On September 27th 2018, GEM Finance Society had the opportunity to interview Natwest Markets at the Audit & Finance Bootcamp organized by Grenoble Ecole de Management.
NatWest Markets provides financing, risk management and trading solutions across three product lines: rates, currencies and financing. Its customers include financial institutions, corporates, sovereigns, regional banks, hedge funds, and fund and asset managers.
Daren Blaker: Head of Currencies Sales
Could you please tell us about your background and your job ?
I’ve got a degree in German and French, but that was a long time ago, so let’s keep this in English [laughs].
I’ve been with NatWest Markets for twenty four years, so a long time. I’m responsible for Foreign Exchange Sales business, that means I’m responsible for our client’s businesses where they have foreign exchange risks. That includes small businesses in the UK, large corporates in France, UK, US, Asia, financial institutions all over the world.
How did you end up in that line of work?
I started on the graduate scheme, I wanted to be in sales, speaking to clients. I wanted to be involved in a product I believed in, and I wanted to be working for a company I believed in. That’s basically how I got into it.
Could you describe your typical day at work? What do you find the most challenging or rewarding?
Someone in my team will typically be at the office at 7:00 or 7:30 in the morning, then we try to understand what has happened in financial markets in Asia. It’s important to understand what has happened overnight. Obviously the markets are 24h a day, certainly the Foreign exchange market is. It starts when Australia opens on a Monday morning and closes when New York does on Friday night. Then we will share information among the rest of the sales teams, share information with traders and understand what positions the bank’s got. We also talk about the big issues currently going on, what we think is going to happen with interest rates, what will happen with the dollar etc.
Then people start talking to clients, and adapting our strategy to our different clients, such as Unilever who has significant foreign exchange risks, we also talk to asset and hedge fund managers to share information, such as [the GEMIC] does during the weekly sessions. We often visit clients. It is important to build the relationship with them to understand their needs. We need to understand the impact that the foreign exchange will have on each one of them.
My role is a bit more managerial, I see the clients and am a bit more involved on the strategic side and the decisions that we must make, how the sales strategy with clients is going, what we need to improve, change.
At the end of the day from 4 o’clock onwards, we pass the business over to the US. In the morning we take the business from Asia, we look after it from 7:30 to 5, then we pass it over to the US who will keep an eye on it until Asia wakes back up. It’s a 24h cycle, that’s just the way foreign exchange works, it never sleeps, unlike equity markets.
What are the biggest challenges in the upcoming years?
At the moment the biggest challenge is Brexit. How do you plan for something that is unknown? The vote took place in June 2016, two years later, the deadline is in March 2019, and we still have no idea what will happen. That is very difficult for a business. We know that financial services will be affected more than most businesses, so we are planning for that. We are building teams around Europe, Paris, Madrid, Milan, Francfort etc. to manage our clients post Brexit. We have to assume it is a hard Brexit, because you always have to assume the worst. That is by far our biggest challenge.
Secondly, since the crisis regulations have expanded. To comply with them is very expensive. There are lots of things that have to be done. Lots of technological changes that you have to implement, so that’s been and will remain a challenge.
We also have the likes of new entrants to the market. Revolut, Monzon, maybe even Amazon, Google, or Facebook could take a go at it. Those are the key challenges going forward.
Have you seen an effect on your business yet?
Not so much on the investment banking yet, but more on banking in general. A lot of brokers and boutiques are getting into markets that were previously reserved to banks. We have seen some of it in investment banking, where some companies have come in and targeted the smaller businesses, and exchange flows. It think we will see more and more of it going forward.
As an institution it is important for us to constantly challenge the way we set our business up, do we have the right people, are we in the right place, do we have the right strategy?
Why did you choose to work at NatWest ?
I chose the bank a long time ago. I wanted to work in financial markets, I wanted to be involved with clients, I wanted something that could keep me interested where I felt I was constantly learning and in financial markets you never stop, there’s always new innovations, new clients, new ideas. So that has always been a key thing for me.
The reason I stayed at the bank for so long is that we have a very strong culture. We work hard, but it is a very respectful environment. We are an increasingly diverse organization, we are very welcoming, we want to understand different businesses, different cultures etc. Financial markets have a reputation of being very tough, and they are, but we put thought into the impact it may have and how to better the wellbeing of our teams, if people are fit and healthy, and if we are giving them the right support. These are matters that are not traditionally thought about by investment banks, but are very important to us. It makes you feel quite proud of the business you work for. It is important to have an employer that cares, whether if you are working for 6 months or 24 years with them.
