Banks welcome in a new generation

African Caribbean finance forum: The City is losing out on black talent. Helen Jones reports on the drive to tempt young people into financial institutions
The City was once a traditional bastion of the old school tie. Its staff were white, male and upper class. All that changed in the Eighties, with the influx of young men and women with huge ambitions to make it to the top, but while the City began to open up, the number of black staff taken on by financial institutions remained small.

Paul Kingston (not his real name) a young black graduate who works for a large City firm, says, "there aren't many of us. I can't say that it is due to overt racism, but I think finance and banking are areas that young black men especially just don't think about getting into, or haven't been encouraged to try."

He adds that publicity over a recent racial discrimination case is unlikely to have encouraged more young blacks to think about financial institutions as potential employers. Last December James Curry, a high-flying American, claimed that he was hired as a token black and that racism blighted his career as an executive director at the investment bank Goldman Sachs. The industrial tribunal upheld Mr Curry's case, and he received a settlement rumoured to be between pounds 5m and pounds 10m. Mr Curry joined Merrill Lynch as a managing director, and has relocated with the bank to the US.

Today's fair represents a bid to encourage more young blacks to consider a career with a financial institution.

"We are under-represented in the City and in the professions generally," says Paul Campayne, chairman of ACFF, a former economist with the Bank of England who now works for the investment banker Paribas. The fair is aimed at final-year graduates and professionals with up to five years' work experience.

"It is clear to us is that there is a skills base and ambition in the community, and that organisations and companies in the City are beginning to recognise that," says Mr Campayne.

The ACFF is running a job-matching service at the event; so far 10 individuals have registered, and will be interviewed for jobs.

JP Morgan and Co says that it sees the fair as a way of reaching out to young black people.

"We've felt for a while that we should be doing more work in this country to encourage people ... there don't seem to be a lot of people of colour working in the City of London generally," say Tom Bain, JP Morgan's managing director.

A spokesman for Midland Bank, another sponsor, says, "We have found it difficult to attract young black people, who may perceive banking as white, male and middle class. We want to raise the profile of financial institutions and Midland Bank in particular as a good, friendly place to work."

The ACFF aims to encourage young black people in a number of other ways. Mr Campayne says the organisation was founded in 1990, when black banking professionals who met regularly decided to formalise their networking activities. "We thought young people needed mentoring, advice and guidance; we wanted to promote their recruitment, development and advancement," he says.

ACFF members now also include accountants, entrepreneurs, information technology specialists and teachers.

Brenda King, a member of ACFF's executive committee, says that one of its most important activities is mentoring. "We run a programme in inner- city schools where members go in and talk to 14-to-16-year-old boys, who, for some reason, do not do as well as females." She says that it has had some notable successes, including one "D-stream" kid who is now an "A- stream" student studying at sixth-form college, who, through ACFF's affiliation with the National Black MBA Association of America, is to visit the US to see what is available there.

Recruiting for the 21st Century, the Gallery, Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, London N1 (0171-978 9488). Open today, 9am-5.30pm, admission free..