Meet our people

I wanted to use my history to help people like me thrive

Posted by Alex Heron, 7 months ago

4 min read

Meet Arif Ahmed, one of our finance scheme graduates.

Arif was a part of the first generation of his family to attend university, find out how his journey through our Graduate programme set him up for his dream career in finance.

How did it feel being the first generation in your family to go to university?

My parents moved to the UK with no formal education beyond high school so it felt like a massive achievement within our family to be amongst the first generation to successfully graduate. There is a heavy stigma that comes along with being low income which I felt had very limiting psychological and motivational effects. Even attending diverse schools with students from similar backgrounds, it was still easy to feel like a minority amongst minorities. I’m grateful for all guidance I received to take the most important first step which was becoming aware of the support and schemes available to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds like myself to succeed.

How did you decide that you wanted to apply for a graduate scheme role?

I’m very meticulous and detail-orientated so when I have an idea or an interest in something, I spend a lot of time researching around it to get as many details as possible. My interest in graduate programmes had a lot to do with the outreach schemes I was part of and the encouragement they provided. A lot of people from my background are quite introverted, shy to ask questions because they think it will come across as silly, or they think they could get ridiculed for not understanding something. However, those outreach schemes showed me there’s no harm in asking those questions because it makes you a role model – you’re taking the first step whilst encouraging others to do the same. It helped build up my courage following all the guidance on things like what recruiters are looking for and how you can ensure that an organisation is aligned to your qualities as a person too.

And why was NatWest on your list?

When it came to applying to internships and graduate schemes whilst at University, I was conscious that I wanted to be a part of an organisation with similar values to myself as a person. NatWest’s focus on inclusion specifically resonated with me and is something I wanted to be a champion of. I wanted to use my history to help those with similar backgrounds to thrive.

In my role on the Graduate CSR Council, I was able to arrange volunteering for the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) – the same organisation that helped a lot as a student. I recruited grads throughout the bank to be mentors for young people and personally experienced a full circle moment having previously been a mentee to now becoming a mentor for the programme. It will always energise me seeing even the smallest positive impact on the pathways of a more diverse generation and I hope to continue championing opportunities to push this agenda whilst at NatWest.

Tell me about the graduate scheme, how has it helped you to develop as a professional?

The access I got to people in senior positions from the beginning of the programme was amazing. I got to join weekly leadership calls and see their priorities for the week and how it aligns to the wider bank’s strategy – like my Planning and Performance team’s People Objectives which were aligned to our overarching Finance goals. That was my first introduction to how flat the hierarchy can feel like here, it’s very easy to speak to people at different levels and be treated as an equal. It’s quite inclusive how ideas are thrown around and built upon. I appreciate how great of an opportunity the scheme is for me to both network and interact with different people across the bank.

What excited you most about the placement?

I also spent some time in the Investor Relations team which was great because a grad has a very defined role there. One of the big responsibilities was to send out the daily report – full of key performance metrics from the previous day. It goes out at 9am so you do have to get up a bit early and prepare yourself to send it to the most senior people in the bank (CEO, CFO, Leadership committees) – it was quite nerve wracking at first so I made sure to quadruple check it! Once you get used to it, it becomes second nature.

How do you use the rotations in the scheme to plan your development?

Once you finish your placement, you complete a survey which looks at what skills you’ve built and what you want to continue building. I already knew I wanted to do something quite technical since my first placement was more administrative and networking focused, so I’m grateful to have had that experience so far on my second placement. The first few weeks especially was a steep learning curve, I had to do a lot of reading to get my head around our processes and how financial products are used. But the team is super friendly and gave me a lot of documents that outlined processes, definitions for certain terms and supported in building my understanding. There’s definitely a lot of acronyms to learn! It’s great to be in any Finance team in general because they are full of super knowledgeable people who are always willing to take time out to explain things in layman’s terms especially having just coming out of university.

And what other development are you doing?

The graduate scheme is fantastic because I’m also studying for my CIMA accounting qualification alongside my other Finance graduate friends who are taking ICAS. I’ve been a bit fortunate with some exam exemptions, but I’ve heard a lot of graduates at other organisations are jealous of how structured around our qualification the NatWest Finance Graduate programme is. We get dedicated study leave, all the resources we need to focus on our qualification and support from our graduate buddies, coaches and line managers who have been there before. NatWest does an amazing job at providing you with that appropriate time to prepare for exams and put you in the best position to Thrive as a graduate.