If you’ve opened your A Level results this morning and you did well, congratulations. If you didn’t, bad luck. If you aspire to work in an investment bank, you almost certainly need to have exceptionally good A Level grades to get in although there are (very, very occasional) instances of people who don’t.
Investment banks are big on A Levels. Big Four accounting firms like PWC have scrapped their requirement that applicants applying for graduate programmes have a minimum of 340 UCAS points (AAB), but banks are still big on A Levels as a screening tool. Most banks don’t stipulate minimum A Level grades, but the people they hired ten to have performed extraordinarily well in the exams taken by British 18 year-olds.
Senior bankers don’t give their A Level grades on their CVs. Once you’re a managing director at J.P. Morgan or a partner at Goldman Sachs, who cares what you achieved at A Level? Hence, we’re told that Michael Sherwood, the co-head of Goldman Sachs in Europe, sat his A Levels prematurely at 16, but we don’t know what he scored.
Students joining banks in London do specify their A level results, however. We looked at the UCAS points achieved by a selection of students who interned at London investment banks this summer. The average number of UCAS points? 530. For anyone not immediately familiar with the UK points system, that’s round about 3 A*s and an A as you leave high school (top grades, in other words).
Nor can you get away with very low UCAS points if you want to work in an operations or accounting job in an investment bank. In operations, UCAS points are lower, but not low. For example, interns working in Goldman Sachs’ control division have 320 UCAS points. Operations and collateral management interns at J.P. Morgan have 360 and 480 UCAS points respectively.
Investment banks don’t typically specify UCAS requirements and will often say they don’t filter people out on this basis. However, Emily Gill at Dartmouth Partners, a recruitment firm which finds graduates and interns for smaller banks and boutique corporate finance firms, spells out the reality. “Most of our clients expect AAB,” she says. “Some will also specify an A* or an A for maths A level. Although we look at each CV individually and will take other exceptional factors into account, we would probably reject someone with ABB.”
As we said at the start, there are very occasional exceptions to the A Level rule in banking. For example, Joanne Harford, a Goldman partner and global head of technology for the ‘Federation’ (Goldman’s back office functions), didn’t do A levels at all, but studied a more vocational BTEC and HND before going on to do a PhD in computer science at University College London.