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Choosing the right commercial bank to launch your graduate career

GradAustralia

How to choose the right commercial bank to launch your graduate career: a summary of key factors to consider, from rotation structure to career opportunities.

So, graduate recruitment periods are coming up at the commercial banks and you’ve probably asked others for their advice on how to approach this frenzied period of applications. Do you apply for everything and anything out there? Or do you just choose a few banks that you really chase hard?

Put your hand up if someone has told you to apply for everything because it’s ‘just a numbers game.’ Or what about that person that told you to be picky with your applications because it’s all about ‘quality over quantity?’

Whatever your approach, it’s important to decide which organisations seem like the best fit for you and your goals. But how do you figure that out? Jump on any bank’s website and you’ll be hit by a wave of marketing fluff – every bank seems to have a fantastic culture, great career development opportunities and commitment to positive social impact. While this may be true, it doesn’t really help you filter that list to the ones that are best for you.

This is why we’ve created some common criteria to consider when selecting your chosen banks to pursue.

What makes a good commercial bank for me?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to figuring out which commercial banks to apply for. It’s different for everyone. However that being said, we’ve had a stab at this anyway!

When deciding between commercial banks, it’s useful to think about a few key things. Each of these may be more or less important to you. The point is, you need to think about the criteria you value highest and how this aligns with your objectives. This will help you choose the bank that has the highest chance of meeting your expectations.

Rotation structure

Almost all commercial banks have a rotation system for their graduate programs. The question is, what sort of rotations are you looking for and how long would you want them to be? Do you want rotations across both front office and back office? Would you prefer shorter rotations that get you across more areas of the bank quickly, or longer rotations that allow you to really find your groove and kick some goals in each rotation?

Generally speaking, the Big Four banks offer rotations between 3-4 months in length and will almost always include a front office rotation in this (usually in a bank branch). The smaller banks (such as Suncorp, ING or the credit unions) generally have longer six month rotations. There are pros and cons in each, so it’s really up to your personal preference. Whatever the case, having rotations in a grad program is a huge plus in commercial banking, and it’s valuable to look at banks which actively offer this structure.

Brand and pedigree

When we ask you to think about the main banks in Australia what comes to mind? Probably some combination of Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ and NAB. That’s no accident. The Big Four banks are named that for a reason – they’re the largest banks in Australia! With that comes a level of reputation and brand that many would consider superior to the smaller banks.

Having a recognisable and respected name on your resume also helps if you look to apply elsewhere after your initial stint at a Big Four bank. If brand and prestige are important to you, then looking at one of the Big Four is probably the way to go. Specifically, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac are considered the leaders in this field. But don’t go so fast! While smaller banks don’t necessarily provide you with the brand name, there are plenty of benefits of going with one of their programs, such as greater exposure and ownership and a wider breadth of activities. We discuss this in more detail below

Career opportunities

You want an organisation that will provide you with the right opportunities to develop and grow your career. However, what this looks like for you may be different to the next budding grad. Does career opportunity mean larger pay increases? More diversity in your experience? Increased exposure to senior leaders? Greater employability after the program?

As a general rule, the Big Four banks arguably offer greater employability after the program, with more roles on offer within the bank and a larger brand on the resume if you seek external opportunities. Conversely, the smaller banks can provide greater exposure to senior leadership (with less hierarchy between levels) which can accelerate your learning. Whatever the case may be, there are plenty of career opportunities in either path – it’s up to you decide what’s best!

Agility and forward thinking

Who’s going to win the banking arms race? The scramble to come out on top of innovation, digital transformation and incoming disruption is no secret in banking. Banks need to be agile to respond to this evolving landscape and develop strategies with their long-term future in mind. Let’s face it, it can be frustrating working in an organisation that doesn’t appreciate the importance of this, or fails to execute these strategies in a rapid and effective way. If you’re after a bank that is making the right moves in this space, then you might be looking at one of the smaller organisations. Smaller banks such as ING are known for their innovative products and rapid approach to change. Of the Big Four banks, Commonwealth Bank is arguably the leader in the field of innovation and technology.

Overall grad experience

This is a nice sounding criteria. But what does it mean? We think the grad experience covers everything from the quality of rotations, the culture of people around you, the training provided, the extra-curricular activities, fun-times with other graduates and the great memories created! If you’re looking for all of the above, you can’t go too wrong with one of the Big Four.

Graduates rolling out of these programs regularly provide glowing feedback on how much they enjoyed their time there, with a lot of this driven by the quality of other graduates and the events organised by the bank. While this is a fairly safe bet, you can be sure that joining a smaller bank will still provide this experience in good measure. The smaller community vibe of the really small banks can also be a big plus, leading to a more collaborative and ‘family’ atmosphere.

Pay

When it comes to dollars in commercial banking, graduate programs are all pretty comparable. As we mentioned before, the average grad salary package is $70,000 (including super and bonus) and this is something that is surprisingly quite constant across the banks (whether big or small). We’ve put pay in here because we know it’s a question you’re going to ask! However it doesn’t significantly come into the equation with this process (with variations by a few thousand dollars between banks). Salaries can move all the time, so it’s important you keep up to date with your own research (or gossip!). With this being the case, some of the other criteria might become more important for you.

So who do you choose?

We hate to say ‘it depends’ but… it depends. For you, it’s a personal choice. All we can do is summarise our points above and leave you to make the choice that is right for you. So, if you’re choosing between the Big Four or a smaller more agile bank, you can generally expect each one to offer different benefits.

The Big Four will generally give you:

  • Faster rotations – which can be good if you want to get across different areas in a short amount of time. This usually means a faster graduate program too, allowing you to more rapidly get into a ‘real’ job at the bank.
  • Strong brand and career opportunities – enhanced reputation on the resume can help with future opportunities outside of your chosen bank or the banking industry in general.
  • A great overall experience – with such big grad cohorts, significant investment in training and plenty of extra-curricular events, you’re bound to have a great time in a Big Four graduate program.

At a smaller bank (such as Suncorp, ING, Bank of Queensland, Bankwest, Bendigo Bank etc.) you can expect:

  • Longer rotations – which can be good if you want to really spend your time getting to know each of the areas and cranking up some more meaningful experience in each.
  • More agile environment – things get done faster at a smaller bank, with less red tape and approval processes to go through. Couple this with a lower risk aversion (being a challenger to the bigger banks) and you’ll find yourself less constrained at a smaller bank!
  • Comparable pay – by going for smaller you’re not necessarily sacrificing the dollars. Fear not, at the graduate level smaller banks still pay comparable salaries to the Big Four.

So that’s our quick summary. The choice is now up to you. As we’ve said before, don’t stress too much about this. Joining a bigger or smaller bank doesn’t mean you’ll be there forever, and people move between these organisations all the time.

Regardless of wherever you end up, you’ll have plenty of opportunity throughout your career to move to different banks and find the ideal organisation for you!