by Joyce Moullakis
Investment banks are pulling out the stops to woo the best and brightest Australian university students, as they fend off the increasing allure of technology giants.
Internships are fiercely competitive in Australia because they are perceived as the best way to start in the investment banking sector and secure a graduate position.
But the banks are also working overtime to attract young staff. Many have introduced programs aimed at addressing gender equality, mandated against working on Saturdays and beefed up their pitch around international travel to attract university students.
Others including Macquarie Group have introduced winter internships and are also engaging with students at an earlier age.
Citigroup has upped its intern intake this year and has a number of initiatives in place including its Volunteer Africa programme. It also awarded four students and interns its Women in Banking Scholarship this year.
Citigroup’s head of Australian corporate and investment banking Tony Osmond said the internship program was a key hiring tool for the bank locally.
“It’s close to 100 per cent in Australia [conversion of interns to graduate positions] and the vast majority of investment banks do hiring out of university,” he said, noting that retention typically became an issue in later years.
“Retention can become an issue in years three to five, that is where most investment banks see the most attrition and we plan for that.”
Mr Osmond added that work life balance initiatives and gender equality were big areas of focus at Citigroup.
Intern programs typically run for 10-12 weeks with many having kicked off last week. Winter internships are increasingly popular with Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Macquarie among those offering the option.
Still, it seems the banks are slipping in at least one ranking around the prestige linked to their internships.
Ratings and career site Vault.com’s list of 2018’s most prestigious internships puts Google, Apple and Facebook in the top three slots, followed by Microsoft and Goldman Sachs. The only other financial services firms in the top 10 are JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley. The survey includes 400 organisations and responses from more than 12,000 interns.
Mr Osmond said Citigroup in Australia had still received more than 1000 applications for its internship program despite careers in technology being viewed as highly attractive.
“Even if they are thinking of doing a tech start-up they get such great experience in banking they often use that as a launchpad.”
JP Morgan’s local chief executive Paul Uren said the pipeline of junior hiring was one of the firm’s “most important resources”.
“We are also seeing higher retention rates for our junior population as we’ve invested in a number of initiatives – mentorship programs, accelerated development, protected weekends and new technology – in Australia and around the world.”
Mr Uren noted that he expected the majority of JPMorgan’s graduate crop would be sourced from its interns.
“We look to hire employees who bring different perspectives to our business,” he said.
Another senior banker, who declined to be named, said the high levels of screening and a “try before you buy” mentality for interns ensured a 75 per cent conversion into their graduate intake.
Mark Hennessy, a 2016 Citigroup graduate, this year travelled to Uganda, with 24 other employees from around the world to participate in a mentoring program for local entrepreneurs.
University of Sydney student Jenny Chen, one of Citigroup’s scholarship recipients this year, said getting a sense of a company’s culture was key in deciding whether to apply for and accept an internship at that firm.
She thinks banking is still a good career choice given the training, grounding and access to corporates and business leaders it provides, despite being perceived as a male dominated industry.
“I’d like to think because of these programs in 10 years’ time there will be more female MDs [managing directors],” Ms Chen said.
Morgan Stanley also has a women in banking scholarship, which leads to an automatic internship, while Goldman’s marquee gender initiative is the Goldman Sachs Women’s Network which promotes networking and an annual conference in the Asia Pacific.
Interestingly, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s local intern intake has been populated by least 50 per cent women in the past four years.
Other initiatives being run by banks to spruik the industry to students include a number of networking and information events.
Macquarie runs information events throughout the year for prospective interns and graduates and high school students.
Locally, UBS has cadetships for year 12 students, a Finance Academy for senior secondary school students and its Young Women Leadership Academy.
Deutsche Bank has what it calls its Aspiring Talent Program which targets female students and offers a one-month program while they are studying. It is used as a pipeline for the bank’s internship program.