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Louise Brennan, Risk Higher Apprentice: Barclays UK Wholesale Credit

We speak to one of the students currently studying the International Certificate in Financial Services Risk Management whilst on the Risk Higher Apprenticeship Scheme with Barclays.


Louise Brennan

Risk Higher Apprentice

Barclays UK Wholesale Credit


How did you get your job and what’s a typical day like as a Risk Higher Apprentice?

In 2011 I graduated from university with an honours degree, but the job market at the time was tough and highly competitive; I struggled to find work in the subject that I studied due to a lack of experience. I took various jobs, from cleaning schools to selling mobile phones, and eventually landed a job as a cashier in a local bank in 2015.

I was happy working in a dynamic branch environment, but didn’t really see myself progressing my career through management. It was one of my colleagues who became aware of the Barclays Apprenticeship Programme and recommended that I apply.

To be honest, I was hesitant at first – the word “apprenticeship” brings to mind school leavers, not someone like myself who had been to university and working full-time for a number of years.

I researched the options and became really excited about the possibility of working and gaining experience in the risk function. It’s an area that has received a lot of attention, particularly since the financial crisis, and it’s grown rapidly in a short space of time, and connects you to every part of the bank.

With the support of my line manager, I applied for the programme and was awarded a place. I’m currently coming towards the end of my first rotation in Credit Risk, and looking forward to my next rotation in Operational Risk.

Tell us what your Apprenticeship in Credit Risk involves and what you’ve learnt so far.

My day usually involves assessing credit applications and reviews for businesses experiencing financial distress, and then presenting the case along with my recommendations to a colleague in the team. Before joining the team, I had no knowledge of credit risk so the challenge to develop my skills in this area has been full-on, but extremely rewarding and has really boosted my confidence.

I also get involved in varied additional projects to assist teams across Credit Risk, which has given me valuable insight into project management and controls. One of the key things that I have taken away from this year is that you get out what you put in – so embrace every opportunity that comes your way.

Would you recommend young people taking this route as opposed the university route?

I started at university in 2008 and at that time the range of apprenticeship programmes was not as broad as it is today. There was certainly less focus on apprenticeships as a viable option for higher education. As a college student, I was concerned about taking on debt to gain a qualification and this was when fees were significantly lower than they are. If I were a student today looking at my future options now, I would give serious thought to the benefits of an apprenticeship and university.

Having attended university, and now completing a Barclays Higher Apprenticeship, I have certainly found that apprenticeships give you a greater opportunity to gain real experience in the workplace and kick-start your career. I’ve been working with industry specialists from my first day, and had an incredible amount of support from my line manager and wider team, so it’s really a safe environment for you to learn, make mistakes, and draw on years of experience from colleagues across the organisation. I’m working towards a professional qualification whilst earning a salary, so I’m able to better myself academically without worrying about needing to take out hefty loans to support myself.

I feel that apprenticeships offer all the benefits of university. You might not move into halls and be living with other students, but you will form friendships with your colleagues and the rest of your cohort, and develop soft-skills and confidence in the workplace.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The risk function is fast-paced and dynamic, every day you will be faced with fresh challenges and situations that go hand-in-hand with a constantly evolving environment. I really enjoy having a variety of tasks to get stuck into.

What are the challenges?

The main challenge in completing an apprenticeship is time management. You also need to be highly self-motivated and driven to do well in your qualification – whilst you’ll receive tons of support, useful resources and attend workshops, there’s an element of self-study to the course and it’s really important to plan for that and use your time wisely.

In what way is the International Certificate in Financial Services Risk Management relevant?

Risk management in financial services is a fast-growing area that has been receiving more and more interest regulators, organisations and the public, so it’s a great area to build up your skills and knowledge. The qualification gives you an opportunity to build that knowledge and understand the historical theories and events that have contributed to why we do things in the way that we do today.

What would you say to others thinking about starting our qualifications?

An IRM qualification is a great base for stepping into a career in risk management. It requires hard work and dedication to complete a qualification whilst working, but you’ll receive lots of support, as well as other benefits through the IRM including the ability to network with other professionals across the industry.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I’m just starting out in my career in risk, and am excited to see where it will take me. I’ve really enjoyed my time working in credit risk, and am looking forward to my next rotation in operational risk – one of the great things about apprenticeships is the opportunity to work across different areas during the course of your programme. At the moment I couldn’t say with 100% certainty which path I will take when I complete the apprenticeship, but I’m confident than by the end of my forthcoming rotation I will have a clear career plan.

Top tips:

When considering your options for higher education, make sure that you thoroughly research all of your options and think about what you really want to gain from your next step – there is no one path that will suit everybody, and there is such a wide range of courses and programmes available.

The qualification is not easy, you need to be motivated and dedicated to succeed, so make sure you plan your time well.

Gain as much work experience as you can, it will not only help to bring your learning to life but will benefit you when you’re applying for jobs too.

 Neil Sheldon ACIB, CEFA, Higher Apprentice Talent Coach at Knowledgepool talks about how he manages the relationship with the Institute, Barclays and the student:

"My role as a ‘higher apprentice talent coach’ involves regular meetings with the apprentices where I help them keep on track with their studies and assist them in working towards the completion of their apprenticeship.

In partnership with IRM I help to organise and run workshops which provide a framework for the learners studies and a springboard for their academic achievement. I have found the IRM to be helpful in provision of trainers and resources which all help to guide the apprentices towards their end goal of achieving their apprenticeship. My own background is in banking with over 35 years’ experience and now just over 2 years of coaching/assessing experience."

If you’re interested in any aspect of this piece please contact Sanjay Himatsingani, Director of Training and Business Development at the Institute of Risk Management.