Business Archive Traineeship – Working for HSBC

The HSBC archive traineeship programme offers two trainees the chance to work in the banking group’s archives for one year. The positions are paid and full time, allowing those hoping to become archivists the chance to gain valuable pre-course experience or apply the knowledge gained on their distance-learning course. Zara and Jennie took up their trainee posts in September 2015.

Bank note comp


After graduating with a degree in history, I lived abroad for a number of years, which means I am older than a ‘typical’ trainee. I have also suffered some serious health issues, so I was not sure if someone like me would be able to secure a traineeship. When I came back to the UK, I volunteered at a university archive and a records office near where I lived, which were great experiences, but I also wanted to understand what it was like to work in a business environment, so I applied to HSBC. I was thrilled when I received the call to tell me I had got the job and very grateful to the archive staff for giving me a chance.

My duties and my typical day vary greatly, and I am always kept busy. I assist on the bank’s HQ collections, which cover HSBC’s history outside the UK. I perform routine tasks such as document scanning, ingesting and cataloguing in Calm and Preservica, retrieving items from the vault and supervising visiting researchers, but I am also given responsibility for more complex tasks such as researching and answering internal enquiries and ones from the public, writing copy for booklets and factsheets, and taking part in archive presentations.


I have particularly enjoyed undertaking research for enquiries. It makes me feel like a detective, and I get to spend a lot of time with the documents. One day I might be researching a former employee and piecing together the details of their time at the bank to pass on to their family; the next, I might have to identify suitable primary sources for somebody writing their dissertation. I have also had a chance to do in-depth research into a former Chief Manager who led the bank during the Second World War for the archive’s factsheet project. It has been fascinating to discover the work he did to help internees in the Far East during the war. Whatever we are doing, we always get good support and advice from the other team members.

I have learned so much over the last few months, both in terms of archive skills and by gaining a greater understanding of what it means to work in an archives role. I recently applied to UCL to study for their MA in archives and records management beginning in September 2016, and if they offer me a place, I believe my time at HSBC will have provided invaluable practical basis for my studies and experience that will serve me well in my future career.


Like Jennie I also graduated with a degree in History, and after a number of years working in retail management I decided it was high time that I used it. I gained voluntary experience with a variety of different archive services in my spare time before embarking on the distance learning MA in Archives and Records Management at the University of Dundee. This traineeship was therefore the perfect opportunity for me to start putting what I was learning into practice.

On a typical day I work closely with Jennie, carrying out tasks that contribute to the daily management of the archives centre. No day is ever the same. While one might be spent preparing to host a visit from a group of ex international managers or current HSBC employees, the next may be spent quietly working on our cataloguing projects. My role focuses on the UK collection, so I also carry out research for any internal or external enquiries relating to the bank’s UK history. These can vary greatly but might involve carrying out family history research, finding information about bank architecture or looking for examples of past advertising campaigns.


One of my favourite projects is the UK branch anniversaries program which Jennie and I are responsible for coordinating. If a bank branch is nearing a big anniversary we offer to help them to celebrate by producing a booklet which includes a history of their branch researched by us. It is immensely satisfying to follow a branch through to the present day and find out how they dealt with the problems they faced during the wars. You can also discover some really touching stories about past employees. The most recent anniversary we have worked on was received enthusiastically by the branch staff, who are planning to celebrate by dressing up in period costume to distribute booklets and talk to customers about the history of their branch.

I am really enjoying working for a business archive and it is fascinating to see the myriad of ways in which the bank’s archives can be used. 2015 marks HSBC’s 150th anniversary and has been a particularly busy year for the archives, who have worked on some fantastically creative projects to mark the occasion. This has included twin sculptures for the Hong Kong and London offices and even a light show on the bank’s iconic building in Hong Kong. I have had the opportunity to contribute to the celebrations by researching content for a series of short films that chart the history of the bank with the help of current employees and original documents from the archive.

It’s been a jam-packed first three months here. I’ve learned so much already and am looking forward to getting involved in more exciting projects over the rest of the year.

HSBC’s history films can be found here

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