Career paths in corporate banking

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Later in their careers, corporate bankers are required to develop in-depth knowledge of the particular industry they cover, but you don't need to specialise during your training at analyst level, which takes two years at most banks.

As an analyst, you’ll be rotated across teams to get a taste of different sectors and of the key elements that make up corporate banking – from dry risk assessments to the darker arts of relationship building and client schmoozing.

You will be “bagcarrying” – picking up tips without having much influence on the deal

During your analyst training you may even get to accompany senior relationship mangers as they try to sell products to corporate customers. One banker describes this as “bagcarrying” – picking up tips without having much influence on the deal. Your training years are also your chance to learn about key corporate banking products like syndicated loans.

If you don’t secure a front-office traineeship, there are other ways of becoming a junior corporate banker. While it’s increasingly rare in other parts of the financial sector to move from a back-office to a front-office job, many corporate bankers actually start out as credit analysts. The skills they learn in these roles – assessing company balance sheets and deciding whether or not to issue loans – can make them good junior bankers, if their personalities are deemed sufficiently vibrant for them to face clients. Corporate banking divisions sometimes hire people from the big credit rating agencies – Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings – or those with leveraged finance experience.

By the time you reach associate level you will likely be in an industry coverage team, such as telecoms or mining, and may be handling clients on your own with the job title 'relationship manager’. However, these clients are likely to be less important than those that your senior counterparts manage and you may spend much of your time simply responding to ‘request for proposals’ (a company bidding to numerous banks for its funding needs).

As an associate corporate banker looking to rise up the ranks to VP and beyond, building external relationships isn’t all it takes. You must also “establish a strong internal network”, says Callum Nash, managing director, head of consumer, services, TMT sectors and specialist businesses at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Being well liked and respected by seniors within your firm will be seen as a proxy for how well you’ll be able to handle larger, more demanding corporate clients. “Then just simply work hard and learn as you go along – the mundane as well as the exciting,” says Nash.

At VP level and above you’ll have important accounts, so to keep your clients on board and to keep your career progressing, it’s crucial to show that you have imaginative ideas for clients and aren’t just flogging them the same old products. “Seize opportunities as they arise and don't be afraid to try new things and take risks,” says Nash.

'Seize opportunities as they arise and don't be afraid to try new things and take risks'

Directors and MDs may retain their ‘relationship manager’ job titles or become business development managers, whose job typically involves an even greater focus on bringing in new clients. If you want to progress your career to this level, be prepared to spend more of your time wining and dining chief executives and finance officers. You may also have regional responsibilities, so get set for more travel to meet clients (and prospective clients) overseas.

Nash from RBS says that MDs need to be “strong communicators” who are “credible and authentic in front of clients”. And having reached the top rung themselves, they also need to help progress the careers of those in their team, he adds. Corporate bankers are generally in high demand if they can bring clients to a new firm, so staff retention is a key concern for senior managers in the sector

Exit options within financial services are generally more limited for corporate bankers than they are for investment bankers or traders. You may be a sector specialist, but you’re unlikely to get hired by a private equity firm investing in your industry. However, some relationship managers in corporate banking have successfully moved to RM roles within wealth management if their business-owning corporate clients also have private banking needs.

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