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What is Retail Banking?

Retail banks provide financial services to retail customers. They deal with retail accounts (deposits and withdrawals from your chequing account) as well as retail financial products (credit cards, mutual funds, RRSPs, mortgages, TFSAs etc.). Small business accounts such as restaurants and cafes also fall under retail banking, they are generally looked after by a small business specialist (a relatively senior role in a retail bank). The deposits from retail banks serve as capital for commercial banks to lend to larger businesses.

Why Retail Banking?

For the younger readership, we recommend everyone to work in a part-time retail banking (local bank branch) position during or immediately after highschool and throughout university during the school semester.

The compensation is good for a part time job and offers training working with people, operating on a team and making sales. If you pay attention to what you are actually selling, you will have a rudimentary understanding of financial products.

Ideally, an analytical job post-graduation is best, but eager and unemployed new grads should also consider working in retail banking until opportunities with better growth become available (easier to find a job when you have a job – we note it is entirely possible to have a career in retail banking, although it is less stimulating and financially rewarding compared to other careers we write about on the site).

Getting into Retail Banking

We walk through how to get an entry-level teller position here (customer service representative/personal banker/universal banker):

Go in smile and ask to speak with the manager of customer service or branch manager. If asked about what it is regarding you should mention that you are a student looking for employment. Be sure that you are always smiling. 

If you do not get the opportunity to speak with them, ask for their business card and thank the teller. Although it won’t get you the job, being courteous to the general staff is imperative as not doing so may be a dealbreaker. Everyone gossips. Afterward, go to the next bank. Usually, 4/5 big five Canadian banks will all be within a 100m radius. 

If you are invited to sit down with the manager of customer service, you should allocate 10-15 minutes for a chat. They will ask you what’s up and then you can tell them you are a student about to finish the school term looking for a position in the bank. They will ask if you have applied online, in which case you say that you are creating a profile and wanted to add a personal touch to your submission.

After this initiation, the conversation can go in a variety of directions, and if it does not fall into the context of banking it is still an informal interview in itself through testing your ability to be personable. However, a few general topics will spring up. Be sure that you are always smiling.

1) Sales/Retail Experience

You definitely want to leverage your tenure as a hostess and other positions which had a sales or customer service component. Talk about how you placated angry customers, were empathetic and met sales targets. They may ask you what you would do if you were not able to meet a sales target, and you should discuss how you would try to isolate key incidents and weaknesses so that you could better communicate a product to the client in the future.

Regardless of where the bank’s interests really lie (i.e. the shareholders) you should always communicate that it is important to find the product that is best for the consumer. 

2) Rules

They may ask you what your thoughts about rules are. Mention that in banking, there are certain compliance rules that can never be broken due to government regulations, privacy concerns or if it is a criminal offense. 

However, pertaining to the customer side and fees in particular, there is flexibility in what you can do so that you can go the extra mile for your customer. This can mean a benefit deferred to the customer because of their relationship with the bank.

3) What the CSR Position Entails

A teller is a mix between the operational and sales side of the financial institution. A teller will handle deposits, withdrawals, referrals to sales staff related to financial products including mortgages, mutual funds and term papers. 

The teller is also in charge of a large variety of due diligence and compliance, to ensure that privacy concerns are met and customers are properly identified. This is a high stress position because you need to work accurately while maintaining a satisfactory level of speed. 

4) Availability

As soon as exams finish and the background checks clear the answer should be always.

5) Why Us?

This is a good opportunity to talk about how much you know about the bank you are interviewing for. You always want to talk about how the bank differentiates itself through customer service. Mention that the bank in question has won numerous best employer awards and gives the opportunity for people to prove themselves and move up. If you know the CEO and stock price this will be impressive because the interviewer will not. Talk about how you are interested in financial products and conversing with clients and may be looking at a sales role in the future.

Somewhere in the conversation you will want to throw in language skills.

Retail Banking Salaries and Exit Opportunities

Retail banking professionals are compensated lower relative to capital markets professionals, but higher than comparable non-finance professionals. Base salaries are around ~$15 an hour or ~$30,000 for entry level customer service representatives. As you climb the corporate ladder in a retail bank, the base salaries increase to ~$40,000 (+$3,000 bonus) for financial service representatives, ~$50,000 (+$10,000 bonus) to financial advisors, and ~$90,000 (+$20,000 bonus) to branch managers. The bonus for the more senior positions are generally contingent on the quantity of financial products you sell.

Exit opportunities are somewhat limited for retail banking professionals. From financial advisor (or equivalent), you can make the jump to retail brokerage/wealth management (TD Waterhouse, RBC Dominion Securities, BMO Nesbitt Burns, CIBC Woody Gundy). Some advisors also move to private wealth management, where they will serve high net worth clients. From branch manager, you can be promoted to regional manager and beyond.

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