Financial Services Case Interview: 4 Tips on How to Pass

Financial Services Case Interview # Tips on How to Pass

A good case structure will get through any consulting case interview question. But some industries have specific issues that make it a lot easier to pass the case if you know what to expect. Financial services case interviews are like that.

Government regulation of financial institutions, their corporate structure, and business models are quite different from other industries, so it’s good to brush up on the financial services industry before facing a case.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Differences between financial services firms and other firms.
  • Common types of financial services case interviews.
  • A financial services case example.
  • 4 Tips on acing your financial services case interview.

Let’s get started!

Differences Between Financial Services Firms & Other Firms

Financial services firms don’t make cars or serve hamburgers to customers to generate revenue the way an auto company or a fast-food restaurant does. Instead, they provide retail customers (individual consumers – people like you and me) and businesses with loans, deposit accounts, or insurance policies. Or they help them invest their money in stocks, bonds, or other financial instruments.

Corporate Structure

There are many different types of financial institutions and they exist both on paper (e.g., online banks) and in actual brick-and-mortar form (e.g., retail bank branches with ATMs). Typical financial institutions include:

Financial Services Case Interview - Financial Institutions
  • Commercial banks (provide business loans, home mortgage loans, and savings/checking accounts)
  • Investment banks and securities firms (help people buy and sell stocks and bonds and help companies issue them)
  • Insurance companies (provide insurance for homes, cars, business risk, health, etc.)
  • Mutual funds and pension funds (manage retirement savings or savings for other goals, e.g., education, health, etc., by investing it in stocks, bonds, and other assets)
  • Microfinance companies (provide small loans to populations underserved by traditional financial institutions)

Businesses that “make stuff” have a factory where parts go in one end and cars or hamburgers go out the other. Financial institutions, on the other hand, have people who handle the bank accounts, stocks purchases/sales, or insurance products that they provide, and all the investment decisions and paperwork that go with that service.

Business Model

Unlike other sectors, the financial services industry’s business model is largely based on interest, fees, and premiums. Don’t get bogged down by the variety of products and services that a financial institution has to offer. You only need to remember:

  • Key income sources: interest earned by selling retail and corporate loans, premiums earned on insurance policies, fees earned on financial advisory (e.g., stockbroking) or on deposit accounts, etc.
  • Key costs: interest paid on deposits from retail investors and corporates, insurance claims/payouts, branch operations, manpower, SG&A, etc.

Always confirm and validate the drivers of revenue and cost with your interviewer before jumping to solving any financial services case.

Regulation and Risk

A well-functioning financial system is vital for the economy, businesses, and consumers. When a financial institution fails, it can create problems for the wider economy as the 2007-2009 financial crisis showed us. Financial services firms, therefore, attract high levels of scrutiny and oversight.

Government regulation helps make sure that these institutions have good management so they don’t make bad investments or become too risky. They require that financial institutions hold “shock absorbers” (i.e., capital) to help deal with bad investments. Each country has its own set of norms and regulations that create the framework and operating model for financial institutions.

In a financial services case, therefore, it’s always important to include regulation as a category in your issue tree. You can check with your interviewer on which aspects of financial regulation and risk are relevant to ensure that ideas you brainstorm in the case won’t break laws. Aligning on this upfront increases your credibility with the interviewer, but regulation is not typically the focus of the case.

[EXCLUSIVE FREE TRAINING]

Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 85% of our clients pass the case interview.

Common Types of Financial Services Case Interviews

Financial services cases can include revenue growth, cost reduction, or new product introduction like they would for any other industry. They can also include managing the “back office” where financial account information is maintained or stock and bond trades are cleared.

Here are some financial services case interview examples:

  • Disconsa – A McKinsey case on developing better financial service offerings for a not-for-profit entity serving remote Mexican communities.
  • Internet Bank – An L.E.K. case on product diversification for a large insurance company in Europe.
  • Big Bucks Bank – A Deloitte case on technology transformation for a large US-based bank.
  • Bank of Zurich – A Deloitte case on developing a strategy to structure the organization’s data program.

We’ve also curated a list of case examples, to help you hone your business problem-solving skills. Head to Our Ultimate Guide to Case Interview Prep to learn what a case interview is and its various stages (i.e., opening, structure, analysis, and conclusion). The best way to get smarter about answering financial services case interview questions is to master this general four-part approach first and then apply financial services specifics as appropriate.

Let’s dive into a financial services case example.

