Introduction to banking and finance

The Gateway introduces this high-profile and high-paying sector, so you can work out if it's where you want to invest your time

What is banking and finance?

When we use these terms in The Gateway, we're usually referring to anything to do with investment banks, asset management firms, hedge funds, brokerages and financial services data providers, and their work.

What kind of careers are available to graduates in this industry?

The sector is one of the largest graduate recruiters in Britain - and there's a huge spectrum of jobs available.

At an investment bank you might be placed as an analyst in a revenue-generating role in the investment banking or markets division. On the markets side, you could sit in a trading team or conduct research, while banking analysts might find themselves advising on large corporate deals or arranging finance for clients. Some banks also offer opportunities to work with individuals on their investment needs, or with companies on the financial aspects of their businesses.

Alternatively, you could work on managing a bank's internal finances, evaluating the risks of the investments it makes or on ensuring it complies with banking regulation. There are also positions available in providing the support that the rest of the bank needs to function. Every bank has IT, HR and Operations teams which ensure that the organisation has the technology, people and infrastructure in place that it needs to be successful.

Starting your career in finance doesn't necessarily mean joining a bank. You could also go to work for an asset management firm or hedge fund. Both types of organisation manage millions of pounds of invested money, and as a new joiner you might find yourself involved in picking companies to finance, or working with clients to understand their investment needs. Like banks, these firms also have compliance and support teams, often with roles available to recent graduates.

Brokerages also provide options for students interested in finance. Here you could be charged with buying and selling shares, bonds, or commodities such as wheat, gold or crude oil, and for monitoring these markets. Finally, there's financial services data firms, where you might be researching market information, working on software development or breaking news stories.

Who are the major recruiters?

The bulge bracket banks (the biggest, multinational, conglomerate institutions, such as Morgan Stanley or UBS) typically hire hundreds of graduates every year. Then there's big high street names, such as HSBC and RBS, who have large presences in both retail and investment banking - RBS for one will hire 500 graduates in 2011. But don't ignore smaller banks like Hawkpoint and Jefferies, who can offer great and distinctive opportunities. On the asset management side, look out for big graduate recruiters like Fidelity and M&G. Finally, the likes of ICAP and Bloomberg can offer some slightly different roles.

In The Gateway over the coming year we'll be introducing you to many of these employers and giving you the key details about the opportunities they offer..

What kind of students are they looking for?

Before considering a career in finance, you must be fully aware of the rigours of the work, as the admittedly lucrative salary doesn't come for nothing. The hours can be long, the work is hard and you'll be expected to learn a lot in your first few years. If you're prepared to knuckle down, though, the City is a rewarding place to be.

Financial institutions emphasise that there is no such thing as a perfect recruit and, sure enough, their graduate ranks are bolstered annually by a disparate bunch of people. Contrary to popular belief, companies don't limit their intake to students of financial subjects. Instead they look for well-rounded individuals from many disciplines. There are, however, particular jobs that are tailor-made for certain subjects. Those with a mathematical or statistical background might find trading a good fit and IT graduates are very much in demand by bank's technology teams but, as you'll see elsewhere in this issue, students with backgrounds as diverse as geography and engineering have successfully entered the fray.

There are some attributes that are welcomed across the finance sector. Good grades are essential - many banks, for instance, will only look at candidates with a 2:1 or better and very good grades in your A-levels or equivalent. Beyond that, because of the complex nature of much of the work, good analytical skills are looked upon favourably. Students with a demonstrable sense of leadership and responsibility will also do well. Organisations are always looking for those with initiative, so will gravitate towards who have shown it throughout their time at university. So work hard at your studies, and whatever you do in your spare time, get properly involved and make it work for your CV!

Will I need to do any further study when I finish my degree?

Postgraduate studies are not usually needed for entry level positions, though a masters in finance or economics could give you an edge over otherwise equivalent applicants. Some employees in this sector study for a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) after a few years on the job, either part-time or on secondment, and doing so can help open the door to a management position.

If I'm interested, what should my next steps be?

Freshers can attend introductory days and weeks at many organisations and if you're curious about a career in the City, these first year programmes are the perfect way to find out if it's for you. Getting involved in these schemes can often lead to a longer internship in the summer of your second year, which is increasingly the main way in which organisations in this sector are filling their graduate roles.

Reading up about finance and the markets is also a key step in getting a job in this sector - and making sure it's what you want to do. We at The Gateway will help keep you up-to-date with industry news and give you unique employer insights and career advice. And for an in-depth look at the investment banking universe, Gateway-style, look out for our Investment Banking Special Issue on stands soon!