All the way to the bank

Banking is back in favour with university graduates but, asks Matthew Freemantle, did they ever real

The sharp fall in applicants for banking jobs this year was largely attributed in the media to the sector's tarnished reputation. But were graduates really turning their backs on the City, or did banks simply not have the jobs to offer them? With the economy finding its feet again, what do graduates think of a career in banking now?

Against all expectations, the big banks look set to increase the number of places offered in 2010 - Barclays by more than 30 per cent. According to a recent survey by the UK's biggest graduate recruitment website, milkround.com, 21 per cent of more than 2,000 respondents are, or will be, looking for a job in the banking industry in 2010. Evidently, Lord Myners can say what he likes about the reputation of bankers being tarnished beyond repair, but it won't stop graduates from wanting to enter the industry.

At Goodenough College in Mecklenburgh Square, central London, a residence with about 650 students many of whom are enrolled in economics and finance-related courses at the University of London, the mood has improved with that news. One student who left a job with a major bank to study for a postgraduate degree in economics says that the talk among students is as if the recession never happened. And for several graduates who hope to enter the City in 2010, there is no lingering resentment whatsoever towards the banking sector. The consensus on campus is clear: as long as there are jobs in banking, there will be graduates eager to do them.

A recent graduate, one of the relatively few employed by Barclays in 2009, felt that banking may be even more appealing than before, saying that the recession has made the job more of a challenge. In his circles, banking is still deemed a prestigious career choice. Carl Gilleard, chief
executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, says today's graduates are generally quite pragmatic and recognise that, despite recent events, banking still offers excellent career development opportunities and prospects.

The investment banking sector was among the worst hit by the recession, with the number of entry-level positions reduced by 44 per cent between 2007 and 2009. Graduates in 2009 had to be resourceful, agile and able to compromise. Banks followed suit. In some cases, top graduates were given retainers, and told to go on holiday and come back when recruiting resumed.

An Eton graduate who dropped out of a finance degree at Cambridge last year spoke of doing so fully confident that he would find a job in the City in 2010 and make his first million within four years. His father, a City bigwig, had told him to take a gap year and lie low until the tide turned. Like many young people, he has not lost his interest in banking, but rather postponed it.

Some talented candidates may have been lost to what are considered safer and more wholesome sectors - teaching, the civil service and even law. But banking is as banking was: chiefly about money and the opportunity to make a lot of it. If you thought graduates would be less enthusiastic about a career in the City because of its bad reputation, don't bank on it.

This article is taken from the New Statesman supplement Held To Account: What's next for UK Banking? sponsored by Barclays