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Inside the new London investment banking graduate programme

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Most investment banks in London are scaling back their graduate recruitment programmes, and struggling to attract applications from top students who are gravitating towards consulting and technology. But Santander, which has around 400 people working for its corporate and investment bank in London, has stepped up efforts to hire more people and is trying to attract graduates to a new programme to feed junior talent into its UK operation.

Two years ago, Santander did not even have a graduate programme for its corporate and investment bank, despite building out this division in the UK. Now, it’s trying to compete with large investment banks for top graduates in London.

“Whilst we’ve expanded our investment bank in the UK over the past few years, our graduate programme was still very much focused on commercial banking and specialist functions like HR and marketing,” says Rebecca Cook, an executive director in Santander Global Corporate Banking in London. “We wanted to change this by starting a graduate programme, dedicated to the needs of our global corporate bank, but doing so in a sustainable way.”

Big U.S. investment banks take on hundreds of graduates every year. By comparison, Santander’s programme is tiny. It’s hiring six graduates this year and has seven interns in its summer class currently. But these places are still highly-contested. Santander’s new graduate programme attracted 2,000 applications this year, suggesting a less than 1% chance of getting in.

Despite the relatively small size of the programme, Cook tells us that it’s not staffed with intern conversions. Five interns were offered places last year, and three accepted. Of the six full-time analysts joining this year, two came through the internship programme.

This is a stark contrast to large investment banks, which are closing full-time applications ever-earlier and offering more places to interns. J.P. Morgan has filled its front office investment banking graduate jobs with interns for the past three years, while Morgan Stanley closed its investment banking and markets divisions grad programmes on 31 July – before most banks opened their schemes to applications.

“In the first year, there was a clear leaning towards hiring economics and finance students, but we’re making a conscious effort to hire from more diverse backgrounds,” says Cook. “This year, we have languages and classics students in the internship. The idea is that the intensive training programme at the outset should equip them with the skills to become a banker.”

In London, Santander offers debt capital markets and cash management services and also has a markets business. Graduate recruits are not assigned a desk immediately, but instead spend two years rotating around the key business areas at the bank including the private coverage side of the business, public markets, business management and client coverage.

If you make it through the initial screening process, Santander will invite you to an assessment centre. Cook says that potential recruits are subject to interviews with at least six investment bankers at various levels of seniority. Half the day is spent on a group exercise with their peers, which consists of a case study to be presented to senior bankers followed by a Q&A.

Cook says that the relatively new nature of the scheme has ensured that there’s a “real willingness of our executives to spend time with the graduates”.

“All the graduates have a desk manager on their various rotations, as well as a graduate manager that provides consistency throughout the two-year programme, and they have an analyst ‘buddy’ closer to them in age that can provide peer group support,” she says.

Contact: pclarke@efinancialcareers.com

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