Giving back

This year RBS and The Prince's Trust celebrate ten years of partnership. Lucy Mair finds out why corporate social responsibility is important to the bank, and how interns can get involved

As a multinational organisation and one of the key players in the financial services sector, RBS is keenly aware of its responsibility to support the communities in which it operates by contributing to economic growth and prosperity. The bank's corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme stretches across the globe, but one of its most important relationships is with a charity located on the bank's doorstep in the UK. RBS has a longstanding partnership with youth charity, The Princes' Trust, helping the organisation to improve the lives of disadvantaged young people. The Gateway caught up with RBS's Global Banking and Markets (GBM) Head of CSR, Michelle Wolfe, and Corporate Partnerships Manager for The Prince's Trust, Elly Taylor, to find out more.

A good corporate citizen

"Giving back to our local communities is an important part of RBS's responsibility as an organisation," explains Michelle. From repairing local playgrounds to encouraging children's reading skills, RBS's CSR programme aims to improve areas local to their offices by investing time, as well as money.

But the bank's CSR agenda isn't focused solely on the external environment. The projects also work towards building internal pride amongst employees at RBS, who, in the GBM division, are given an allowance of up to three days annually to volunteer. "We want our employees to feel proud of the organisation they work for, and giving them the opportunity to get involved in the community gives them a feel-good factor," says Michelle.

As well as considering the personal development and morale of current employees, RBS is also thinking about the ones who'll join them in the future. "The younger generation of graduates and potential employees is looking closely at what kind of company they want to work for, including that company's social values and commitment to environmental, ethical and inclusive practices," notes Michelle. That's why the GBM division invites interns to get involved in fundraising for The Prince's Trust from day one, to give them a sense of what RBS values, and a flavour of the opportunities available to them if they join the bank.

"The main focus of our community partnerships is to create opportunities for children and young people to have better futures," explains Michelle, which fits in well with the work of The Prince's Trust - the UK's leading youth charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged young people to gain access to education and training, in order to improve their employability and help them find work. "RBS is incredibly important to The Prince's Trust, and we couldn't do what we do without their support," says Elly. "Over 6,500 RBS employees have volunteered for the charity over the past ten years and through fundraising they have raised almost £3 million for The Prince's Trust, which is just fantastic."

Everybody wins

The Prince's Trust Entrepreneurial Challenge is a team fundraising competition undertaken by GBM summer interns during the course of their ten-week internship. Divided into teams of eight to ten people, the interns are challenged to use their business skills to raise a minimum of £2000 for The Trust by organising fundraising events, from five-a-side football tournaments and climbing Mount Snowdon, to sponsored pizza-eating contests and chocolate fountains.

The money raised during the Challenge goes directly towards helping young people achieve their potential by supporting them practically and financially so they can overcome the barriers they face. Participation in the Challenge also raises awareness of The Prince's Trust, as the teams of interns engage with their colleagues at RBS and the wider community to raise money - and they've been pretty successful in doing so. "This year interns in GBM raised over £21,000 during the Challenge, which is a huge amount of money that will transform the lives of 21 young people that the Trust supports," says Elly. How did they do it? "There isn't really a formula for fundraising success - the most important thing is the enthusiasm and dedication interns put into it. If something is well organised and publicised, and gets lots of people involved, then it can be really successful and make a huge difference."

Participation in the Challenge is also beneficial to those who take part, and to the bank. In order to hit the £2000 target, interns are challenged to develop skills including time management, organisation, team-building, communication, negotiation and leadership, which are transferable to any role they might take on at RBS. Participants also have the opportunity to engage their business creativity and money-managing skills, and put them into practice in a real-life project.

What's more, the Challenge is also about networking - and having fun! "These are a group of individuals from a range of different universities coming together, and while they'll be placed in different parts of the business, the fundraising challenge lets them get to know each other and build a community amongst themselves," says Michelle. Finally, helping others is rewarding in itself: "I think the value the participants get out of it is unquantifiable - they realise that, besides learning on the internship, they've given something back."

Career-long commitment

Michelle is keen to point out that The Prince's Trust Entrepreneurial Challenge isn't a one-hit-wonder activity for interns: there are opportunities to get involved in RBS's CSR programmes across the bank, for everyone from analyst to MD. RBS has a graduate-run CSR council, which finds and develops opportunities specifically for graduate recruits, such as literacy and numeracy volunteering at local schools, or exciting team challenges.

The bank particularly encourages its employees to utilise their finance and commercial skills to support the local community, whether it's by helping young people to write their CVs and learn about the world of work, or aiding a charity to manage its books better and make their money go further. Through The Trust's Enterprise Programme, which helps disadvantaged young people to set up in business, RBS employees can also use their expertise to train and mentor young people through the process of becoming their own boss.

