An International Student's Guide to the Banking & Finance Sector in the UK

Graduate jobs

March 03, 2020

Are you an international student who has just stepped foot in the UK? Are you enrolled in a finance degree at a UK university? Are you exploring the graduate opportunities in the sector even though your degree is in an unrelated field? Do you just want to understand the banking and finance sector in the UK better?


If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, you are at the right place. We give you a peek into the sector:

In the UK, the banking and finance sector is a popular and prestigious field as far as a career is concerned. 


What does the Banking & Finance sector entail?

The field has several arms, including retail banking, investment banking, corporate and personal finance, wealth management, etc. Focusing on the banking side, let us give a lowdown on the work here. 

Within banking, there are two broad sub-groups: retail and investment. Most high street banks will have a strong investment banking portfolio of clients, whereas most of the banks are retail banks. Retail banking deals with financial products and services for individual customers, whereas investment banking, takes it up a notch and deals with the wealth strategies of high net-worth individuals. Investment bankers advise a relatively wealthier population on the best financial strategies and business moves. 


Who are the major employers in the sector?

The employers in the field include many well-known high street banks like Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide Building Society, Royal Bank of Scotland Group (includes NatWest), Santander UK etc. 


What qualifications do I need to enter the sector?

As a graduate from any discipline, graduate schemes from most investment banks will be open to you. The recruitment process, consisting of the online tests, interviews and assessment centres will ensure that the employer gets the best of the lot. 

Usually, for most grad schemes, the minimum educational requirements would be a 2:1 or 1st or its equivalent. However, there is no restriction on the degree; graduates from various fields, including business, finance or accounting, law, computer science, maths, chemistry, economics, media, management, etc also perform well in such jobs. 


For certain roles in the fintech sector, you might need a degree with a technological component. 

What skills do I need for graduate jobs in the sector?

The grad schemes are highly competitive and the only thing separating you from the rest of the candidates’ pool is your skillset. The recruitment process tests you for fundamental skills like logical aptitude, numerical and reasoning abilities, attention to detail, interest in the field, confidence and communication skills (especially for client-facing roles).


The banking and finance sector also requires robust digital skills. After all, it has been reported that 90% of financial service companies have moved to digital, or are considering such a move. 

A Day in the Life

Usually, the grad schemes would give you a taste of every department. However, depending upon whether or not your job is client-facing, you’d be working from the office. It is mostly a desk job, interspersed with travel to the client’s site. Retail banking is more routine. 

We would suggest that before diving into full-time opportunities, use the previous years or semesters to apply for two-week internships or insight days, apply for a summer internship or use your placement year for gaining experience of the organisations in the sector. 


What should you know about the sector? 
• The sector is one of the few in the UK that are open for international students through the graduate schemes. This is good news, but it also means fierce competition for the limited vacancies. 


• Technology impacts this sector the most - it has seeped deep into everyday operations. Automation and increased digitalisation are only going to introduce more changes. 



• High starting salaries and good compensation packages

• A fast-learning environment with opportunities for career growth


• Long hours of work, often seeping into networking events

• The financial health of the global economy has a lot of influence on job stability

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