Financial Services Case Interview Example

Financial services case interview: Case Interview Example

Case Question

“Your client is Go-for-Growth bank, a large bank in a frontier market that wants to rapidly build its agent network to grow revenue for its payment and banking business. How should they go about it?”

Opening

First, repeat the main information in the prompt to the interviewer to make sure you got it right, and ask clarifying questions. If you don’t know what a frontier market is or who banking agents are, ask your interviewer.

Frontier market is a classification made by Standard & Poors, a financial rating agency, that’s used to classify less advanced economies in the developing world, e.g., Vietnam, Kenya, Nigeria, Cambodia, etc.

A banking agent is a retail or a postal outlet contracted out by a financial institution (in this case Go-for-Growth bank) to process clients’ transactions. Typically, in less advanced economies, the population has little access to banks but significantly higher interaction with establishments such as pharmacies, grocery stores, post offices, and beauty salons. The agents help the banks get new customers and typically make money on commissions.

Take a moment to develop your own hypothesis for the Go-for-Growth bank case.

Financial Services Case Hypothesis

Your hypothesis could be that a banking agent is a cost-efficient way for the bank to acquire customers and distribute financial products vs. having to set up their own branches across the country (including paying rent for office space and hiring staff in each location).

Next, validate your understanding of the bank’s business model, corporate structure, and applicable regulations. Here, the bank is a traditional commercial bank that wants to add agents as a channel to acquire retail customers and sell traditional financial products and services (e.g., loans, deposits, etc.) Building an agent network is allowed within the regulatory framework of the country.

A great candidate would also establish:

  • The purpose of agent acquisition: “Why agents?” “Why now?” and “What is the size of the opportunity (or market) that the bank is chasing?” Here, the interviewer can confirm your hypothesis about agents being cost-efficient vs. Go-for-Growth Bank having to set up brick-and-mortar establishments.
  • The size of the opportunity: Establishing an agent network is a big undertaking so it’s worth ensuring the opportunity size is big enough to justify the cost. In this case, the total opportunity size is $3 billion given the country is largely underpenetrated with only 10-20% of the total population of 100+ million having access to financial services, so the opportunity is worth it. (Note that to make this a short case or one that would be appropriate for undergrad summer interns, sizing the market could be the sole focus.)
  • The client’s key success metrics: “What does success look like to Go-for-Growth Bank?” Here, you should clarify the target network size and the target timeframe to meet the client’s growth target. Say, your interviewer adds that they want to scale up to a size of 200,000 agents in 2 years to achieve the topline impact of $3+ billion.

Structure

You’d now ask for a minute to lay down your thoughts so that you can build your structure.

Take a moment to think about how you would structure this case before reading ahead. That will give you a sense of what business issues come naturally to you in a financial services case and where you need to push your thinking further.

Here’s a sample case structure:

  • Which services/revenue streams should Go-for-Growth Bank market via the agents and to which end customers?
  • What are the existing products and services at the bank that agents can start selling?
      • Which of the existing products and services are most profitable?
      • Which products and services don’t need extensive training for agents to sell?
      • Which products and services best meet the needs of the customers who agents serve (e.g., payments and basic deposit accounts and loans, not more sophisticated financial products).
      • Is there a segmentation of customers who should be targeted by the agents?
    • What new services can be added?
      • Will the bank need to tweak their products to make them profitable to customers acquired through the agent network? (An A+ answer would note that clients with low incomes or lumpy earnings might need bank accounts with lower minimums.)
      • Is there opportunity for cross-sell/ up-sell of products to customers?
  • How can Go-for-Growth acquire the agents, structure the agreements, and scale up the network?
    • How can we acquire the agents cost-effectively?
      • How to reach the agents? (sales force/feet on the ground vs. email campaign)
      • How to get them interested in becoming a channel partner? Will one-time, up-front incentives be required?
      • What is the process to get them on board?
    • How can we retain the agents in a way that is profitable for the Bank? (ongoing cost to retain and sell products through)
      • What economic incentives can be offered to the agents?
        • Which transaction-based incentives can be offered?
          • What cut can be given to the agents (so the bank continues to be profitable)?
          • What will be meaningful for the agents?
        • What non-economic incentives can be offered?
          • Can gamification reward schemes be introduced?
          • Would certification or co-branding, such as a sticker to display the agent’s affiliation with Go-for-Growth Bank, appeal to potential agents?
        • Can agents themselves become a subset of the bank’s SME customer base?
          • What banking products can be sold to the agents?
          • Can the agents be offered discounted pricing on the products?
      • What is the unit economics for the bank?
        • What is the up-front effort/cost to acquire agents?
        • What is the expected revenue or profit uplift per agent to the bank?
        • How much should each agent sell annually/monthly to continue being profitable to the bank?
      • How can Go-for-Growth manage the large agent network long-term?
        • What are the recurring costs to maintain the agent network?
        • How should the agents be classified or segmented into sub-groups?
          • Which metrics should be used for tracking performance?
          • Can low performers be segmented further based on their potential?
          • What will be the plan of action for consistent low-performing agents?
        • How can agents be trained and kept informed of the bank’s products?
          • Which training(s) and products’ brochures should be offered to agents to keep the customer conversion rate high?
          • How can we create a community within the agent network to provide product information updates and support agency retention (such as Facebook or WhatsApp groups)?
        • How can Go-for-Growth ensure agents have sufficient liquidity (cash available) to support transaction needs?
          • How can we set up the right operating model for providing cash to agents as needed?
          • How can we make sure the agents have the right processes in place to ensure Go-for-Growth Bank’s cash is safeguarded?

