Benedict James

Accounting & Maths, University of Newcastle

When I was applying for graduate schemes I was looking for exposure to senior colleagues, the opportunity to lead projects, rather than just being involved in them and work that demanded an analytical approach and practical application. The Co‑operative Bank has delivered on all counts.


After a general induction with all the other graduates I went straight into a placement in the branch network. I was offered some flexibility in terms of location and the experience immediately gave me an appreciation of what matters most to the business – the customer experience.


Initially I shadowed the branch and area leadership team. I performed simple transactions in the branch with the goal of gaining some customer insight, understanding what really matters to our front-line staff and how they view Head Office and what is cascaded down to them. The three months I worked there really helped me to understand some of our front-line processes, why we do certain things and helped me to build a picture of how the distribution network operates.


My next placement was three months in our contact centre in Stockport which focussed much more on developing my leadership skills. I shadowed a telephony team leader for three weeks and then covered for various other team leaders. It felt like I was moving at 100 miles an hour at times but I loved it and it felt good being part of a leadership team. The biggest challenge was answering technical questions from colleagues but I learnt a lot while finding out the answers and also in terms of adapting my leadership style to suit different environments.


I’m currently working in a more back office role as part of the end-to-end process improvement and architecture team in Operations. We use Lean methodology to look at end-to-end processes within the Bank as a whole and make improvements. I’ve recently been looking at the account opening process which touches other areas such as Digital, Branch, Telephony, Distribution and Operations. This has helped me to improve my understanding of how the Bank works as a whole and has also given me the opportunity to improve my credibility when engaging with stakeholders.


Moreover, I’ve had the opportunity to take the lead on certain parts of this project which has meant influencing people much more senior than me. My colleagues have actively supported me in doing this and I’ve really developed an appreciation of the importance of adapting the terminology I use and personal style depending on who I’m communicating with. I’ve also improved my ability to balance a wide range of tasks and opportunities more effectively while not losing contact with people I’ve met on previous placements. To get the most out of this programme you need to build on your placements as you go along to grow as a leader.


I genuinely didn’t think I’d have the level of opportunity and exposure to senior leaders that I’ve had in my first year when I started the programme. Speaking to friends who are on graduate schemes with larger employers, none have had the level of sustained exposure and personal approach that I’ve experienced. I’d encourage anyone to apply provided you are keen to learn quickly in a constantly changing environment.

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