Bank without Barriers
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Bank without Barriers

Will I fit into a bank's image as a little person? Will I get an internship even though I have an upcoming heart surgery? How will employees respond to how my hands look? Three questions from three different people. But one thing connects Gabriela Pereira, Taulant Berisha and Kevin Kanagalingam: an internship at Credit Suisse during their business apprenticeship at the Brunau Foundation.

The Brunau Foundation offers people with physical and/or psychological disabilities business apprenticeship training, employment and occupational integration. Part of the training is an internship with a private company during the second year of apprenticeship. One of these companies is Credit Suisse, which began offering six-month internships to people with physical disabilities back in 2013. This collaboration was initiated by Marcel Wittwer, Head of MACS Investment Services in Zurich. As the father of a son with impaired vision and hearing, Wittwer knows the challenges of finding a job first hand. "No one is waiting for an applicant with a physical disability. That makes it all the more important for young people to get to know the real working world during their education in the form of an internship." Nathalie Bloch, a job coach and contact at the Brunau Foundation, shares this opinion: "The internship shows how resilient and capable our student interns are. They have to take on more responsibility, set priorities, deliver the necessary quality as well as be reliable and punctual – all skills that are beneficial for a successful job search." In addition to mentoring apprentices and helping them find jobs, Bloch spends a great deal of time raising awareness because she doesn't always encounter open doors like she has at Credit Suisse.

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From intern to CS employee: Gabriela (right) and her former mentor Natascha

Overcoming Barriers

Increased cost and effort are among the most common concerns voiced by potential employers. However, this is not the case if the internship was discussed in detail beforehand. For Nathalie Bloch, transparency on both sides is essential for constructive collaboration: "We place a great deal of value on a culture of open discussion, where people call things as they see them and address uncertainties." Interns are supported closely by the Brunau Foundation, which also pre-selects appropriate candidates in advance. "That works perfectly. Each of the two or three candidates they suggested was suitable," says Natascha Capitani from experience. She is the central linchpin on the iMACS Services team for providing support to trainees, and contributes heavily to the success of the internships. She has been involved in the project from the start, mentoring the interns with heart and soul, introducing them to their area and helping them with questions and anything else they need. In addition, she is in direct contact with Nathalie Bloch, who values the open exchange very much: "For a successful collaboration, responding quickly to any problems that arise is crucial. You can solve a lot of things quickly and easily that way."

Breaking the Ice with Table Football

Trainees are not the only ones who benefit from internships. They enrich the entire team in many different ways. For example, people can refine and polish interpersonal skills. Christian Grohotolsky of Premium Services Zurich, team leader of the first three trainees, still remembers his initial reservations: "The first intern had a shortened arm. But once he beat all of us at table football, the ice was broken." Soon thereafter, his arm no longer attracted furtive glances. It became a familiar sight, and therefore normal. A development that you only learn by experience. Initiator and patron Marcel Wittwer, a long-time promoter of diverse teams, adds: "It's about ability management: focusing on what people can do rather than what limits them. It's a change of perspective that we need to pay much closer attention to, in both interpersonal as well as operational areas." The trainees also raise awareness that good health should not be taken for granted and can change at any time. François Ulrich, Team Head of iMACS Services and the current supervisor of the Brunau interns, notes with admiration: "Despite some very difficult burdens in life, I have never heard any of them complain. It puts many of our everyday problems into perspective." 

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Two teams smiling for all they're worth (from left to right): François Ulrich, Christian Grohotolsky, Gabriela Pereira and Natascha Capitani (front), Kevin Kanagalingam and Taulant Berisha (back)

Real Support

Moreover, the trainees provide genuine support in handling day-to-day business activities. For example, the current interns, Taulant and Kevin, are creating customer presentations for client portfolio managers, among other things. This is a task that team leader François Ulrich would have no resources for otherwise. They did not initially plan on having two interns on site at the same time, but Taulant had to have heart surgery back in the spring. This led to lengthy absences, so that his internship was extended by six months, making it overlap with Kevin's. Even better, says Ulrich: "The older intern acts somewhat as a tutor and thereby assumes additional responsibility." Taulant is thrilled about the extension. He knows that this flexibility is not something to be taken for granted. Kevin's initial concerns about his hands, which are missing parts of his fingers due to blood poisoning, have meanwhile disappeared as well. Performance is what counts, not appearances. The open and helpful team has made this development possible and increased his self-esteem. And Gabriela? She did such a good job during her internship 18 months ago that she was given another one in a different area of MACS Investment Services. Since a position was open in one of the teams where she was working, she was offered a permanent job. Now the self-confident whirlwind has become a fully-fledged banker, enriching Credit Suisse in yet another facet.