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Bank on banks

After completing his MBA in finance and systems, Shiva Shanmugaraj joined a financial services company, GE Money, in Chennai. However, hit by the recession, the struggling company shifted him to credit card sales, in which he had no interest. It was around this time that he spotted a State Bank of India (SBI) advertisement for direct recruitment of scale 3 officers. They wanted an MBA with three years of experience in the finance sector and he seemed to fit the bill. He sat for the exam conducted by the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS), and appeared for a group discussion and an interview with SBI. In September 2010, he was selected.

“The exam is not tough as long as your foundation in mathematics, English and analytical reasoning is good. We also had to clear a special paper on financial management for this particular post,” says the 27-year-old, who currently processes and sources loans for the credit division of SBI in Namakkal district in Tamil Nadu and is loving it.

Srividya, an engineering graduate from Chennai, failed to get a job in her core subject — electrical engineering — so it did not matter to her if she worked at a software company or a bank. “I found banks a better option,” she says. After clearing the SBI exam, she joined as a probationary officer in March 2012.

Srividya and Shanmugaraj are not isolated cases. Earlier, public sector banks (PSBs) never ranked really high in the list of career choices. However, in the past two years, because of the slowdown in the economy and the huge number of vacancies being advertised by state-owned banks, MBAs and engineering graduates are making a beeline for banks.

The Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS), headquartered in Mumbai, is the body that conducts exams and, more recently, also holds the common interviews for all 20 public sector banks in the country. IBPS also conducts separate exams for State Bank of India and its associate banks. Earlier, each bank used to conduct its own exams and interviews but, finding the process cumbersome, the work was handed over to the IBPS in 2011.

To sit for the exams you need to be a graduate. Aspiring probationary officers also need 60 per cent in any educational stream (five per cent relaxation for exempt categories)

A.K. Konar, professor of psychometrics, division head, client relations-PSBs, Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS), confirms that in the past two years, “large numbers” of students are applying to public sector banks. The industry has become attractive because of the job security as well as the generous salary it provides.

Banks also seem to have a large number of vacancies. Konar says that public sector banks recruit on an average 20,000 officers and 19,000 clerks every year. Reflecting the demand, the IBPS conducts three exams, one for clerical staff, probationary staff and specialists and two for regional rural banks in the clerk and officers category every year.

In June 2012, in their common written exam for probationary and management trainees, out of 7 lakh candidates, 61,339 qualified and will be placed after a common interview. Candidates can give their first, second, third choice of banks and this will be taken into account along with their marks while placing them. “For example, if vacancies in their first choice are filled they will be placed in their second choice. This is to avoid candidates flocking only to the top rated banks,” he points out. Their next exam is the clerical one in December.

So, what do banks look for in candidates?

“Good people skills for dealing with customers, willingness to be a team player, high IQ to quickly grasp new banking products and a readiness to be transferred,” says Raj Kiran Rai, general manager, HRD, Central Bank. Roughly 30,000 vacancies are going to emerge next year across the banking industry, he reveals. Central Bank itself requires 2,000 officers next year because it will be opening “ultra small branches” around the country. “We will take 1,000 internally through promotions and another 1,000 from the IBPS,” he says.

Salaries in banks range from Rs 3 to 4 lakh per annum at the entry level, says Konar. Probationary officers make Rs 23,000-26,000 a month with accommodation plus benefits such as petrol allowance and leave travel allowance (LTA).

Rai says that young people conscious of social justice will find banks a good place to work in as they provide the opportunity to better the conditions of the poor. “They can do good service by working in the rural sector,” he says. Also, within the banking sector you have the opportunity to work in a wide range of departments such as marketing, retail credit, corporate credit and foreign exchange. You are sure to find one you like. And attrition rates prove that bank employees are loathe to leave. Rai says that the attrition rate is as low as 2.5 per cent.

“There is so much you can learn at public sector banks,” says S. Augustine (29), trainee assistant manager, Indian Bank, who is posted at the pilgrimage spot, Vailankani, in Tamil Nadu. A mechanical engineer and MBA in finance and marketing, he worked in the retail and construction industries before writing his bank exam. “You need common sense and must not trust anyone implicitly before you give loans. You have to be motivated and fit in or else you can go out of the system. I could ask to be placed in foreign exchange branches, and the treasury and investment departments later, since I am into core finance,” he adds.

“The job requires you to have common sense, be diligent and manage people,” says Srividya.

“Banks are in need of creative people. You need to have an aptitude for maths, be good at decision making and have a thorough knowledge of different businesses in the market,” says Dinesh Kumar (30) who is a probationary officer at SBI.

As Augustine puts it: “You can get a salary cut or lose your job in an IT company but there is no chance of that at a public sector bank. And now is the time to join; once the vacancies are filled, the doors at these public sector banks will shut once again.”

Konar agrees that this plethora of jobs will dry up in a couple of years. So strike while the iron is hot.