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Always Remain a Student: The 5 Lessons I Learnt Training Finance Graduates

Recently I spent a week training 38 participants of the new graduate class of a global bank, on behalf of BG Consulting. After their 3-week induction, they were then heading off around the country into a mix of roles across the bank’s different sectors, including wealth management, corporate banking, treasury, HR and Finance, amongst others. As a result, we kept the training high-level but covered a breadth of topics from financial markets and Basel, to investment banking products and the inner workings of corporate treasury.

I went into the week with a little trepidation: had we got the level and depth of content right, and can we deliver the same material to such a large and diverse group of participants? I left the week pleasantly surprised at the skill and attitude of the class, and rather glad I was no longer in the industry as these guys could be my manager sooner than I’d expect!

Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe things have moved on in the 4 years since I struck out on my own as a full-time trainer, but the new graduates coming through present a different set of challenges to the trainer that I hadn’t fully considered the impact of. Let’s break it down a bit:

1) New Graduates Are Tech Savvy

Maybe obvious for the Millennials, but it wasn’t just their comfort with technology that impressed me, it was their usage and thoughts of how to leverage it in the future that got me thinking. I thought I was pretty up to date with things, but the majority of the class had used the new technology available that I was still becoming aware of.

For one exercise, I asked them to come up with a new retail product the bank could offer in only 30 minutes. The results were products or services that might be coming your way soon, and all involved an element of new or leveraged technology, and all would involve cost savings to the bank. This type of thinking so early in their careers can only be of benefit the bank over the next 10 years.

Does this mean that all Millennials are obsessed with technology? No, it’s one of the many myths of this generation that helps to sell books, courses and headlines. They were offered laptops throughout the course to the follow the slides, but the vast majority chose to just watch and listen. And only one was still posting selfies on Snapchat as I spoke! So, try to bring in different delivery formats into the training; videos, slides, flip charts, group discussions or presentations, amongst others.

2) Go High and Wide

With graduates going into a variety of roles, you can fall into the trap of going too deep into a particular topic, that will be of no benefit to the rest of the group. Our intention was to cover a large and diverse range of topics, but at a high level. At this stage of their careers, it’s more about awareness of the different departments, products, or areas of the bank, rather than going too deep into some of the financial calculations.

Did we still challenge them with a spot of maths? Of course we did – need to keep them on their toes and it’s banking after all – but really we were just scratching the surface. Banks are very adept at training up new hires/graduates with the requisite technical skills once their join their specific departments, and we were happy to leave that part to them, but our obligation is to ensure they know about what the different departments do, other areas of the bank they interact with, and some of the terms and technology they’re going to encounter.

3) Leverage Your Own Experiences

Although I had 38 participants in my class, BG Consulting were training over 190 graduates at the same time. Therefore, we had a dream team of 4 additional trainers, in 4 different rooms, with their own group of participants. This works much better than having them all in the same room at the same time, despite the extra cost, as each one of us brings a different skill set. The other 4 are vastly experienced trainers, all with 15+ years financial markets experience.

The superhero team of trainers

Although we had the same material to cover, we all used our own experiences and stories to add context to the information on the slides. This is a critical technique for trainers to employ. We know that humans love storytelling and let’s face it, financial training can sometimes be a little dry, so it’s crucial that trainers that relating the theory to the real world, and letting the participants understand how, where and why something might be used within their roles. This only comes from trainers with direct industry experience and greatly enhances the learning experience for all concerned.

4) Quench Their Thirst

One thing I loved during that week was the class’s enthusiasm for learning. As a trainer, I love being asked good, relevant, thought-provoking questions. Not only does it keep you on your toes, but it demonstrates that your class is listening, processing, and trying to connect the dots. Ultimately, that’s what your job is, so this is always more welcome than a deafening silence. Most of my morning and afternoon breaks were spent answering questions from members of the class who either didn’t want to ask them in public, or felt it was off topic. I had many great discussions about financial markets, personal trading, CFDs, and career development that not only helped me connect with them better, but allowed me to add further value on top of the standard curriculum.

5) Always Remain a Student

Even though I was training graduates, the whole experience was a great learning curve for me as well. As trainers, we can never allow ourselves to get stale and need to stay lifelong learners, and this experience certainly taught me a few new things. Through the students, I was learning about new banking products using recent technological advances (some soon to hit Singapore??), and also about what the younger generation are looking for out of their careers and indeed their choice of banks.

This type of ‘live’ market research is invaluable as to how we can tailor future courses and what areas to research further. Training like that is a two-way process; you teach them the course material, and you usually pick up a nugget or two of valuable information yourself.

Closing Thoughts

Training graduate schemes is always good fun. They normally have some leftover enthusiasm from their studies, are excited about the start of their careers, and more self-indulgently, you get to pass on your knowledge and experience and help mould them into future model employees! But, they also keep you on your toes and teach you a thing or two. This style of training usually only happens over a short 2- to 3-month period each year, but remains one of my favourite types, and a change to the management and leadership teams I typically work with.

If I had one key takeaway from this class, it’s the need to stay current with banking trends across the complete breadth of banking products/divisions. It’s not enough to be focused on investment banking products or Operations-related roles, you need to have a complete picture of the market. If I can add a second, it’s my favourite ABC acronym– Always Be Curious. Leverage your participants; ask them questions, share experiences, and always be open to learning.

I’m already looking forward to doing this again soon with a different bank in Shanghai; what will I learn then?

Mark Stuart is the Managing Director of Anagram Group and represents BG Consulting in Asia. He is a Leadership & Financial Trainer, who works globally with financial institutions and multi-national companies, delivering a range of workshops and high-potential programs.

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