Michelle says:"There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach and there are a range of ways employees can get involved. CSR has moved on from just philanthropic donations - it's also about investing our time and skills to support the communities in which we operate, and to contribute to the personal and professional development of our people."

Team leader, Carina Lindberg, tells Lucy Mair about balancing The Prince's Trust Entrepreneurial Challenge with her internship at RBS, and what she gained from the experience

What attracted you to a career in investment banking?

Initially, I was very anti-banking. My parents had both worked in banking and I wanted to do my own thing rather than follow in their footsteps. But I decided to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, and I've become really interested in the economy. I started looking into potential careers during my second year at university and I think banking fits my academic strengths and also my interest in working with people.

I researched the different banks and applied for several summer internships. I picked RBS because I really enjoyed the assessment day, which gave me a taste of the company and its values. It wasn't just interview after interview - there were written tests, a group project that got us thinking on our feet, and the recruiters seemed more interested in finding out how we thought, rather than in hearing rehearsed answers.

Can you tell us about what your internship involved?

It started with a whole week of training. For me, this training was a godsend because I had no idea what I would be doing at RBS, and I learn much better through hands-on experience than by reading a book.

The training gave me a good overview of investment banking, and then I did two four-week rotations in Debt Capital Markets and the Energy and Resources sector team. We also had lots of different social events, where we not only got to meet other interns, but could also network with people on different desks and in other divisions of the bank. I think the internship gave me a good taste of what the work at RBS is like, without putting me under too much pressure.

Was it difficult to complete The Prince's Trust Entrepreneurial Challenge on top of the rest of your internship?

Definitely! On average, I think I spent six or seven hours a week working on the fundraising challenge and it was difficult at first to find the right balance. The Challenge forced me to improve my time management skills, but it wasn't supposed to be an additional worry - it was more about having fun, being creative, and getting to know the other interns, and that's how we tried to keep it. There were 12 people in my team, so it was also difficult to get everyone together for Challenge meetings. But we communicated a lot by email and my co-leader, Simon, and I delegated different tasks to ensure everything ran smoothly.

What fundraising activities did your team organise, and how successful were they?

We got stuck into the Challenge and our approach was to pursue every fundraising idea we had, but that possibly wasn't the best or most efficient way forward! Our most successful event was an auction held for other bankers at RBS. We negotiated some fantastic prizes, including a monster truck rally driving day and therapeutic massages.

We also arranged a boat party, which was supposed to be our big money maker, but it wasn't quite the success we hoped it would be! We had to pay for the hire of the boat up-front before we had raised any money, and then it was a difficult task to sell 150 tickets at £25 each.

But all in all, we raised just shy of £2,400, which was fantastic. It was a fun experience and very rewarding, because the money will help two individuals get on track to where they want to be, and it's really exciting to think that they've been helped by our efforts.

What skills did you develop during the Prince's Trust Challenge?

Leadership was one of the most important skills, not in the sense of telling others what to do, but more in terms of learning how to work with other people and realising that you can't always be number one and in control of everything - you have to rely on others. It also helped me to recognise the importance of listening to everyone, understanding each person's ideas, and using everyone's expertise to make decisions.

I'm quite headstrong and can get stuck in my own views, and I think I learnt to be more flexible and adaptable. I learnt to not resent anyone for not getting involved, but to try to understand their attitude and stay positive. Getting on with people, whether it's clients or co-workers, is something you have to do in working life and you can't let one disagreement turn a relationship into a negative one.

How did the Challenge help your understanding of banking and finance?

I gained a real understanding of profit and loss, and of the importance of having a good business plan before you jump in and start taking action. I also learnt to try to anticipate problems before they occur, which you have to be able to do in any financial job you go into.

Were you aware of RBS's involvement with The Prince's Trust before you applied for the internship? Did participating in the Challenge affect your perception of the bank?

To be honest, I didn't know anything about it. The opportunity to get involved in the fundraising challenge has made me much more aware of The Prince's Trust and its work with young people, and I think that's the point of the initiative: anyone can write a cheque for £50, but if you can go out there and get 10 people to donate £5, it's 10 more people who know about the charity.

My naive perception of banking was that when you start the job, you're signing your life away! But I discovered that you can have a good social life at the bank and opportunities to get involved in community projects with organisations like The Prince's Trust. Charity work is a big part of the bank, which isn't something I'd considered before. And for me, I think it makes working in finance more worthwhile. It means I can do a job I like, while also doing things to help other people and raise awareness about important causes.