Lee Elliot Major on a new Sutton Trust initiative to improve access to banking

Why would you want to promote a career in banking to state school pupils?!” Given the public berating banks have received in recent years of I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at how some friends reacted to the news of the Sutton Trust’s Pathways to Banking initiative launched this week.

You might ask one of our former Sutton Trust beneficiaries. A bright lad from a single parent home, he attended one of our summer schools over a decade ago after reading about the programme in the Daily Mirror. It changed his life. After graduating from the London School of Economics, he ended up working at Goldman Sachs, and then a hedge fund. “I don’t have the option of relying on financial support in the family,” he told me recently. “I wanted an interesting job but also one where I could earn a decent living.”

The financial services sector is I believe unfairly tarred with one broad brush that suggests that all who work in the City are to blame for the country’s economic ills. It masks a vast array of interesting and valuable jobs carried out by hundreds of thousands of decent people. Many of them baulk at the scale of the bonuses enjoyed by a tiny investment banking elite. Yes, it is great that many Sutton Trust alumni end up becoming teachers, civil servants and medics. But why should state school pupils be excluded from making something of themselves in one of the world’s leading financial powerhouses?

Among the senior bank executives at our launch of the initiative this week were some recent graduates from ‘normal’ backgrounds now pursuing successful careers in the banking world. The challenge for banks is that they are the exception not the norm. The Boston Consulting Group research for the Trust produced a barrage of statistics documenting for the first time the extent of privilege among leaders and recent intakes across the financial services sector.

It found that 60% of leaders and 37% of new recruits were independently educated, even though they make up only 7% of the country’s schools. 40% of leaders were educated at Oxbridge. And perhaps most worryingly of all, 72% of leaders aged under 45 came from independent schools compared with 57% of leaders over 45: the profession appears to becoming even more privileged over time.

Why? One of the reasons is that the sector like others has become a graduate profession. There remains a gaping divide between the educational haves and have-nots. BCG’s analysis found that non-privileged students fall at every obstacle in the opportunity race: from poor school advice, to lower enrolment to leading university degree courses that banks recruit from, to a lack of work experience and internship breaks.

Another issue debated during our launch event was the need to improve life-skills  – resilience, graft, confidence, polish etc – among state school pupils. These attributes so often make or break careers in the workplace.

At the same time financial institutions have tended to confine themselves to fishing in familiar pools that have disproportionately fewer candidates from non-privileged backgrounds. The cost of casting the net wider has become prohibitive for many organisations.

We’re proud to working with four major banks – Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Lloyds – to try to do something about this, and to help boost social mobility more generally. Pathways to Banking encompasses a range of programmes across the sector, spanning work with schools and universities through to the workplace – informing, encouraging and supporting talented state school students who are interested in a career in banking.

Who knows: their success may also help change people’s minds that banking can also be a force for good.

Comments

IAS2014 | 7 February 2014

Hmmm… when a Banking system – and those responsible for creating and sustaining unethical practices as part of said system – are responsible for failing the banks, the upwards social mobility of a vast sum of Small Businesses during the 2007 recession, the owners of these businesses – many of whom could not afford to be failed again… and again – and then the homes that were then taken away by these bankers who failed the banks… who failed the viable businesses… that led to the recession… wow! That’s a lot for anyone to take in. Phew!

It’s a shame that such a relationship – no doubt encouraged by the CEO bankers themselves – were not more wiling to ‘Invest in people’ improving their Upwards Social Mobility – whether that be in creating a platform for Inspiration and competitiveness to reach a employment, apprenticeship or enterprise goal. That would have been meaningful.

In times when it still remains a common expression to ‘give back to the community’ – normally used to encourage volunteering in the community – is it not a dreadful shame that because of the damage done to the lives of ‘ordinary’ people in the recession that this relationship doesn’t seem anymore than these banks trying to show their dominance in a way that is more shameful than it is Inspiring to people, communities and the society overall.

Yes, we need our banks. We also need the ethical practices that Inspire others to lead by example.. and to help others along in a cycle of business development, community cohesion and wealth building. But, what are the alternatives to building relationships with people who do not sustain a practice of unethical practices?

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