, you're selling things that are now so complex that you've got to have some mathematical aptitude to be able to deal with them."
Natalia explains that to get a place on the programme, you'll have to fill in an online application form and complete a numeracy test and competency based questions, which is followed by an assessment day, if you complete the first stages successfully. The internship scheme is regarded as an extended assessment of suitability for a permanent graduate position; there is no distinction between internship and graduate recruitment application processes and the bank aims to transfer as many summer interns as possible onto the graduate programme.
What do potential recruits think about BNP Paribas's internship scheme? The Gateway spoke to two past interns who are both now analysts at the bank, Katie Wilson and Dipen Shah, to find out more.
First, we asked the new recruits to give us their impressions of the bank's culture. Katie starts by emphasising that the office doesn't feel like the English outpost of a French headquartered bank: "The fact that Paris is the head office is almost insignificant, because London is the banking centre of the world and it is by far the biggest office." Some departments, such as Fixed Income, are headquartered in London.
Dipen describes BNP Paribas's healthy way of working: "As long as you get your work done and you're on top of things, everyone is happy and relaxed." Dipen also likes the Marylebone location of the bank's main London base, and thinks that the bank is there, "because they like to do things their own way - I'd say it was representative of the bank; they have a different attitude toward risk, and a different attitude towards banking - I would say they are a little bit more conservative, which obviously helps during a global recession!"
We next move on to the internship scheme itself. How did Dipen and Katie find the application process? Dipen starts by reminding Gateway readers to: "prepare for the interview because a lot of people don't do so effectively. It's not very hard to find out about the bank by reading around, and you need to be prepared in this way." But he reassures you that, "they don't expect you to know everything. Try to learn as much as you can, but be honest if you don't know the answer and just say that you're here to find these things out. And don't be scared to ask questions yourself." Katie agrees: "You don't have to be a genius, but you do need to show that you are keen and eager to learn." Katie also talks about how different skills are tested in different parts of the application: technical ability will be assessed in the initial stages, which include an online numerical test, "And then in the interview, you've got to prove that you can talk about something that's relevant to BNP Paribas." Finally, there's the assessment day - Katie gives some examples of the kind of exercise you might be asked to undertake: "I had to prepare a pitch on a business model for a chain of restaurants, and we also had a group discussion where we had an hour to decide a business strategy for a beverage company."
So how was the internship once they got in? Both Katie and Dipen had a great time. Dipen liked the breadth of the work he could do: "I got work from all the areas of business", and that he could do something helpful: "I had my own project to complete, which the bank ended up making use of." Katie also felt like she had made a contribution: "My project was to research Spanish markets. At that point it was crunch time for Spain, with its economy going downhill, and not many of the traders were completely up to speed on what was going on. I prepared a presentation to be used internally on the Spanish market, the main investors, their capital situation, and so on. It gave me something on which to focus and an end goal, and it was good that my manager could see that I could produce something like that." Katie liked the fact that the bank had thought about a specific task for her because the sales desk, where she was, "is quite a tricky place to be as an intern because you can't actually do very much - you've just got to watch and learn."
Playing it cool
Katie also offers some tips on how to conduct yourself on the job: "It's surprising how many people won't show that they're keen, and that's important. You've been given a grade-A opportunity to indicate that you want to learn and so you should ask lots of questions. You've also got to be proactive and ask for things to do because people are busy, so if you sit and wait around for people to come to you, you'd be twiddling your thumbs half the day. Finally, get the small things right - always turn up on time, always look professional and always be polite to everyone."
We finish by talking about how Katie and Dipen felt about their internship experience overall, which for both, led to an offer of an analyst position. Katie was pleased that her efforts during her ten weeks had been recognised: "A lot of recruiters just want to hear about test results, but I felt that BNP Paribas hired me because of my work ethic too." Katie's academic background isn't mathematical, but she came to realise that BNP Paribas were also "looking to recruit for attitude - they said to me, we can teach you things but we can't change who you are." Dipen enjoyed the opportunity to really get to know the bank and his chosen field so that he could be sure he was making the right decision for his career: "The internship gives you a chance to talk to people and see what you feel comfortable with. You're not going to be working with the person you meet at the milkround presentation or with the guy interviewing you but on an internship you can make sure you like an area, and its style of doing things and that you really understand the business."
Dipen now works in Credit IT Risk, which means he manages and supports technical risk systems and internal applications for the bank's traders. Katie is in debt capital markets, which she describes as "Advising issuers when, how and what bonds to issue and at what price and then helping them execute the deal when they've chosen us to issue them." Katie explains that she benefitted from BNP Paribas's careful consideration of where each candidate might find the best permanent home: "HR were good at pinpointing what my strengths were and which department I should be in." Katie's clients are UK and Nordic banks and insurance companies, and, though she is still junior, she is already getting some great experience in her sector: "I'm going to Stockholm later this week. We're holding a couple of meetings, and then we're taking some clients to a big ice hockey match!"