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Last September saw the first 33 full-time recruits start work on two new MBA programmes at Barclays’ global retail and commercial banking (GRCB) unit.

Twenty-six joined a Global Leaders programme to find and develop future chief executives, while the remaining seven are on the bank’s Operational Executive programme aimed at identifying and grooming future chief operating officers.

The programmes were created and designed by Frits Seegers, chief executive of Barclays’ GRCB and, with a masters degree in finance from the University of Chicago, a passionate believer in the power of the MBA.

The 100,000 strong unit did not previously have a formal MBA programme, and Lucy Tarrant, manager of the three-year Global Leaders programme, says: “We really needed emerging talent rather than entry-level, graduate talent …this is something that will continue to grow for us.”

This year the Global Leaders programme will take 20 interns and 25-30 full-time recruits, and over the next few years full-time recruits could number 50, says Ms Tarrant. Katie Summerfield, manager of the Operational Executive programme, is hiring 12 full-time recruits for this year.

The development of new MBA recruitment programmes in the financial services sector is good news for the business schools – or, in the case of Barclays GRCB, 12 big-name schools in the US and Europe. It helps create a broader range of recruitment opportunities beyond the regular destinations such as investment banking, and that is particularly important when there is uncertainty in the financial markets.

Schools have in any case been keen to achieve this diversity, reducing dependence on the traditional investment banks.

Last year London Business School, for example, saw a big jump in MBA recruitment by asset management companies – a sector into which it has put a lot of energy, according to Diane Morgan, director of career services. There was also a jump in retail banking and insurance recruitment, and private equity-related hiring has been growing, too.

Not that it is all quiet in investment banking. Helena Fernandes, in charge of the school’s finance recruitment, notes “quite an exciting trend” in which regional, and small, specialist investment banks, including boutiques focused on the Middle East, have started to source MBA talent from the school.

At Columbia Business School, Regina Resnick, managing director of the New York school’s career management centre, says not so many positions were available during the September and October round in the credit and fixed income sectors. However – in a sign of the times, perhaps – there were more opportunities in the turnround and restructuring field.

With some parts of the financial services industry, it is also important to look beyond the traditional on-campus approach by recruiters. At NYU Stern, for example, Pamela Mittman, assistant dean of career services, is hoping to see a continuing increase in recruitment from the private equity, venture capital, investment management and hedge funds sectors. These sectors, she says, have a less structured recruiting process compared to the bulge bracket banks and hire based on need.

Although students may feel worried about applying for jobs at big financial institutions whose balance sheet writedowns have been making headlines since the credit squeeze of July and August, there may be reason to reconsider.

Schulich School of Business in Toronto had a record number of company visits during its three-day jobs trek to New York last November with 67 students. “That tells me the jobs market is pretty good down there,” says Joseph Palumbo, executive director of the school’s career development centre.

The trek stayed away from companies that were obviously in trouble, he says, but visited several vice-presidents in business units of large, global companies who said their departments were unaffected by the credit squeeze, would continue to hire and would not renege on their offers.

Mr Palumbo’s message to students contemplating joining big-name companies is: “Mergers will happen, companies will lose money, but if it is a prestigious, global firm, it will be there for its people. Go, but they will move you around, and you will need to be flexible on location and job function.”

Some MBA students are already adjusting their sights in light of the recent market volatility. Cathy Butler, director of MBA careers at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, says some Asian students with financial services ambitions are now thinking of returning to Asia. “This is unusual, because many have wanted to secure jobs in London, especially in the past few years,” says Ms Butler. “It might reflect the fact that they think financial recruitment is going to be harder in London than in Asia, which still seems to be pretty buoyant.”

Another indicator of students’ confidence is their response to offers received after the internship, which is particularly important in the banking sector. Year-on-year, the banks have relied more and more on their summer internships to find job candidates, rather than full-time hiring, says Ms Mittman.

Last year, many students – and especially those in financial services – came back to NYU Stern for their second year with job offers as a result of their internships, she says. There was also a slight increase in the number of offers accepted.

“The students are realistic, they know what is happening in the markets,” says Ms Mittman. “If they enjoyed their summer internship, they would recognise the offer as a great opportunity and accept.”

The recruiting business is all about confidence – recruiters will tend to paint a positive picture of their company and its business environment in the hope of hiring the brightest people, and last year was no different.

“Most of the banks and financial services companies were not making worrying noises about any of the summer’s events affecting MBA recruitment,” says Ms Butler at Judge. “Is that painting an optimistic picture, toeing the party line, or what they really believe?”

Yet Ms Butler says she heard a different story from the school’s alumni in the financial sector, some of whom were pessimistic and worried about their jobs. And Mr Palumbo at Schulich wonders whether financial services alumni might consider switching to a different industry if the annual bonus award leads to dissatisfaction.

“If you’ve incurred a certain amount of debt [to fund your MBA] and you want to pay that back in three years, and suddenly that dream is gone, then you are going to be more open to moving into the general management side of things,” he says.

“You may move to a company like General Electric, British Telecom or Virgin, instead of staying at the bank that has promised you all these bonuses.”

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