Want a graduate job in an investment bank? Banks are targeting students from poorer backgrounds

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If you’re a British student trying to gain a position on a banks’ graduate scheme, you might think it would help to come from privileged stock. The days of the blue-blooded ‘gentleman banker’ have long been consigned to the history books, but nepotism and favouritism haven’t been eradicated entirely.  Increasingly, however, banks are making efforts to attract students from poorer backgrounds.

Three banks have schemes targeting poorer students. Lloyds Banking Group's Scholars programme is now in its second year, as is Deutsche Bank's Cambridge Mentoring Scheme, while Credit Suisse launched its Steps to Success project in 2012. Goldman Sachs also offered what seemed to be ad hoc apprenticeships to 10 graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds who were struggling to find work. These students have ended up in a variety of business areas in the bank’s London office, from operations to recruitment and technology to securities.

Of all of these schemes, Lloyds Scholars is by far the biggest. When the programme was launched last year, it took on 30 students in their first and second year of university. This year it's taken on 90.  Now, 11 of last year's intake are into their third year of university and all have been offered full-time places on its graduate scheme. As well as the prospect of employment, the programme also offers students financial support, paid internships and mentoring throughout their studies.

Of those students who accepted role on Lloyds' graduate scheme, five were taken on its general management programme. Two will be working in its wholesale division.

Credit Suisse took on five students for its first Steps to Success programme this year – where students from London boroughs of Tower Hamlet, Newham and Lewisham are offered financial assistance, mentoring and internships throughout university.

The students have just completed a short internship within Credit Suisse’s fixed income, equities and investment banking divisions. They have another rotation next year, followed by a possible summer internship before their final year of university in 2014. A source close to the bank says the aim is very much to extend a full-time offer to the students.

Deutsche Bank is into the second year of its Cambridge Mentoring Scheme, where talented students from lower income backgrounds are offered the chance to partner with a senior employee, and Cambridge alumni, working at the bank. This year, six students were taken on, which follows the five that gained a place in 2011. There’s no guarantee of employment, however, but Deutsche tells us that mentored students are now starting to apply for internships.

Stiff competition

Despite the benevolent nature of these programmes, it’s no easy task securing a place. Credit Suisse tells us that it received 180 applications for five places, while over 1,000 people applied for the 90 on offer at Lloyds.

What’s more, Lloyds requires students to undergo a series of online tests, as well as a telephone interview and an assessment centre featuring an interview, group exercise and case study presentation. Just 15 students were invited to undertake Credit Suisse’s problem solving tests and competency-based interviews.

There is also an element of elitism attached to these courses. Deutsche Bank targets Cambridge students, while the Lloyds scheme is also partnered with universities that many banks target for their graduate schemes anyway – Bristol, Oxford, Warwick, UCL, Edinburgh and Sheffield. This implies that only high-achieving students will be considered.

Nonetheless, students who gained a place on Lloyds Scholars insist that it opens doors to a world of work that they would never have had the chance to experience without the programme, and are very keen to highlight its benefits.

For example, Alex Dickson, a Maths and Physics student from the University of Bristol, was one of the first intake of Lloyds Scholars and completed an internship within the bank’s debt capital markets team this summer.

He said that staff at Lloyds were always open to answering his questions, that the feedback he received helped him learn about both his strengths and weaknesses and that he gained valuable work experience and networking opportunities with both clients and colleagues.

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