Ostensibly, RBS's shriveling markets and international banking business doesn't look like a great bet for anyone planning a glittering career in banking. In the past three years, RBS has cut more than 8,000 jobs from its investment bank, pulled out of entire business areas (equities, M&A), and seen its investment banking operating profits decline by 89%. It won't be able to pay bonuses in excess of 100% of salaries from now on. And it's in the process of a serious strategic review which could see its investment bank trimmed back even further.
And yet, if you're a student contemplating a career in financial services, RBS is adamant that it still has plenty of things going for it. Glen McGowan, head of RBS early careers, tells us that students often join the bank's markets division especially to avail themselves of its excellent training programme. "Our training adopts a blended approach from online modules, external experts, internal experts, peer to peer and senior access because we focus on developing technical expertise as well as soft skill development," McGowan tells us. There are also a lot of 'corporate social responsibility' initiatives at RBS, says McGowan. Students value this, he says.
RBS is reputed to pay its junior bankers reasonably well. Research last October by pay benchmarking firm Emolument suggested that analysts in sales and trading jobs at RBS earn an average of £45k. This compared to £31.5k at SocGen and £33k at BNP Paribas. Most American investment banks pay their junior staff a lot more (eg. JPMorgan is said to pay £58k), but £45k is still a handsome pay packet when you're only a few years out of university.
If this sounds appealing, the bad news is that RBS has heavily curtailed junior hiring for its investment bank. A few years ago, the British bank was one of the major recruiters of graduates in London. Now, it hires 100 first or second year graduate interns and only takes on 50 graduate recruits across its markets division in EMEA. Once you get into RBS, however, you're likely to stay: 70% of the bank's graduate hires into its markets division are still there three years' later.
What about those who move on? Will an early career at RBS set you up for future success? A recent study by academics at Wharton found that the ideal career path involves spending the first five years out of university working for a high status brand like Goldman Sachs. A high profile brand will add kudos to your CV and you will earn more in later life.
In banking circles, RBS isn't exactly high status. "Up to now we’ve always been in the pack – at the bottom of the pack but in it. Now we’re firmly out of the pack," one senior RBS banker complained to the Financial Times earlier this week. However, if you want to work in fixed income sales and trading, the RBS training programme still carries some weight when you're looking for a job elsewhere. In the past year, ex-trading trainees at RBS have gone to Bank of America Merrill Lynch (Geri McMahon), Citadel Investments (Lulu Meng), Credit Suisse (Lefteris Kyriacou) and UBS (Tharshan Thavagnanam) among others.
If you're thinking of taking on a markets job at RBS, however, one team stands out above all others: the interest rate strategy team. This was named the best in Europe in this year's institutional investor survey. This was the only team that was rated at RBS, however - JPMorgan had 19 fixed income teams in top positions, Bank of America Merrill Lynch had 17 and Barclays had 13.