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Banks that hire from elite universities under fire from Social Mobility Commission

Investment banks are failing to hire talented youngsters from less advantaged backgrounds because they recruit from a small pool of elite universities and hire those who ‘fit in’ with the culture, according to a new report by the Social Mobility Commission.

The report finds that most investments banks still predominantly favour middle and higher income candidates who come from six or seven of the country’s top universities. Researchers from Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Birmingham also find that young people who aspire to senior roles in investment banking are also required to secure work experience – which favours those with informal networks.

The researchers find that managers often select candidates for client-facing jobs who ‘fit’ the traditional image of an investment banker and display ‘polish’. Some still place as much importance on an individual’s ‘comportment’ (speech, accent, dress and behaviour) as their skills and qualifications.

The report finds that while some investment banks are making good progress towards improving social mobility in front office roles, current programmes remain small scale.

The Rt Hon. Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said:

"Bright working class kids are being systematically locked out of top jobs in investment banking because they may not have attended a small handful of elite universities or understand arcane culture rules.

"While some banks are doing excellent work in reducing these barriers, there are still too many that need to wake-up and realise that it makes sound business sense to recruit people from all backgrounds."

The report, which examines social mobility barriers in the investment banking and life science professions, concludes that people from more privileged backgrounds are over-represented in both professions.

In the life science sector, it found that employers attract and appoint new graduates from across the breadth of the higher education sector, including internationally. But in a competitive labour market, there can be a tendency towards giving preference to graduates from particularly well-known or prestigious courses or institutions.

The researchers, who carried out in-depth interviews across both sectors, add that life science and investment banking employers do not do enough to monitor the backgrounds of new and existing employees and so lack the data to understand and tackle this issue.