Increasing social mobility in UK financial services

Lee Elliott Major on why the City needs to improve social mobility for economic as well as social reasons.

Thomas Wood is what the Sutton Trust is all about. A bright state school boy whose parents had never experienced higher education, he wasn’t sure whether study, let alone at a prestigious university, was for him. One week at the Sutton Trust summer school changed all that. Like many of the pupils with modest family backgrounds taking part, this week-long taster of university transformed Thomas’s life. He went on to gain a place at Nottingham University. During his degree he got an internship at a major bank. Now Thomas is an analyst at Citigroup, leading a successful career in the City.

Sadly, Thomas’s story of upward mobility remains the exception not the rule. Britain’s low social mobility, and the shocking waste of talent that goes with it, is arguably the biggest social challenge of our times. No more is this true than in the financial services sector. Research from the Sutton Trust into the country’s professional elites found that nearly six in ten (57%) of leading people in financial services attended private schools – which educate just 7% of pupils. Less than one in ten had attended a state comprehensive school. The remainder were educated at grammar or former direct grant schools.

It’s figures like these that motivate the work of the Sutton Trust. Founded and led by the successful philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl, the Trust’s aim is simple: to improve social mobility through education. The Trust is expanding its programmes, working with a range of partners, to provide life-transforming opportunities for talented pupils from low and middle income homes. The Trust’s summer schools are now the largest national access scheme for universities – benefiting nearly 2000 students this year at nine prestigious universities.

The Trust’s Pathways to Law programme, supported by the Legal Education Foundation and leading law firms, meanwhile supports state school pupils thinking about a career in law. It works with students over a number of years: from sixth form onwards, crucially enabling students to get work experience in law firms.

Could a similar programme be established to attract such students into the City? This is the question driving work by Boston Consulting Group for the Trust. Their study of the financial services sector has uncovered many insights. While there are laudable schemes across a diverse sector, support for non-privileged students can be fragmented, with little evaluation of its impact. In major banks, efforts to improve social mobility are not linked to their actual recruitment. The full business case for social mobility has not been made.

The Trust will be sharing its findings with leading organisations across the sector. But the challenge for us is already clear: how can the City work effectively to ensure that it benefits from more talented youngsters like Thomas Wood in the future?

This post first appeared on TheCityUK blog

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