Launch your career in a retail banking graduate program

Competition is tough, but with the right preparation you may land a spot in a retail banking graduate program. Read this article for graduate advice.
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What is retail banking?

Retail banking simply refers to the banking that we all know as customers.

Whether it is depositing money, withdrawing cash or applying for a loan, retail banks play an integral part of our lives and the broader economy.

Retail banks make money by lending to customers at interest rates higher than what they pay to depositors and borrow from wholesale markets. The difference in interest is called the ‘spread’ and is a bank’s primary source of income.

In Australia, the largest banks are Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ, NAB, St George and Macquarie Bank. There are also regional banks, such as the Bank of Queensland, foreign banks such as Citi as well as credit unions and building societies.

With the rise of smartphones, changing customer expectations and the shift to digital-led services, retail banks face unprecedented challenges. New players such as fintech startups and global technology giants, including Apple, are constantly seeking to disrupt the industry and take a slice of the profitable retail banking pie.

In response, banks are placing greater emphasis on creating personalised and seamless banking experiences. Many banks have in-house customer experience teams and innovation labs with a growing focus on strategic partnerships with innovative fintech players.

What is the graduate experience like in retail banking?

Most banks offer structured graduate programs. While there are many graduate positions available, the competition to get into retail banking is still tough given the sheer volume of applicants. Alternatively, you may work your way up from a frontline role such a bank teller and eventually move to corporate headquarters.

As a graduate, you will rotate around the bank’s divisions to understand how different areas work, such as the front line (e.g. bank branch), channel (e.g. digital apps), product (e.g. home loans) and support (e.g. strategy or pricing). For example, you may work in a branch helping customers with their day-to-day banking needs or work with digital channels to identify new features to build into the bank’s mobile banking platform.

Most of your work will be project-based and you will be accountable for a specific task. You may have an opportunity to gain exposure to senior management, for example, presenting them with your findings.

Along the way, you will get exposure to the bank’s different products from transaction accounts and retail mortgages to term deposits and credit cards.

What are your career prospects in retail banking?

Once you complete your graduate rotations, you will have the opportunity to decide which area of the bank you would like to pursue. Given teams have limited entry-level positions, this process may be highly competitive.

If you are a strong performer and know what area you would like to work in, make sure you express your interest to the relevant team and hiring manager ahead of time to increase your chances of getting your first preference.

However, don’t panic if you don’t get your first or second preference after your rotations. Many of the skills you learn are transferable across the retail banking area and, if you continue to perform well, you may move to other teams.

As you become more senior, you will begin to manage people and independently direct projects. You may eventually want to become a general manager and oversee the profit and loss of a specific area.

It should be noted however that while there is flexibility to move within retail banking, it is challenging to move to other areas such as corporate or institutional banking. With greater expertise, you may be able to move beyond retail banking to financial consulting in the later stages of your career.

Choose this if you have:

  • A passion for delivering excellent customer experiences.
  • An interest in addressing digital challenges and taking retail banking to the next level.
  • Strong interpersonal skills, sound analytical capabilities and ability to work well in a team.

Want to know more? Learn more about a graduate career in banking and finance here at GradAustralia.