Banks that deny people jobs because of the wrong accent should learn lesson of Moneyball

Billy Beane was successful by tapping into an undervalued talent pool. Banks that do the same with candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds will benefit handsomely

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Want to improve your bank? Here’s an idea: try hiring Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team, as a recruitment consultant. 

At this point you’re probably asking yourself what on earth I’ve been drinking. Coffee, for the record, but let me explain. 

A study by YouGov, commissioned by Deutsche Bank and the Sutton Trust, found that the “brown shoes” effect highlighted by the Social Mobility Commission last year remains deeply ingrained in the finance industry. 

Clothes, accent, behaviour at interview, all conspire to lock people from disadvantaged backgrounds out. YouGov that found 81 per cent of the 1,008 senior decision-makers who responded to its survey felt presentational issues hold back candidates from poorer backgrounds, more even than poor exam results (77 per cent). 

Almost two-thirds thought they could be turned down because they just wouldn’t “fit in” with the office culture. That’s saying that if your suit comes from Tesco and you follow association football rather than rugby football, well, you might as well get your coat. 

Based on these findings, it should come as no surprise that some 51 per cent of the industry’s leaders went to private schools. The figure is 7 per cent for the population at large, by the way.

Now it would be easy to simply strafe the industry at this point. But, tempting though that is from the perspective of someone who went to a bog-standard comprehensive and lived for many years on a council estate, I’m not going to do that. 

Instead, I’m going to point to Beane. As Michael Lewis’s 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game – and the 2011 film on which it was based – recounts, Beane was faced with a problem as the general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team: how could he compete with the big boys when he had a fraction of their budgets and regularly lost his best players to them?

The answer? He found something they were missing. Beane put together a team of rejects that won far more games than people thought they ought to have, partly by dint of the fact that they all scored highly when it came to their on base percentages, a statistic and talent that was being undervalued by other teams. The As took advantage of that and started shopping in a different (and cheaper) talent pool than their rivals. 

The biggest knock on him is that he never won a championship. But the Boston Red Sox picked up its first in 86 years by copying his statistical approach and aligning it with a larger cheque book. 

Now, I’m not so much saying banks should follow  the statistical approached adopted by the As so much as I am Beane's willingness to turn his back on hallowed practice in the pursuit of winning. 

The survey clearly shows banks are not doing that. They are willfully passing on talent they might benefit from because of “presentational issues”. Incredibly, it found that many executives felt it was down to someone else to address the issue for them – perhaps a Government that suffers from the same problem itself (look at the backgrounds of its senior civil servants). 

Other industries have proved to be more forward-thinking. Big accountancy firms started downgrading the role played by those exam results, dropping Ucas points and the university degree classifications you used to have to attain to get your feet in the door, a couple of years ago, in favour of their own testing.  

This was partly because they felt they were missing out on talented people. Top universities are very like banks in that they too are disproportionately filled with people from privileged backgrounds, who benefited from attending fee-charging schools, which tend to produce people who achieve high Ucas scores. 

It’s not just accountants. Penguin Random House last year announced it had dropped the requirement for candidates to have a degree, in an effort to add more diversity to its workforce. 

The reason I suggested hiring Beane is that big financial services outfits often feel the need to hire high-priced consultants to tell them things they ought to know already. They could just as easily follow the lead of those other industries I mentioned. 

Deutsche Bank says it is doing so. It points to its “pathways to banking” initiative, set up along with the Sutton Trust and others. The lesson of Moneyball, however, is your bosses need to be fully invested in a programme like that for it to succeed. So we’ll see.

If they are, while it might not make for a film starring Brad Pitt, there is at least the potential for a positive story to emerge from Deutsche. Goodness knows the finance industry needs one of those. So does that bank.

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