• Investment banks must do more to remove social mobility ‘roadblocks’, says watchdog

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  • 2 Sep 2016
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Recruiters overlook aptitude in favour of ‘fit’ and ‘polish’

Investment banks have been urged to reduce barriers to employment for ‘non privileged’ job applicants after research revealed that recruitment processes in the sector were often skewed to favour an elite few.

A report from watchdog the Social Mobility Commission found that people with a disadvantaged socio-economic background were underrepresented in front-office investment banking jobs.

The commission said this could be explained by the benefits at various stages of the recruitment process of being from a privileged background – something it defined as including type of secondary school attended and parental income at that time.

Employers should work to remove or reduce roadblocks for non-privileged candidates,” said the report.

“In other occupations, this has involved alterations such as no longer screening on academic credentials gained at secondary school; attracting students and selecting from a wider range of universities; contextualising academic performance in relation to the applicant’s education and/or socio-economic background; and trialling CV-blind recruitment techniques.

“Good practice requires that interventions are assessed regularly to determine their impact, with further adjustments as necessary.”

The study highlighted data from a 2014 survey commissioned by the Sutton Trust, a think tank, which showed that one in three entrants to the banking sector as a whole over the previous three years were from fee-paying schools, compared with 7 per cent of the general population of the UK.

The commission found that investment banks appointed high numbers of people from elite universities across the world, whose students tended to be drawn from more privileged than average environments.

It added that a rigid process of screening applications for academic credentials was often followed by an informal process of hiring managers making decisions on perceived ‘fit’, which interviewees felt was as important as evidence of technical aptitude.

The commission’s report said fit included “emphasis on issues including speech patterns, accent, behaviour and dress”.

It added: “These attributes are generally summarised as ‘polish’, a term that is used in multiple peer group professions, and within which confidence and self-belief are especially important.”

One candidate who was interviewed for the report, who had a non-privileged background, recalled feedback received from a mentor after an interview for an investment banking role: “He said you interviewed really well. He said you’re clearly quite sharp, but... you’re not quite the fit for [this bank]... you’re not polished enough... he looked at me and said: ‘See that tie you’re wearing? It’s too loud. Like you can’t wear that tie with the suit that you’re wearing.’”

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said even graduates with low and middle-income backgrounds were underrepresented in all areas of British life. “It is vital that major employers do more to improve diversity through their recruitment practices,” he said. “There are economic and social benefits to doing so.”

A spokesman for banking trade body BBA said: “The banking industry has made significant strides to improve social mobility at all levels but recognises that we cannot afford to be complacent on this crucial issue.

“A number of banks have specific programmes designed to widen access, while others choose to work with organisations such as the Social Mobility Foundation. We want to ensure that the best people can succeed in banking – regardless of their background.”

Simon Culhane, chief executive at the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment, added: “Class should not impact on whether or not an individual is hired or developed. Not just because social mobility is a good thing, but because diversification of talent is to be encouraged.”


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  • I have been saying this for years especially - I have been very clear to recruitment agencies and they know who they are. If all of you scan the adverts for HR jobs in the banking sector you will find without exception that they always say they want someone from a banking background. I have challenged them and said HR is HR whichever sector you work in. But nothing has changed. That is why I advise friends who fall foul of the Finance sector because they don`t "FIT" or they are not in with the right people.