Daniel Mason, Senior editor
June, 2015

They were the villains of the piece when the financial crisis hit, but have banks finally regained their standing as an exciting and respectable career choice for graduates?

Bankers and their bonuses became the targets of intense public anger in the UK during the recession. Whether or not that level of vitriol was deserved, the people that banks rely on for fresh talent took an increasingly dim view of the finance sector.

A 2013 survey of students by the polling firm YouGov found that more than a quarter would be embarrassed to tell their friends if they took a job in a bank. Close to half distrusted financial services.

The same year the chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, António Horta-Osório, admitted that banks had to rebuild their reputation as an 'attractive career opportunity'. He said it was 'vital for the industry's long-term viability' to attract the 'brightest and best' graduates.

Staff cuts also affected graduate schemes. Research published in May 2015 by the recruitment consultants Morgan McKinley showed that, out of 157 hiring managers questioned, well over a third reduced the number of graduates they took on in the aftermath of the crisis.

Now the wider economy is on the mend. So is the gloom finally lifting?

Improving market

'The market has definitely improved over the last few years, with a rise in overall job availability,' says Hakan Enver, operations director at Morgan McKinley.

He points to another element of his company's research, which reveals that nearly half of hiring managers say the downturn is no longer having an impact on graduate recruitment.

'If anything, the UK finance sector has been seen as resilient even in the midst of a historic crisis. We are seeing that graduates are looking at middle and back office roles as opposed to only front office - IT and marketing as well as risk and compliance.'

All the major banks, including the so-called big four of Lloyds, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, continue to run dedicated graduate programmes, and they often hold open days to give students an insight into what a career there might be like.

Skills shortage

But does that growth in job availability mean the sector has also restored its credibility in the eyes of students? Hakan believes so.

'The industry has slowly recovered its reputation,' he says. 'Graduates are still able to secure higher salaries on average compared with other careers, and with banks looking at diversifying their graduate programmes, the opportunity to experience a lot of different departments is something that the current generation is favourable of.'

Banks are adjusting their recruitment strategies, too. 'We're seeing an increase in hiring interns on an ongoing basis across various business areas,' explains Hakan. 'This seems to be across the board and has been working well.

'Many banks are working closely with universities and colleges and have revitalised graduate schemes to be more attractive.' One of the reasons they are making such an effort to appeal to students is that the crisis led to skills shortages in the sector - providing new talent with opportunities to fill the gaps.

High aspirations

'The lack of graduate hiring previously is one of the primary reasons there is a serious lack of middle management now, so there is the knock-on effect to consider in future years,' says Hakan.

'Some banks are facing a dilemma of certain skills shortages where there's two generations of talent involved. At the time of the financial crisis, highly qualified middle managers had to pursue even higher education and investment qualifications, but perhaps haven't married this with the in-house experience they've already accumulated.

'On the other hand there is an increasing worry that although graduates may possess stronger and fresher technical skills than their seasoned colleagues, they lack the softer skills.' Demonstrating such skills could be the key to success.

To solve the problem, banks are offering development programmes and secondments to encourage high calibre staff to stay in the organisation, says Hakan. And they are also on the lookout for talented graduates.

'There is a major push for strong graduates with great academics and high aspirations to mould into company culture. Not to mention, banks are changing their game, offering varied roles with work-life balance schemes to cater to the newer generation's needs.'

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