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The perks and lows of commercial banking

GradAustralia

Need some help working out if commercial banking is the right area for you? Let's weigh up the pros and cons of starting as a graduate in commercial banking.

What keeps commercial bankers going and what really grinds their gears? The perks and the lows of a job are important to understanding if an industry is right for you. We explore some of the key ones below.

What’s great about a career in commercial banking?

We know a job isn’t all about the perks for you, but they can definitely help! While commercial banking isn’t as lavish as the ‘hip’ tech companies with their perks (think: free food, gym in the office, napping pods), they generally do have a lot to offer. Some of the big hits are outlined below:

  • Pay: Let’s start with the most important perk – the moolah. Commercial banks offer solid starting graduate salaries, and these will generally increase fairly generously if you perform at a good level. As we mentioned, the starting package for a graduate is generally around $70,000 (including super and bonus). This will usually increase to between roughly $90,000-$105,000 (including super and bonus) after finishing the program and finding a ‘real’ job in the bank. This bonus potential can become 20 per cent of your salary (or more) once you ‘roll-off’ into these full-time roles – and will increase as you move up the ranks.

  • Work-life balance: As a keen and ambitious graduate you’ll probably say that you’re happy to slog it and pump out the work hours to prove yourself and work your way up. That’s great, and of course, hard work is important to success in any field. But after a few years’ hard slog, it’s important to realise that having a life outside of work is just as important! Commercial banking has a great work-life balance and offers room for those looking to work hard while also catering to those that prefer to cruise a bit more. Average hours are the standard nine to five, and there is a strong culture in most teams at a commercial bank to stick to this. Of course, there will be deviations outside of this, but compared to its cousin (investment banking), it’s a pretty sweet deal!

  • Culture: You’ll hear it all the time from any and every organisation you apply for. ‘We have a fantastic culture, and that’s what sets us apart from others.’ It’s hard to know how much truth there really is to these statements, particularly when a lot of culture is defined by how good the actual people are at an organisation. While there is an element of luck in whether you find yourself in a good or bad culture, you can’t go too wrong opting for a commercial bank – particularly the Big Four. These banks usually offer a very supportive and fun environment, especially for those on a graduate program. Senior leaders are always happy to make time to catch up with junior staff, and people are generally always willing to help and coach.

  • Training: Give a grad a fish or teach a grad to fish? There are plenty of incentives for commercial banks to train up their new grads, leading to more productive staff that add value to their teams. The commercial banks offer great training programs and invest heavily in their grads in particular. Depending on which bank you join, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to push for certain training programs and skill-up.

  • Career diversity and opportunity: Just like you don’t have to be a uni student forever, you don’t have to be a traditional commercial banker forever! The big world of commercial banking has plenty of opportunities to not only create a career in the bank but also get a heap of diverse experience and skills along the way. Where you start in a bank will almost definitely not be where you end up, and the grad programs will actively encourage you to find a career path that traverses its many different roles. In fact, moving up to leadership roles in a commercial bank is often based on getting experience across a diverse range of areas.

  • Extensive deals: Last but certainly not least, who doesn’t love a great deal! The size of these huge banks means they can often access some pretty sweet offers and specials with a range of providers. This can cover everything from gym memberships, restaurants, movies, electronics and consumer goods. One of the Big Four banks even gives its staff access to the same discounts that JB Hi-Fi staff receive through their employee portal. In addition to this, some of the banks also have reward and recognition portals, where staff can give ‘points’ to colleagues for doing a good job. These points are then redeemable in a shopping portal similar to a credit card rewards portal.

What’s not so good?

Ask most commercial bankers and they’ll usually be able to fire off a bunch of the things that are great about their job to you – because there are plenty of things! But getting an honest answer about the bad or ‘not so good’ stuff may be less forthcoming. Based on our experience working in commercial banking, we’ve highlighted a few of the key ones to be aware of:

  • Red tape: For the impatient and restless, the bureaucracy and decision-making processes of the big commercial banks can be frustrating. Admittedly, this is common at any large organisation (not just commercial banking) and is symptomatic of their size. However, there is an extra layer of caution at the banks due to their risk-averse nature and need to ensure their actions can meet up to any public and political scrutiny. It’s important to note that this isn’t the case in all divisions of a commercial bank, and many new teams are being set up to address these issues and operate in a more agile fashion.
  • Potential for silo: In some roles at a commercial bank you might run some risk of getting ‘pigeon-holed’ or ‘boxed’ into a certain role or speciality. This is rare, as commercial banks will actively encourage their people to move across divisions and areas of expertise to prepare them for leadership roles. Nonetheless, similar to other places, if you stay somewhere for long enough you could start to be considered ‘part of the furniture!’ If you want to avoid this, you just need to make sure you keep pushing for greater diversity whether within your role on different projects, or outside your role in different teams.
  • Can be repetitive: Practice makes perfect right? Well not if you’re getting less interested in whatever you’re practising! While this is rare for any graduate, some roles in the bank can be somewhat repetitive and lack the diversity that we know you want to pursue. It’s unlikely this will ever happen on a graduate program, as most of these roles will fall in back-office operations and processing roles (think: data entry and ensuring loan applications are processed). Graduate programs are structured specifically to ensure diverse experience and skills are given to you. However, when deciding where to go after the program, it’s important to understand what your future role might entail and how willing your future manager might be to letting you work on different projects.