Yetunde Abisola: Early careers manager.
What are the different opportunities offered by NatWest to young professionals?
We have a graduate program, and are hoping to open internships over the next few years.
How long is the graduate program, what does it consist in?
It is quite different from other organizations. We don’t put graduates straight on to a desk. We do an induction program that is 8 weeks long. The first 2 weeks are the regulated training, then 4 weeks are spent on a business tour so you get to know the business and it gets to know you, and the last 2 weeks is a mini rotation of the desks. If you are made an offer you will either go into the financing or the trading area and then you will have a mini rotation within the desks of that space.
How many people are in the graduate program?
This year we have 22 people in the graduate program, and next year we are looking to double that amount.
What is the process to apply?
Now the platform to apply is still open until November, and it can be done on jobs.natwestmarkets.com. There are two ads, one for the financing part and one for the trading part. We don’t expect students to know straight away what they want to do, so they can apply to both ads, in any case they both filter to the same place.
Once you’ve clicked on the ad you will need to upload a copy of your CV, we don’t want people to upload pictures or any other personal information such as marital status. We just want your name, contact details, what courses you’ve studied, what your predicted grade is etc. In our system we need you to have a two-one, I’ve been told that is between 14 -15/20. Anything above that is great. Other things we need to have in your CV are your internships, work experience, or anything you feel is relevant to this particular role. Once you’ve done that upload your CV, and then you will be taken through various steps.
The first one is a situational judgement test made of 17 questions. It is looking to for your work behaviour, and how you would react in that situation. You’ll be given a scenario with four options you would choose from. We are looking to see if your response is appropriate or not.
If you pass that stage you will move on to a maths test. There’s not really much I can tell you about it. It is pass or fail.
Once that is done, you will move on to a verbal reasoning assessment, there are a lot of examples of these kinds of tests on the internet, so if you’ve never done any before you should do your research to get the hang of them and build more confidence before you do the one on the website.
The last stage is a video interview made of five questions. The first one is why do you want to work at NatWest. What I encourage students to do beforehand is go through the website and understand what NatWest Markets is and what we are about. The other questions are based on competency, for example, “Tell me about a time you did x, y, or z” and we are looking for you to give us a good response to that. I normally tell students to answer the questions using the STAR technique (situation, task, action, result) which will help structure it. If you cover those four areas in your answer, you should pass those tests.
It is important to take the video interview in a quiet place. Once you are given the question, you will have a minute to think about the question, and two minutes to answer it. You do get three opportunities to record if you are not happy with your first try but and the last try will be sent by default.
If you pass all of those stages there will be a CV review, and they will make the decision whether or not they want to move that candidate to an assessment center. The assessment centers take place from mid October to November. They take place every Wednesday and are a full day session. This is done to accommodate for international students who couldn’t other wise move back and forth to London. Travel will be reimbursed.
In regards to the assessment center, there will be a mix of interviews and analysis work. If you successfully pass you will find out within a week. We are not going to keep students waiting around, they will know right away. So an offer will be made for either the trading side or the financing side of the business. As I said before, we do not allocate you to a desk until you’ve gone to the allocation course. If you are made an offer it will be for a September 2019 start, and the offer will be given out before the end of the year.
During the 8 week induction program, as mentioned before, we will try to find the desk that best suits you as well as help you with preparing the mandatory test.
What are the required skills to be successful at NatWest?
We are quite different from other investment banks in that we are not just saying that you need to have a finance background or finance degree. We are willing to take applications from people that have studied a whole selection of courses. The main requirement for us is that you have good analytical skills. We are looking for people that are good with European languages, and have the minimum required grade, as I said before.
What advice would you give to new applicants?
The key thing for us is that graduates have an open mind, once they go through the 8-week period they may change their mind on whether they want to go into financing or trading. Any extra experience previous to applying is always welcome. It’s more about understanding our culture, how we do business, and how that candidate will fit in.
What makes NatWest Markets unique?
Investment firms are usually seen as hard places to work in, we seek to provide a workspace that takes into account the health of our teams. We really have a family culture, we do a lot to make sure everybody is happy and that they are looked after. People who work at NatWest Markets will tell you that the culture is very different from other investment firms.
Within six months, new recruits will be fully integrated to the business and will be talking to clients and really understand what it is to be an investment banker. In larger investment firms, there may not be an environment in which young professionals will be able to take an important role in the business.
Thank you !
Interview by Marius Thebault & Adrien de Boissezon for GEM Finance Society