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It’s amazing what people don’t know really

The high academic bar contrasts with the increasingly laissez faire attitude to degrees in the City. A growing number of finance and professional services companies have scrapped demands for a 2.1 degree for their graduate recruits, lowering the bar for applicants.

In recent months, PwC, Santander and Schroders were among companies to abolish this long-standing recruitment norm in the Square Mile in what they say is a bid to enhance the diversity of their workforces.

However, as these firms open up their programmes to anyone with a third class degree, critics argue that the City risks dumbing itself down by diminishing the importance of academic achievement – and putting itself at a disadvantage to rival financial centres.

The City has always had an amazingly – compared to other parts of the UK economy at least – laissez faire attitude toward degrees and in fact any form of academic achievement.

True, a certain smoothichopsness was often considered useful for being front of house in a Merchant Bank or client facing at a stock broker. A title didn’t hurt either. But those who actually traded, it was whether you were good at trading or not. As BiS will aver, stockjobbing – to take one older example, more recently we might add money broking and or Liffe and so on – positively gloried in those who had left school at 14, wore white socks with slip on shoes under suits and in general scoured the East End for those who could count.

Because such a system worked. And as capitalist and market systems tend to there was indeed discrimination but it was not taste such, it was rational. Those who could count – from wherever – went to do things where counting matter, those who could shake hands and knew their claret went where that was important. Degrees be buggered along the way.

BTW, those who could count – as we’d expect – made most of the money too.

With the irruption of the Americans and their credentialism this might have wavered a bit. But there are still those islands of absolute meritocracy out there. Money broking comes to mind given the now absence of futures trading floors.

14 thoughts on “It’s amazing what people don’t know really”

  1. I don’t think it’s only being able to count, Tim. Although it does help. Markets are basically people & the market is where their opinions do battle. The information is less important than people’s opinions of the information. So what makes a good trader is being able to read people’s opinions & importantly, anticipate when opinions are changing. It’s all people skills & one learns that by being in contact with people. There’s no course that teaches it. Can’t be. Any course would shut out all the people you need to learn from.

  2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described the type perfectly in 1893 in the story ‘The Stockbroker’s Clerk’. True then, true now, the so-called ‘barrow boys’ have been an integral part of City life for well-over a century.

    llater,

    llamas

  3. From my data set of 4 (my children),2 went to Russell Group universities and 2 went straight to work. Now, all in their thirties, the two non-grads are doing significantly better than the two grads. It seems they were, and are, far more realistic about life, money and careers than the two who were ‘taught’ to see themselves as superior intellectual beings.

    ….but, don’t worry; they’re all doing fine.

  4. @Recusant
    Not a surprise. Universities are about the search for & the teaching of the truth.* When in reality there there are sorts of truths & what’s important is people’s opinions on them, not whether they’re true or false.

    *Yeah. Well. Quite.

  5. BTW, those who could count – as we’d expect – made most of the money too.

    Made most of the money for the firm, or made most money of those working there? I have no direct insight but suspect that ultimately it was mostly the connected claret quaffers who ended up with the really big bucks. Just because that’s generally how things go. Probably quite high turnover of the white socks, too.

  6. I always found that traders fitted nicely on arising scale with Eurobond traders being “barrow boys” stepping firmly onto the foot of the ladder, the FX traders went from the intraday lads up to the medium term and on up to the long term position holders. The precious metal and gold traders were there at the top. I always held a lot or respect for the traders at the top who would chat away to me while they casually traded by the yard.

  7. Recusant,

    “From my data set of 4 (my children),2 went to Russell Group universities and 2 went straight to work. Now, all in their thirties, the two non-grads are doing significantly better than the two grads. It seems they were, and are, far more realistic about life, money and careers than the two who were ‘taught’ to see themselves as superior intellectual beings.”

    I also think some of this can be about how goal focussed someone is, as opposed to things like conformity focussed. Like the kids next door to me both have degrees, one a masters. But they do non-degree jobs. One is a receptionist, the other works as an administrator. But based on conversations with their mother, I’m pretty certain they were leant on to go. That it would be a good thing for them etc etc. She seemed quite surprised and all “but she’ll go eventually” when I said that my youngest daughter didn’t want to go.

    And it would never have suited her. She’s more street smart, where my eldest is bookish. She’ll get further in her life spending 3 years doing office work than studying history at university. And she’s still interested in history. But, it comes through in books from Amazon.

  8. it would be pleasing if financial services companies saw through the higher education racket and dropped the requirement for a degree altogether, not least because this would reduce the number of students wasting money and time on worthless degrees.

    However, accepting people with worse degrees – especially in an era when a humanities 2:2 is roughly equivalent to CSE woodwork – will just mean more thick drones clogging up the payroll. Luckily, they have ever-expanding HR, marketing & comms and DEI departments to fill….

  9. I was City, albeit shipping rather than financial. But similar pattern in the old days. Recruited basis the individual rather than qualifications. Two things changed. The first was mass further-education, i.e. 50pct university grads. Friends assured me that education has been dumbed down to such an extent that if you couldn’t get into Uni it meant you could neither read nor write. And the basic requirement – aside, as BiS says, people skills (No1) – was arithmetic/maths and fluency in language & writing skills. The other factor for me was Herald of Free Enterprise. One of the fallouts from that tragedy was an emphasis on corporate liability. As a consequence, employees academic and professional qualifications suddenly became important if you weren’t to be sent to the gallows for hiring numpties, so people overcompensated.

  10. I know a young woman whose American boss insisted on the general rule “You gotta have the academics”. The thought flew through her mind that she could pat her pockets and say “I’ve got a Reader and a Senior Lecturer”. Then she decided that such cheerful levity would not amuse the earnest twerp.

    Nor would an enquiry about educational standards in the USA appeal to him. When I was a lad everyone knew that a US bachelor’s degree, even from a university you might have heard of, could be a pretty feeble thing. Over the years this seems to have remained true. However quickly the standard of our own degrees dwindles, the US seems to match the decay – so there’s still a great gap.

    I approve of the habit of referring to “credentials” rather than “qualifications” except on those rare occasions when “qualifications” is what’s meant.

  11. “It’s all people skills & one learns that by being in contact with people.”
    ______
    Does that still apply when much of the action has moved online?

  12. AndyF wins. Gets the jargon in without being spotted.

    There are a lot of worthless people with worthless degrees taught by worthless teachers. That’s not a good thing for society. Those who opt out and understand why are possibly more valuable than many of the others.

  13. I have a nephew who’s just finishing O levels and another just finishing A levels and neither know what they want out of life, but want the PTerry ideal of simple indoor work with no heavy lifting. Observing the world around me, I’ve advised both of them to get into public sector admin. Once you get your foot in the door, you can merge into the background and become unsackable.

  14. “It’s all people skills & one learns that by being in contact with people.”
    ______
    Does that still apply when much of the action has moved online?

    It’s people who make decisions. It’s still people whether they’re online or off. These aren’t the people skills of smarming up to someone a a cocktail party. We can leave that to the university numpties. It’s understanding why people hold the opinions on which their decisions are based. Sometimes how to manipulate them.
    Every trade in a market involves two people with conflicting opinions.

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