Sector focus: banking
In the good old days, a bank was somewhere you kept your money to avoid hiding it under the mattress.
Over the past hundred years though, the banking industry has completely transformed – pausing for some time as a business that would simply take deposits for investors at a lower interest rate and loan it out at a higher one – until it became what it is now.
Banks are now huge global entities. Technology and deregulation led them to indulge in extreme risk-taking and complex securitisation activities, which ultimately caused some to collapse in the financial crisis. The industry is now rebuilding, regrouping, and on a steep learning curve. It is constantly evolving and subject to regulatory pressures as well as public and private scrutiny on a level never seen before. All of this makes it exciting. But if you are thinking of embarking on a career in this dynamic environment, there are some important factors you must take into consideration.
As you will be aware, becoming an ACCA member is not simply about passing exams. There is also the practical experience requirement (PER). This can be done before, during and after completion of your exams. PER provides a structure for you to follow by setting you a range of performance objectives. The performance objectives ensure you gain the experience to demonstrate that you have the abilities required to become a member.
Completing the performance objectives will allow you to:
- apply in practice the knowledge and techniques gained through your studies towards the ACCA exams
- observe and be involved in real-life work situations that help you to develop the skills, attitudes and behaviours you will need as a qualified accountant
- develop your judgment, encouraging you to reflect on the quality of your work and how you may improve your work performance in the future. To complete your PER you need to be working in an accounting or finance-related role, complete 36 months in an accounting‑related role, achieve 13 performance objectives, record your progress and make a PER return each year.
Nine of the performance objectives are essential, explains Natasha Gadsby, ACCA business development manager, corporate sector lead, and cover general things, such as using IT, managing a project, and four optional ones, from a list of 11, are more specialised (eg tax and audit). The key thing, though, is that you must be in an accounting or finance role and your supervisor (who verifies your returns) must be a qualified accountant. For these reasons, working as a cashier in a bank does not qualify you.
‘The aim of PER is to help with exams in terms of gaining the skills you need to be a accountant,’ says Gadsby, ‘In fact, I trained with HSBC as a project manager.’
However, the fact that working as a cashier can’t be used towards your ACCA membership doesn’t not mean that it isn’t a good way to get general work experience. It can be a useful rung at the start of your career, from where you can move within the bank to a finance or accounting role that does satisfy the PER. So don’t be alarmed if you are in a cashier’s role at present, but do start to think about where your career in the bank can go to best complement your ACCA Qualification.
TYPICAL JOB ROLES
There is most definitely an appetite for ACCAs in the banking sector. Andreas Gaitzsch is Business Partner Finance Academy at Lloyds Banking Group and says: ‘ACCAs tend to be technically sound with knowledge and skills that span both management and financial accounting. In my experience, ACCA students benefit from a strong understanding of what it means to work in industry and are very obviously determined in their choice of career; embarking on a course of study while working full-time is a big commitment not undertaken lightly.’
‘Typical roles for accountants in banking include positions as financial accountants, management accountants, MI analysts, project accountants, internal auditors and product controllers,’ continues Jo Phillips, account manager at Badenoch & Clark, all of which are roles which can be used towards the PER aspect of the ACCA Qualification.
And these roles span a number of different departments. As Gaitzsch says, there are opportunities to work across all business divisions including wholesale, retail, wealth and international, group operations, insurance and group executive functions.
A job in banking will particularly suit an individual who finds the idea of working in a fast-paced environment exciting and challenging. ‘It has a vast number of opportunities and is subject to increasing regulatory changes meaning things don’t tend to stand still for long,’ says Gaitzsch.
Phillips agrees. ‘Challenges include dealing with information and products crucial to the performance of the bank. A number of change and transformation programs are taking place so roles will be both diverse and high profile with opportunities for senior management and stakeholder relations,’ she says.
CASHING IN ON YOUR SKILLS
So what skills should you demonstrate to get a foothold? Effective communication skills, business acumen, understanding of the risk and controls the industry faces and strong technical knowledge are essential, and, says Jo Phillips of Badenoch & Clark, ‘It’s also important to be interested in the role and area they are getting into, and that they do their homework – surprisingly this is an area where lots of newly qualified accountants fall down. You should also demonstrate transferable skills and competencies, such as strong team work skills, and time management capabilities.’
And this is not simply recruitment consultant spiel... the same advice comes from the recruitment decision makers from inside the banks as well. ‘It is important to be able to demonstrate where you have added value and driven change,’ advises Gaitzsch. ‘To stand out, research the organisation and the people you are meeting in detail. Before the interview, ensure you understand the role and are ready to highlight the relevant skills you have.’
But just because your dream may be to one day work as an accountant in a bank, it isn’t all about your technical acumen.
‘Soft skills are undeniably crucial,’ comments Gaitzsch, ‘Professionals must be able to engage with stakeholders and be proven strong communicators and influencers. These professionals help the business to understand the financial implications of operational decisions and add insight to the decision-making process. Professionals who can demonstrate their ability to develop effective relationships, articulate their views and recommendations clearly, and in a compelling fashion, will go far.’
Beth Holmes, freelance journalist
This article was first published in Student Accountant