Top universities if you want a career in investment banking

University student working towards banking career
If you’re thinking about a career in investment banking, you’ll probably be wondering which degree you should study. But what you might not have considered is where you should study it.

The Telegraph has previously released a list of the top ten universities for getting a career in investment banking. The rankings are based on a survey carried out by LinkedIn, which looked at the type of careers its members were in and the universities they attended. This revealed which universities supplied the most graduates to different career sectors.

The rankings were as follows:

  1. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
  2. University College London (UCL)
  3. University of Cambridge
  4. University of Oxford
  5. University of Warwick
  6. Durham University
  7. University of Manchester
  8. University of Nottingham
  9. University of Bath
  10. University of Bristol

In 2017, finance careers website eFinancialCareers did a survey of the top 50 universities globally for front office (client-facing) roles in investment banks. It analysed the profiles on its CV database, looking at the proportion of graduates from each university who were working in a front office role and the proportion of people working in a front office role who had attended each university. Twelve UK universities were included in the rankings in the following order:

  1. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
  2. University College London (UCL)
  3. Imperial College London
  4. University of Oxford
  5. University of Bristol
  6. University of Warwick
  7. University of Cambridge
  8. University of St Andrews
  9. City, University of London
  10. University of Bath
  11. University of York
  12. University of Exeter

What are target universities for investment banking jobs?

Target universities are the institutions on which investment banks tend to focus most of their efforts in their search for recruits. They accomplish this by creating a strong presence at the chosen campuses through various methods such as sponsoring societies, regularly attending careers fairs and hosting events such as presentations and workshops.

Banks target these universities because they offer highly reputable courses and produce candidates with strong academic credentials. By targeting these universities, banks are assured that candidates have been educated to a high standard within their chosen field and therefore the banks are willing to invest more money in recruiting from them by hosting such events. However, attending one of these universities will not guarantee you a graduate job in investment banking, though it is a good first step.

Insights from a banking recruiter

We spoke with one recruitment manager from a mid-sized bank to get her views on which universities banks tend to target. She told us that in recent years some banks have expanded their search for recruits to include the likes of Durham, Nottingham and Exeter, whereas traditionally they used to target only Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and UCL. These four universities are ranked top in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2018–2019, although other ranking systems differ.

Certainly from our perspective at TARGETcareers, this is something we have found to be true and banks are broadening their search rather than just focusing on the very top of the rankings.

The reason for this, it seems, is that over the last few years investment banks have noticed that the best candidates aren’t just found at the top few universities. Instead, they’re recognising that there are talented and capable individuals that meet their requirements at other universities lower down in the league tables.

The recruitment manager also told us that although the highest ranked universities do produce strong candidates and her bank does still hold careers events at them, it doesn’t focus its search solely on them. The reason for this targeting decision, she says, is because competition for graduates from the top few universities is fierce and, being a smaller bank, it finds that it quite often loses graduates to bigger banks with better known brands.

How to find out which investment banks target which universities

The process of targeting universities is common among both bulge bracket banks (the largest and most profitable multinational banks such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays and Citi) and the smaller to mid-sized banks such as Nomura and Royal Bank of Canada.

Different banks will target certain universities within the top ten list more than others. Unfortunately, banks don’t advertise their preferred institutions so if you want to find out where they like to look for candidates, you’re going to need to do some research. The best way to find out this information is by:

  • Seeing which banks visit which universities: banks will advertise on their website if they have any upcoming campus visits scheduled. However, they may only advertise these a few months in advance.
  • Contacting bank recruiters: if you have an idea of the banks you like the look of, get in touch with their recruitment teams and ask which universities they recommend you attend if you’d like to work for them after you graduate.
  • Speaking to undergraduates at university open days: chatting to current students is a great way to find out which banks put on the most events and have a strong presence at careers fairs.
  • Speaking to the tutors: if you have a course in mind, contact the tutors and ask them which banks tend to visit the university the most. But take what they say with a pinch of salt as any university will want to attract potential students, so be wary if they don’t give you any specific banks’ names.

Do I need a degree in economics or finance if I want a career in investment banking?

You don’t need to have studied a finance or economics degree to get a job in investment banking. From our contact with graduates and recruiters at bulge bracket and smaller banks alike, we’ve found that graduate recruits in this sector come from a range of academic disciplines. What’s most important to a bank is that you have a high class of degree, usually 2.1 or above, to demonstrate your academic ability. You stand a far better chance at getting a graduate job in investment banking if you study a degree you enjoy and get a good grade than if you study something you don’t enjoy (but think that banks will like the look of) and get a lower grade.

The recruitment manager we spoke to told us that she’s hired from a range of academic disciplines including politics, history and languages. The reason for this, she tells us, is that banks are interested in candidates who are driven and well rounded. They want graduates who are educated and capable of learning new skills in order to cope with the training they’ll be given to supply them with the financial know-how needed for working in investment banking. They also want candidates who can approach challenges differently and a good way of ensuring they have a dynamic group of thinkers is by selecting a range of people from different academic disciplines.

However, there are roles that require a numerical degree. These are degrees that have some maths content and include subjects such as chemistry, physics, psychology, engineering, IT, maths and economics. The types of banking career that may call for a high proficiency in maths are jobs in the financial institutions group (teams within a bank who provide financial expertise to other organisations) and roles that are involved in the creation of specialised financial products. But for those applying to a position where you deal directly with clients, people skills are more valued and a good degree in any subject is acceptable.

Typical entry requirements for the universities mentioned are in the range of A*A*A to ABB. And if you do choose to study a more specialised degree such as finance or economics, bear in mind that you’ll often need at least an A in maths to be eligible for an offer.

Stand out to investment banks by joining a society

Something else to consider is your choice of extracurricular activities while at university. Joining a society is a great way to make your CV stand out by showing your range of interests. They work well in your favour whether you choose to study a finance-related or non-finance-related degree.

For example, if you choose to study a finance-related degree, such as economics, joining a sports society or a volunteer group is an effective way to demonstrate the social skills that investment banks look for, such as communication and team work. And if you choose a non-finance-related degree, joining an investment society is a good way to demonstrate your interest in financial matters and desire to work in banking. If your chosen university doesn’t offer an investment or finance society, another good way to show your interest is to join a society and take up a treasury role. Nearly all societies require a treasurer who monitors the budget and expenses and liaises with the students’ union for funding and it’s also a great opportunity to prove your financial aptitude.

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