Published: Wed 23rd Aug 2017
Read Time: 4 minutes
The Importance of a Second Language in Banking
Given the ever-increasing competition to land a graduate position in banking, standing out from the tens of thousands of applications that banks receive each year has never been so vital. While arranging internships, improving finance and business knowledge and practising psychometric tests day and night are a good start, spare some thought for your language skills.
Foreign language skills might not be the most obvious requirement for a banking or investment role, yet a surprising number of employers include these among their core competences. Below is a sample of banks that have mentioned seeking candidates with foreign language skills:
Bank of America Merrill Lynch: specific languages are required for some roles, especially in Europe, and are generally considered to be an advantage.
Barclays Capital: is currently reviewing its requirements, but points out that it is particularly important for UK graduates applying for overseas opportunities in sales and investment banking to know the local language.
Barclays Wealth: competences sought include willingness to work abroad and language skills. Graduate recruits spend at least six months overseas as part of the scheme. Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, French and Spanish are particularly highly valued.
Commerzbank: languages are highly valued. German is not a prerequisite for posts outside of Germany, but is still an advantage. The online application form asks for details of language skills.
Credit Suisse: language skills, particularly in German, are considered beneficial.
Goldman Sachs: seeks languages graduates or native speakers for around 50% of its roles.
HSBC: hints that candidates with a second (or even a third) language up their sleeves have a clear advantage.
Nomura: stresses that a second language (and an understanding of the associated culture) is an advantage.
UBS: Candidates with excellent German speaking skills and international experience, either through study or experience, put themselves at an advantage.
Foreign languages are becoming even more important, with recent news that big banks in the city could shift at least 9,000 jobs out of the UK to their European counterparts, because of Brexit. This means that having the ability to speak a European language might be just what’s needed for you to outshine other candidates, and be accepted.
Applying for Internships or Jobs?
So, what level of language ability do you need? Banks who specifically look for foreign language skills tend to want candidates who are either fluent in the language or are native speakers. With ‘Fluent’ implying a standard beyond that of A-Level, and at which graduates are comfortably able to conduct business in that language. If you’re unsure as to whether to describe yourself as fluent or not, ask yourself the question “would I be happy for the interview to be conducted in that language?”
Keep in mind that you must be as accurate as possible about your foreign language skills as it’s not uncommon for interviewers to switch between languages if it's suggested that you have this skill on your CV!
However, while speaking European languages can give you that much-needed edge, it isn’t the critical decision factor. The most important criteria for hiring an Investment Banker remain to be: a strong work ethic, engaging personality, and analytical skills. You could be fully trilingual, but the person who only speaks English and nothing else will still get the job if they’ve performed better during interviews.
To conclude, remember that “cultural awareness” is as important as the practical use of languages. Banks are global and multicultural organisations, so you will need to interact with people from different countries and backgrounds daily. For this reason, as part of the hiring process, banks look for individuals with a “multicultural” dimension to show that you can blend seamlessly with other cultures.