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Ruth Townsend

I applied for the finance graduate scheme at the Co-operative for several reasons. Along with the strong ethical values of the group, the graduate scheme offers the opportunity to become CIMA qualified and has a strong personal development focus. Completing placements across a range of the Co-operative’s successful businesses means you will not only gain experience in many different industries but also gain a broad knowledge of finance, including specialist areas such as corporate finance, tax and internal audit – as I had no previous finance experience, this was a big plus for me. 

The induction process is a pretty intense 6 weeks! Working on projects with the other grads you make contacts around the business, visit stores and meet our customers. This way we got great exposure to the business, finding things out first hand rather than being told about it in boring induction presentations! With our first project about branding and the second on till-point efficiency, it was a good opportunity to work on something non-finance related as well as getting to know everyone. 

I spent my first placement in Invoice Matching, a department within Shared Financial Services. Here I gained an overview of functions such as EDI Development and Retail Invoice Matching. The bulk of my placement however was in the Accounting Services team, where I worked on weekly reconciliations developing an understanding of the financial controls in place across the Food and Healthcare businesses. 

Having recently sat my first CIMA exams, I can tell you that you have to be prepared to put the work in! It is tough balancing work, college, revision and a social life; however the support you receive is second to none. You can study however suits you, whether it be evenings, weekends or live online lectures as well as receiving paid study leave and fully funded tuition and revision courses. 

Shortly after my exams I started my second project in Travel, which with the Thomas Cook joint venture on the horizon, has been an interesting experience! My responsibilities have included forecasting, assisting with the relocation of finance admin from the head office in Stoke to Manchester, and I am currently working on preparations for the integration with Thomas Cook, mapping financial processes. We are expecting the Competition Commission to give their final verdict on the JV at the end of the summer, at which point I will begin work on the various tasks involved in the handover. 

What has really struck me so far is how much the scheme is focussed on your personal development. As well as being assigned a coach, grad buddy and regular management training courses, in my experience your placements are just as much about your areas of interest and development opportunities as they are about what you can offer. For example I recently spent some time in the fixed assets department to learn how the fixed asset register works – this helped put a practical perspective on what I was studying in college. If there’s something you’re interested in just ask!