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Careers Centre

Retail banking or personal finance services

Sector Overview

Retail banking has been transformed over recent years, with mergers, new technology and a greater emphasis on customer relations and satisfaction. It is now a 24 hour-a-day business, much of it conducted electronically, with plastic or by mobile, and much of it outside branches, in business or regional centres. Retail banking has modernised; there are now fewer branches and a greater number of automated services. One of the key catalysts for change is mobile technology, especially smartphones, which represents the biggest opportunity to retail banking since the advent of the credit card four decades ago. This new dynamic is redefining the relationship between the bank and its customers.


Retail Banking attributes/skills profile

Key attributes/skills needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes while at university
Analytical and problem solving skills with the ability to produce accurate facts, figures and reports.

Through academic studies and relevant work experience. Practical problem solving skills are particularly valued for example taking on the role of treasurer for a society.

Demonstrable interest in retail banking and commercial awareness Keep up-to-date with business and sector news, especially through publications such as the Financial Times and the Economist. Develop this through extra-curricular activity in student-run societies such as GIG and the Investment Society, who often have prestigious leaders from the industry as speakers.
Excellent inter-personal and customer service skills Mainly through working in a customer service environment but could include roles such as university ambassador or working for a university unit.
Ability to achieve targets and motivate others to achieve targets Achieving academic deadlines and through work experience. Working as a campus brand ambassador can be a good role to evidence this skill. Any selling experience – entrepreneurial projects are looked on favourably.
Strong communication & interpersonal skills

Many of these skills you will develop through your academic studies and extra- curricular activities.

CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum
Ability to organise time and work methodically whilst paying attention to detail
Leadership qualities and effective team working skills
IT skills Using  the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help to develop your skills with programmes such as Excel, the latter is particularly valued in the finance industry.

Nature of sector or roles

Despite the changing face of commercial banking, maintaining, managing and extending both existing and new customer relationships in a competitive market is a higher priority for banks than ever before. Graduate career roles are more to do with project and staff management. As well as "High Street" banks there are a large number of other areas and roles to explore too. There’s online and digital TV banking, as well as credit and debit card services, offering roles in various areas. Retail banking job descriptions: Bankers, Building Society managers, Credit risk analysts, Independent financial advisers, Tied financial advisers. 

An important point to remember about embarking on a career in Retail Banking is that most positions are now largely sales driven with most staff given targets to achieve. The main graduate job roles in retail banking are:

Visit the Prospects website for detailed information on job roles in the banking and finance sectors.
TARGETjobs - retail banking graduate area of work

Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Visiting the Careers Centre Careers Fair and turning up to employer run events is a great way to make valuable connections, it helps to introduce yourself to representatives from the banks and ask for their card so you can make contact in the future. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook (many organisations have their own page). Recent St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays, Clydesdale , Tesco PLC and Santander. You will find St Andrews alumni at most of the main financial institutions all over the world ranging from graduate trainees to CEOs. These alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

How to gain experience/internships

Retail banking is competitive. Getting some work experience, especially in a sales or customer-focused environment, can be a real advantage when it comes to interviews, as you will be able to use specific examples to illustrate your answers.

Many of the larger banks and firms (eg Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, Santander, and RBS) offer structured internship programmes for:

Relevant internship opportunities are often advertised on our website and details can usually also be found on the banks’ own websites. Closing dates for applications tend to be before Christmas, although interview places are allocated as soon as suitable candidates apply, so you should get your application in well before the closing date. For smaller banks and firms you should try making speculative applications and have a look at work experience for other options such as work shadowing. If you are unable to get work experience directly within a bank or financial services firm, other business or financial-related vacation work would be an advantage.

How to get a (graduate) job

You don’t need a numerical degree to get a job in retail banking - most employers will accept graduates from any degree discipline, although an interest in finance and numeracy skills may often be advantageous.

Many of the large retail banks offer graduate programmes, Barclays, Lloyds Banking, RBS, HSBC and Santander.

As well as these more traditional banks, there are a number of banking businesses owned by retail groups, such as:

To begin your job search:

Applications, interviews and assessment centres

You will need to be able to market yourself effectively through the recruitment process; otherwise banks are likely to take the view that you could not market their products to their existing and potential customers.

Application deadlines

Many graduate schemes at retail banks open in August or September, and some close in late October/early November. You need to do your employer research and be ready to apply early in your final year. Don’t leave your application to the last minute - Santander says on its website 'We encourage you to get your application in as soon as possible as we process applications in the order they come in, so it’s worth getting yours in quickly, especially as closing dates do sometimes change.' Regularly check employer websites for up-to-date details.

What to expect

The recruitment process for retail banking graduate training schemes may vary from company to company, but typically includes the following stages:

You need to be aware of how you are expected to present yourself at each stage and what the recruiters are looking for. Check the employer’s website as most will provide details on their own individual recruitment and selection processes.

Further advice



Financial Edge Academy

Inside Careers

Relevant Postgraduate Study

A postgraduate qualification is not essential for a job in retail banking. Employers will, however, usually offer you the opportunity to study for a professional qualification (depending on the role), and expect you to pass them as part of your career progression.

TARGETjobs has some good advice on professional qualifications for retail bankers

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources


Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:



Take Away

Related Careers A-Z pages

General banking/finance careers information

Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines


USA resources

The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The links below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.