"It's very exciting to be part of a growing business," says Toby Flaux, who joined Berenberg Bank's Capital Markets training programme in 2011. In the short time he's been there, he's seen Europe's oldest bank grow its balance sheet despite tough market conditions, and expand its operations into the US. What's more, with his feet now planted firmly under the equity sales desk, Toby's in a position to establish himself and help the bank grow even further in the process.
"There are high expectations from the outset, but joining Berenberg is very rewarding, very quickly. I can't think of a better place to have been a graduate trainee," he says. It's an opinion shared by Toby's mentor, Global Head of Sales David Mortlock. "It's tough work, but if you're genuinely entrepreneurial and enjoy building businesses and relationships with clients, Berenberg is a tremendously exciting place to be."
A different approach
Berenberg has performed well during the global financial crisis, which David says is down to the way the bank is managed: "There's a reason this bank is 420 years old - it has a rock-solid balance sheet and is very conservatively run from a financial perspective." This is largely because Berenberg is a privately-owned, partnership bank. "The partners have unlimited liability, which brings a focus and commitment to everything we do" explains David.
The bank also invests in long-term relationships with clients, and its culture is focused on "client service, trust and integrity", which is something that appealed to Toby: "David encourages us to be very close to our clients, provide them with the best possible service and always act in their best interest. I think some of that can be lost at other banks," he says.
Berenberg is also highly specialised in European equities. David says: "We have 70 research analysts covering 500 European shares. I don't know anywhere else within investment banking where you can combine our culture with that research resource."
This blend of structure, culture and resources differentiates Berenberg from its competitors, says David, and leads to the bank taking a different approach to business. "Whereas a lot of our competitors invest towards the top of the economic cycle and end up cutting back towards the bottom, Berenberg invests counter-cyclically, which helps us take advantage of tougher market conditions."
The bank's approach to business means that while some of its competitors are downsizing, Berenberg is expanding its global presence. "The big, institutional clients are increasingly located across several countries, and the more sales offices we have to serve them on a local basis, the better we're able to build relationships," explains David.
Berenberg has a strong presence in Europe, with 15 offices across six countries, and the bank opened its first North American office in Boston in 2011, followed by another in New York in 2012, to better serve US-based clients. "The US was a big gap for us and that's what we've been focused on addressing over the past couple of years," David says. Meanwhile the private bank has expanded its operations into Asia.
As Global Head of Sales, David frequently travels across Europe and to the US to work with the sales teams elsewhere, but even from the London office Berenberg's work is international in nature. Toby says: "If, for example, we're working on the IPO [initial public offering] of a business, it's all hands on deck from our sales teams globally."
David adds: "We're very focused on sharing ideas and information - we have an internal, global chatroom that everyone can contribute to, and I always encourage salespeople in other regions to spend time in the London office so the team can get to know each other."
Getting on as a graduate
David and Toby think it's a combination of Berenberg's historic strength and exciting future that makes the bank a compelling opportunity for graduates, who join the bank on a 15-month rotational scheme to find out where they best fit into the business.
Toby had an inkling that he wanted to work in sales when he applied to Berenberg: "I enjoy conveying ideas and communicating - client interaction is the most rewarding part of my job." But he also spent time in three equity research teams and the private banking division during his training programme. "Research is the bread and butter of the equities business, so it was a valuable experience to spend time there," he says.
"What I loved about starting at Berenberg is that I joined my desk on the first afternoon, and my team began giving me things to do straight away. Then, after a few weeks I did some general training and modelling courses," explains Toby. "I think I got more out of those courses having sat on the desk first, because the information wasn't in the abstract," he says.
Toby also says Berenberg's friendly working environment and exposure to senior management appealed to him, and makes the bank a welcoming place for graduate hires. "On the trading floor, everyone sits together, chats away and communicates, so it's a very flat structure in terms of the way people deal with each other." David adds: "Unlike other City institutions, our structure is both flat and simple... I'm Global Head of Sales and I do Toby's annual review - there are no lines of management in between us. People are measured, reviewed and paid based on performance."
As Berenberg continues to expand, the bank is hiring talented graduates to grow with the business. David has 15 years of experience in investment banking, and says the job only ever gets more challenging. Fortunately, he's learnt how to spot those who will be successful: "I always look for people who are curious," he says. "The more naturally curious people are, the more convincingly they're able to communicate investment ideas and the better they're able to engage with clients." But that doesn't mean being brash or aggressive: "We want people with integrity - those who are intellectually inquisitive, but who also have a resilience and strength to their character."