Aiming higher: professional apprenticeships


With the development of higher and degree apprenticeships, the Chartered Banker Institute looks at the future of apprenticeships in the banking sector.

The UK’s first Master’s-level apprenticeship aimed specifically at senior banking professionals is now training its first cohort of recruits in a collaboration between the Chartered Banker Institute and Cranfield School of Management.

Thirty-one Metro Bank apprentices are enrolled in Cranfield’s MSc in Retail and Digital Banking, which has been formally accredited by the Institute. This means graduates will be awarded Chartered Banker status with the Institute.

Ongoing Chartered Banker status is subject to adherence to the Chartered Banker Institute’s rules and regulations, including the Code of Conduct, and completion of annual Continuing Professional Development as appropriate to the membership grade.

Chartered Banker is the gold standard for professionals working in the banking sector and is recognised globally as a measure of enhanced standards of excellence and professionalism.

“At a time when banks and banking are being shaped by new technology, the launch of Cranfield’s new MSc, in partnership with Metro Bank and the Chartered Banker Institute, couldn’t be more timely,” said Simon Thompson, Chief Executive, the Chartered Banker Institute. “Future generations of banking leaders need to develop their professional expertise in a wider range of fields than ever before, including banking, technology, management and leadership.”

Our question is – are apprenticeships being driven in the right way? Are organisations really looking to the skills and competencies that need to be developed in their staff?

The new MSc has been designed specifically for banking in the digital age and is one of a new generation of higher and degree apprenticeships for senior professional and senior specialist roles. These mean students can achieve a full Bachelor’s or Master’s degree as part of their apprenticeship. There is also an appetite, as with Cranfield, for such degrees to be formally recognised by professional bodies, thus allowing holders to gain professional designations and also to access further professional qualifications and continuing professional development. Higher and degree apprenticeships were introduced in 2015 as part of a UK Government drive to create three million apprenticeships by 2020 – and to put employers rather than educators in the driving seat.

Blazing a trail

In the banking sector, the Chartered Banker Institute has been involved in developing ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeships from stage one.

Mark Roberts, Head of Learning Partnerships Strategy for the Chartered Banker Institute, explains: “Through the industry groups, we’ve helped the sector shape the standards and identify apprenticeship assessment methods and supporting qualifications. We have supported banks and financial services employers in developing their apprenticeship strategies. As a professional body, we have aligned our qualifications framework where appropriate with apprenticeship standards and work closely with a number of leading training providers.”

The Institute has also been appointed as End Point Assessor (EPA), which is the final check that the apprentice has attained the required standards to complete the apprenticeship, for a number of core banking standards.

Looking ahead, the Institute sees apprenticeships as critical to the future of the banking industry and describes itself as a ‘enthusiastic supporter’.

Roberts continues: “We see the massive potential that apprenticeships hold both in terms of opportunities for individuals wanting to enter the banking sector and for the banks themselves. But there are also benefits for wider society in terms of driving greater inclusivity in recruitment patterns and offering opportunities at a number of stages in an individual’s career. Individuals benefit from a learning experience that combines the best elements of studying a qualification with practical application and experience in the workplace.”

Key skills

A number of key skills and competencies are vital to anyone working in a bank.

“Key knowledge areas include regulation of financial services, law, ethical principles, risk management, principles of credit and banking operations management, technology and innovation,” Roberts explains. Banking operations isn’t just about understanding how banks develop systems to look after people’s money, he adds, but it’s also the technological angle, principally digital banking and how this can lead to great consumer experience.

“In terms of skill sets, young bankers need to be able to understand and anticipate problems and issues, identify ethical considerations, operate technically complex and innovative customer service systems – and they need to be flexible and welcoming of change and innovation, good with people and authoritative in their knowledge.”

The Institute recently published an ‘Insights’ Paper into apprenticeships in financial services and banking after gathering feedback from stakeholders. Its recommendations include greater consistency across apprenticeships and professional standards and the need for employers to be able to review apprenticeships to ensure they continually meet industry’s needs.

“While the pace of apprenticeship development in financial services has been rapid, we do have some concerns,” Roberts admits. “Firstly, do the existing apprenticeship standards fully reflect the future needs of the banking industry? Secondly, does the banking sector have adequate strategic overview of the standards? Additionally, there’s a potential issue with unintended consequences. A good example of this is a rise in apprentices in the banking sector studying non-industry specific qualifications in general topic areas like customer services and management.”

Fit for the future

This concern relates to the UK government’s Apprenticeship Levy, through which large companies pay 0.5% of their salary costs into an Apprenticeship Service Account each month. Employers can be reimbursed, but only by setting up apprenticeships with accredited training providers within two years.

“The incentive is you can get your money back as long as you have enough apprenticeships,” Roberts continues. “So there’s been a bit of a gold rush with businesses encouraged to set up as many apprenticeships as possible.

“Our question is – are apprenticeships being driven in the right way? Are organisations really looking to the skills and competencies that need to be developed in their staff? Or are they following the lowest common denominator route? An example would be the use of generic standards, such as customer services or management, which contain no banking-specific content.”

Other significant concerns include the lack of alignment between apprenticeship frameworks across the UK – for example between Scotland and England – and the lack of take-up by universities of degree-level apprenticeships.

“A number of UK universities have considerable specialisms in banking and related financial services subjects at Level 7 and it’s a real pity that existing expertise and innovative learning delivery that universities have is not currently reflected as apprenticeship opportunities,” Roberts says. For example, we have two UK Universities that have world-renowned programmes in the critical topic of Green and Sustainable Finance, yet current standards are not designed to engage universities holding this expertise.

Another area of support for young bankers is the 2025 Foundation, which the Chartered Banker Institute set up in anticipation of its 150th anniversary in 2025. It aims to identify and assist talented young people who would benefit from financial and other support to start to pursue a career in banking.

In a collaboration with Bangor University, ranked one of world’s top 25 institutions for banking research, the Chartered Banker Institute also offers a ground-breaking dual award banking qualification: the Chartered Banker MBA. This enables graduates to gain a top MBA in banking and finance alongside Chartered Banker status.


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