New banks mean new jobs

Supermarkets are a growing source of employment for financial graduates, writes Stephen Pritchard
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The Independent Online
The high street banks are embroiled in controversy, closing branches and shedding staff. Elsewhere financial services are booming, and retailers are leading the way. As a result, the high street banks are no longer the only organisations hiring graduates who want a career in finance.

The financial sector is changing rapidly. Store groups, including Sainsbury's and most recently Tesco, have started to offer savings accounts, credit cards and other banking facilities. All this means new financial services jobs.

Some graduates work in call centres, often as temporary staff on the calling floor. The majority of graduate-level jobs are in management or head office support functions, such as information technology or marketing.

Tesco, for example, is expanding the number of its Tesco Personal Finance (TPF) branches in stores. There is one in-store bank, at Baldock in Hertfordshire. However, TPF human resources director, Fiona Morgan, believes most graduate jobs will be at the operation's Edinburgh head office.

TPF is a joint venture between Tesco and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Some staff came from the bank and some from Tesco's head office, but most of TPS's employees joined directly. "The one prerequisite we have is that staff must have had dealings in customer service," says Ms Morgan. "But that doesn't have to be in finance."

Most graduate jobs at the moment are for people with experience, although the company can also draw on trainees from Tesco's graduate scheme. However, a graduate scheme specifically tailored for TPF is on Ms Morgan's agenda; she hopes to set up a programme in one or two years' time.

"It is early days for us with graduates," she says. "We will take them on where we can, for example, if it is their second or third job. We have not set up a scheme yet, because TPS is so new: we have been going for less than six months. We are in a period of huge growth, and that does not lend itself to just-out-of-university graduates."

Sainsbury's, Tesco's main high street rival for our grocery pounds and for banking services, has little integration between its mainstream training programme and its banking arm. Sainsbury's Bank is also a joint venture, in this case with Bank of Scotland, which handles staffing.

The retailer with perhaps the longest established financial arm is Marks & Spencer. M&S Financial Services was set up in 1984. The company launched its charge card in 1985, personal loans in 1986 and life and pensions in 1995. Financial services now contribute around 5 per cent of M&S profits.

M&SFS is based in Chester and is largely autonomous from the corporate head office, which is known as Baker Street within the company.

The financial services arm recruits its own staff, including graduates, but there is as yet no formal graduate training scheme. According to staff, the company is young, the management structure is flat and the culture is quite different from Baker Street.

"We do need graduates, or people with some experience, to go into customer- facing departments," says Tracy Berry, resourcing officer. "But we also need some graduates with specialist knowledge - information technology, marketing or finance."

Katie Travis, who has a first class degree in retail marketing from Manchester Metropolitan University, joined M&S as a graduate trainee, but soon moved to M&SFS where she has worked for two years as a marketing officer for pensions. The job is quite different from M&S - where she worked in buying - and probably rather different to working in a mainstream bank.

Ms Travis was attracted to the idea of working for a growing organisation. "It is quite a dynamic environment. The relative informality of the culture enables things to happen," she says.

The flat management structure means there are fewer opportunities to climb the management ladder, but the company's expansion into new areas means there are plenty of chances to take on new responsibilities.

This was the experience of Mark O'Keefe, who first came to M&SFS as a placement student. Mr O'Keefe, who works as an analyst in the finance department, spent his gap year with the company after writing speculatively for a placement. He returned to a permanent job this year, with a degree in business studies. His work involves providing financial information to other parts of the company, including marketing. Interpersonal skills and numeracy figure highly in the work. "One of the things that attracted me to the company was the flexibility," says Mr O'Keefe. "I am not limited to staying in finance."

Like Ms Travis, Mr O'Keefe found the idea of working for a young, expanding company appealing. "In a static organisation, you don't have the opportunity to move on," he says.

He admits that not everyone sees M&S as a dynamic company. "If you say you work for M&SFS there is this perception that you are just the people who 'swipe the cards'," he says. "I was astounded by how big the company is." There are compensations, though: staff enjoy good benefits, including an M&S discount card.

In time, M&SFS expects to set up a specific graduate training programme, but for now it is open to speculative applications. "A graduate scheme has been talked about," says Diane Brown, recruitment manager. "I think it will come. It is a case of timing, and being fair to the graduates. It takes time and commitment."

The new banks are committed to developing their own staff, rather than drawing on their retail parents or even the wider financial sector. "We want to create a different sort of animal," explains Fiona Morgan at Tesco Personal Finance. "It is not a traditional bank. We want a culture that is very customer-facing - we really would benefit from growing our own talent."