This structure is quite exhaustive. Don’t worry if you didn’t have every bullet point in your structure. In practice, since you only have about 2 minutes to lay this out, you don’t need to write full questions on your piece of paper but only a couple of keywords for each bucket and each sub-bucket.

We recommend going through our article on Issue Trees to learn more about how to create a case structure.

Analysis

Financial Services Case Interview Analysis

After you lay out your case structure, your interviewer would prompt you to brainstorm which agents to acquire and which products and services to sell, so if you’ve already alluded to it in your structure, that gives you a headstart.

Here, your interviewer would hand you a few exhibits that detail population density by region, classification of the retail stores with metrics on annual revenue, footfall, etc., a list of Go-for-Growth Bank’s products and the associated profitability of each product, and the results of a survey that details the wishlist of financial services and products by underserved consumers and small businesses.

On brainstorming ideas, you’ll be rated on both your structure and your creativity. Make sure to always articulate the logic behind your ideas, using your past experience, analogies, or your general knowledge.

Ideas for Increasing Go-for-Growth Bank’s Revenue

  • Target the agents that receive the highest customer footfall (grocery stores) AND/OR agents that are well-versed in handling legal/administrative documentation (postal outlets). Let’s assume the bank can cover 60% of the untapped population by acquiring grocery stores and postal outlets as agents in the Tier 2 cities.
  • Sell products that are profitable to the bank and at the same time relevant to the customers (payment transfer, insurance products, working capital loans, home loans, etc.)
  • Onboard agents as customers first to establish other customers’ trust in the bank’s products. Given it’s a less advanced economy where customers rely on heavy interactions with retail stores for information on financial products, word-of-mouth from the agent will establish trust upfront and lead to longer lifetime value (LTV) for the bank.

Ideas on Incentives for Agents

  • Financial
    • Provide commission to agents of 0.15% on each insurance/loan product.
  • Non-financial
    • Organize monthly or quarterly leagues with leaderboards to recognize top performers, e.g., highest transaction value, highest growth, highest customer acquisition, etc.
    • Leverage social media to build an agent community via Facebook or WhatsApp groups. These groups can create engagement and serve as an efficient mode of communication, allowing the bank to solicit agent referrals and publish leaderboards.
    • Introduce friendly competitions like “Best shop-front display” to increase the visibility of Go-for-Growth Bank’s products.
    • Test if affiliation with the Bank’s brand in the country is a motivator for agents.

You could classify “high performers” as agents with transaction volume and transaction value in the top 10%. Agent’s potential information (e.g., footfall, turnover, location potential) can also be collected to have a more nuanced segmentation for tracking and governance purposes.

Running the Numbers on Go-for-Growth’s Agent Strategy

Finally, you should consider pressure testing the unit economics of each agent to ensure the bank’s targets are met. To do this, you’ll need to leverage the information you were provided during the opening of the case as well as make some assumptions. A quick way to round this up would be:

Financial Services Case Interview - Revenue Analysis
  • Total topline opportunity = Total # of new customers * Revenue per customer
    • Total # of customers = % of population targeted * Annual conversion rate per agent = 60% of population targeted * 10% conversion rate = 60% * (80% [% of population currently underserved by financial institutions] * 100 million [total population]) * 10% [conversion rate]= 4.8 million customers
    • Revenue per customer = Avg # of banking products sold per customer * Annual price per product = 1.5 avg # of products * $500 price1 = $750 annual revenue per customer.

