Manchester state secondary school career highflyers inspire AJ Bell/CISI finance scheme new apprentices

By Lora Benson | Dec 12, 2022


Manchester based FTSE 250 investment and pensions business AJ Bell have been running their award-winning financial services apprenticeship scheme for six years. During this time 74 new apprentices have taken part in the core Investment Operations Specialist and Digital Apprenticeship programmes for people aspiring to build a career in financial services and technology.

Part of this Investment Operations Specialist Programme involves the apprentices studying for the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment Level 3 Investment Operations Certificate, as part of their two-year work and study position with AJ Bell.

With 13 new AJ Bell apprentices having joined the new scheme this September, we’ve caught up with two previous apprentices, both of whom have full time jobs now at AJ Bell, to offer their inspiration to this year’s new cohort:

Alexandra Smail

121222Alexandra Smail “I went to Hazel Grove High School and Hazel Grove Sixth Form Stockport at GCSE level I enjoyed Business, Maths and Science the most and for my A levels I chose Business, French and Maths. I also did Media at AS Level. I sort of stumbled into this as I had originally chosen Sociology but there was not enough space in the class, so the next best subject was Media. I’m really glad that that happened as Media became one of my favourite lessons.

  “As I went to Sixth Form it was stricter than college so we had to be in for the full school day, whilst it wasn’t a 9-5 I was studying for the vast majority of the day so I when I started work I was already in the right mindset to do full working days. , The AJ Bell apprenticeship scheme gave me the opportunity to get straight into full-time work at the same time as continuing to learn through study  There’s a variety of areas that stand out during my time in the scheme, but the main one for me is just people, having to build relationships with people who I work with as well as taking part in different learning and development opportunities at AJ Bell. This means that I am more confident in my own abilities and speaking to others. Everyone at AJ Bell is happy to help which makes you feel a lot more comfortable as an apprentice.

 “The CISI Level 3 IOC was very helpful as it’s great to be able to link up the studying to parts of your work, especially with the regulatory exam, and being able to build a bit of a story with the material can really help you to understand it. As for studying, making sure I was disciplined and gave myself enough time to learn the material was key, including setting questions for myself.

 “I am currently a Team Leader for one of the Transfers teams at AJBell. It’s quite a technical role and my team play a key role when someone is transferring an investment product to AJ Bell. There’s a lot of variety to the job and no day is ever the same as the last, which I enjoy. My favourite part is being able to lead a team into more efficient ways of working. I really enjoy trying to improve different processes and change these and i’ts great that my position allows me to do this.

  “I am part of the CISI Young Professionals Network so recently I actually went to their annual dinner in Manchester. It was a completely different experience for me but I really enjoyed getting to know other people in the industry.

 “My parents have given me fantastic support during my career. I have always had their unconditional support and even when I talk to them about things going on at work where they might not even understand they always listen and try to offer some insight. I’m lucky to have a really supportive network around me of friends and family who all really want to see me thrive in my career.

 “I’ve had challenges along the way. A big thing for me was failing one of my exams by one mark. It really knocked me as I was so close but it also made me more determined to pass the second time. Knowing where I potentially went wrong and how to improve on this definitely helped. It was also really beneficial to be able to talk about it with colleague I’m close to. I find that having people around you that you can talk to about anything regarding work or personal life can make a difference when you are stressed or struggling to process.

 “My philosophy in life is that “If you want something different, do something different”


Adam Haydock.

 “I attended Westhoughton High School, Bolton. Our head of year was an all-round 301122AdamHaycockAJBellinspiration to everyone. He led by example and was always supportive especially surrounding career conversations and personal development. I enjoyed sciences the most. I did triple science and had a particular interest in physics as I like to understand how things work. For A levels I chose Economics, Accountancy and Business, as I wanted to be an accountant – up until my work experience completing VAT returns at a local accountant, where I quickly changed my mind!

 “I knew I didn’t want to go to uni, so I was looking for apprenticeships and AJ Bell looked like the perfect opportunity. My most vivid memory of the application was the team building exercises.

 “Factors which stand out for me during my time with the AJ Bell apprenticeship scheme were working for different teams, memories of presenting to management at the end of each rotation, working in complaints, speaking to Head of Departments and gaining the confidence to now speak with directors etc.

 “Studying for the CISI level 3 IOC exam, I had always been a morning person. So I came in early to beat the traffic and revise, which gave me a good start to the day and allowed me to still have some time in the evenings

 “I’m now a Product Management Analyst for AJ Bell Investcentre. This involves day to day management and delivery of the AJ Bell Investcentre and AJ Bell Platinum products. I work with stakeholders across the business, seeing first-hand how our work contributes to the delivery of our products. Other key duties include ensuring our products are accurately presented across the industry and helping to produce and analyse data in order to see how our products are functioning. This has helped me to develop a solid understanding of our products and markets.

“I enjoy that it touches all areas of the business, so I have a very wide variety of work and tasks – the apprenticeship helped as it gave me a good understanding of operational teams and a strong base of knowledge of how the business operates.

“I’m currently studying for the Investment Management Certificate (IMC) and have done unit 1 and am working towards unit 2. The IMC gives a more in-depth understanding and is natural next step after the IOC.

“I’ve had help from people across the AJ Bell business, whether it be from Learning and Development during the apprenticeships through to management in my current job. It is difficult to pick an individual out that has helped me, and I mean it when I say that I have been very lucky to have never had a bad manager. Everybody at AJB has always managed in a good way, helped me to be a better person and given guidance on how I could develop myself.

“One of the greatest challenges I faced most recently was COVID – it was a difficult time and meant I had to adapt to new working ways amongst a period of uncertainty. I feel as if I have tried to take what positives I could from it and used the opportunities to develop myself.”