First steps

Lucy Mair catches up with Henry Manson, who took part in Credit Suisse's Spring Insight Program in 2010 and is now set to join the bank when he graduates in 2012

What attracted you to apply for a first year programme in investment banking?

My interest was provoked by an economics course at school and by attending careers fairs, which gave me a chance to have a look around and see what was available. I also did a lot of scouting around online to research different recruiters and roles, because there are so many different ones.

I like doing things that are fast-paced and challenging, which attracted me to investment banking. Also, it's an environment where you never stop learning. I enjoy working with people, and in investment banking you're client-facing, in addition to working in a team within the bank. So I think investment banking suits my skills. I also like the fact that it's an exciting and high-profile industry where you can see things that you've worked on in the news.

What did the insight week involve?

It's a five-day programme in London that introduces you to the investment banking industry and the company. We had presentations about Credit Suisse and the different divisions within the bank. There were some Q&A sessions so we could find out more about different areas of the business, like the energy sector team and leveraged finance, which I found very useful. We also did hands-on activities, challenges and case studies, and we had the opportunity to meet lots of people, chat to them, and see what day-to-day life at the bank is like.

What did you enjoy most about the week?

We did an M&A case study using Heineken and Carlsberg, which I thought was the most interesting part of the programme because I came away with an understanding of what investment bankers actually do. We were separated into groups, had to form a negotiating team, and then go and discuss the pricing of the deal with our competitors. We then completed the financial transaction, under the supervision of the business representative. I hadn't had experience of these kinds of activities before, so it was a very good way for me to get exposure to what I'd actually be working on during the day if I joined the industry.

How did your degree course relate to the tasks you were given to do?

I'm studying Arabic and Economics at the University of Edinburgh, and one of the big surprises for me was that studying economics isn't as relevant as I thought. My course is very theoretical and to do with economic models and economic thought, which isn't really related to what you'll do in the investment banking world. It wasn't an issue though, because we had a couple of morning training sessions that started right from the basics. Some of the technical finance training was challenging, but the trainer was extremely helpful and easy to understand, and they know you're there to learn. Most of the skills were new to everyone, so when banks say they don't mind what degree you have, they really mean it.

Did you have opportunities to network with people at the bank?

There were lots of networking events over lunch, where we got to meet graduates who had recently started at the firm, so they had done insight courses and internships and could relate to us. But we also met extremely senior people at networking dinners and I was inspired by the incredible drive and enthusiasm everyone has for what they do, which is hugely motivating as a fantastic example of how much you can achieve here. By the end of the week, you end up with up to 40 business cards from people who are absolutely willing for you to get in touch and ask them anything you haven't had a chance to find out during the week.

What hours did you work? Did the bank organise events in the evening?

The Spring Insight hours aren't necessarily reflective of business hours, and they're very frank about that. We generally started at 8.30am and we'd finish at around 6pm. They took very good care of us, and there was always something planned in the evening. We had informal drinks after work or went for dinner with business representatives, but the highlight was going to the Royal Albert Hall for a comedy festival, which was absolutely brilliant!

Did the experience change your perception of banking?

Before I went on Spring Insight I was sceptical about banking culture. But at Credit Suisse all the people I met were personable, happy to help, and they seemed to understand our position and that we didn't know very much about the industry. I was impressed and surprised by the number of senior people I got to speak to, which I saw as a sign that the company was investing in us. I realised that investment banks think about their people a lot and value them. Also, the hierarchy is definitely not as rigid as people might think - you can chat to a director as much as you'd chat to a colleague at the same level as you.

What advice would you give to freshers thinking of applying?

It's important to ask as many questions as you can. No question is a stupid question, so don't be afraid to ask anything - they don't bite your head off if you ask something you think you should already know.

I'd encourage people applying to do their research about different banks and roles, because there are so many different opportunities within investment banks.

Remember also that the week is your opportunity to make an impression on the recruiters and potentially get fast-tracked for an internship the following year. This year, I did a full 10-week internship at Credit Suisse within the investment banking division and will be joining the European Energy team there when I graduate. I'm looking forward to it.