1 Based on data from interviewer.

Financial Services Case Interview - Profit analysis
  • Therefore, Topline impact = 4.8 million * $750 = $3600 million = $3.6 billion (validated as this meets the $3+ billion target)

Keep drawing on the interviewer to test the assumptions and/or ask for industry benchmarks on conversion rates, average number of products, prices, etc. to make your analysis rigorous.

A great candidate would also establish bottom line impact for the bank:

  • Total bottom line opportunity = Topline opportunity * Profit margin = $3.6 billion * (5-7% profit margin – 0.15% cut to agents) = $175 to $250 million.

Conclusion

“Go-for-Growth Bank’s CEO walks into the team room and asks you about your findings. What do you tell her?”

You should lead with your recommendation to the client and detail the key reasons supporting that recommendation. Then, mention any risks to consider which might impact the outcome and the next steps that you’d suggest to double down on the analysis. There is no need to repeat everything you covered during the case: be succinct and stick to the key arguments.

What would you say? Give it a try before reading ahead.

“We recommend acquiring the grocery stores and postal outlets in the Tier-2 cities as agents for the bank to help sell loan and insurance products at a profit margin of 5-7% to retail and small business clients with a 0.15% cut to the agents. This way, we cover 60%+ of the underpenetrated population with our highest profitability products and provide an additional source of income to the agents at no additional cost to them. The high perceived value in being affiliated with the Go-for-Growth Bank brand will attract agent interest. This will allow us to add $3 billion to the top line and $175-$250 million to the bottom line annually.

One concern we’d like to address next is whether competitors could potentially take away our first-mover advantage by luring away agents with better commissions, especially in densely populous areas. We should address this potential problem with contract terms and incentives in our agent agreements.”

Congrats, you made it through your first financial services case interview!

4 Tips On Acing Your Financial Services Case Interview

1. Validate Corporate Structure and Business Model

Always remember to validate the corporate structure and business model of the financial institution in your financial services case interview. You don’t want to end up confusing a commercial bank with an investment bank!

As a candidate, you’re not expected to know everything. Therefore, ask as many questions as possible to understand what you’re really dealing with. For instance, you could say, “Hey, I’m not familiar with the corporate structure and the business model of a pension fund, could you please explain that to me so I can start to understand the drivers of value for the business a bit better.”

2. Align on the Success Metrics

To be able to reach your destination, you must know what the destination is. This is especially relevant in the financial services case interview, where there could be dozens of metrics that can be solved for. Therefore, it’s critical to align on the North Star with your interviewer so you can solve for the target the client cares most about.

3. Apply First-Principles Thinking to Structure the Case

To navigate through a financial services case interview, you need to think on your toes. Chances are the corporate structure, business model, regulatory environment, and risk aspects will be unfamiliar to you. Instead of feeling bogged down by these nuances, take a big picture lens and apply first-principles thinking to structure the case.

You may not know the industry terms such as “net interest margin” or “dividend-adjusted return,” but you can always ask the first-principles question on “What drives value for the business?” and engage with your interviewer to identify the underlying sources of value.

Demonstrating intellectual curiosity in financial services cases will hold you in good stead. Start with “Why?” then get to the “What?” and only then solve for “How?”

4. Remain Calm and Confident

It’s easy to lose nerve when you’re out of your comfort zone. If financial services case interviews tend to throw you off, practice staying calm while solving the case. During your practice, monitor yourself for signs of nervousness. Pause, take a deep breath, smile, and then continue solving the case. The more practice you put in, the calmer your nerves will become. Also, include elements such as reading financial news, financial statements, etc., into your case prep so that you become familiar with industry terminologies. Incorporating these habits into your holistic practice will boost your confidence naturally.

– – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • Key differences between financial services firms and other firms,
  • Common types of financial services case interviews,
  • A financial services case interview example, and
  • 4 tips on acing your financial services case interview.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about financial services case interviews, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people prepping for consulting case interviews found the following pages helpful:

Help with Case Study Interview Prep

Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for advice on case study interview prep. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 85% of the people we’ve worked with to get a job in management consulting. We want you to be successful in your consulting interviews too. For example, here is how Julien was able to get his offer from Capital One.

[EXCLUSIVE FREE TRAINING]

Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 85% of our clients pass the case interview.

3 Top Strategies to Master the Case Interview in Under a Week

We are sharing our powerful strategies to pass the case interview even if you have no business background, zero casing experience, or only have a week to prepare.