Karis Stander joined Investment2020 as Managing Director in 2014, having spent six years managing business development at the Financial Skills Partnership for their financial services Talent and Careers Service. She also spent five years at the Financial Services Authority in the Learning & Development and the Industry Training teams, and before that managed investment qualifications for the Chartered Institute of Insurance and Investments (CISI). Karis moved to London in 2000 from her native South Africa. In this conversation, Karis speaks to Caroline Keetch about the origins, the purpose and the work of Investment2020.

CK:  Karis, could you talk about the story behind Investment2020?

KS:  Investment2020 was the brainchild of Andrew Formica, CEO of Henderson (now co-CEO of Janus Henderson Investors) in 2010. His aim was to diversify his recruitment of new talent. In 2013 he teamed up with Nichola Pease, ex CEO of JO Hambro, to extend the initiative to the wider investment management industry. It was a great success, with thirteen firms coming on board straight away. Andrew felt that the Henderson graduate programme was attracting an increasingly homogenous set of candidates. Candidates were all very high achievers and he found himself looking for small reasons to exclude one over the other, like how many languages they could speak. Andrew questioned whether these factors should be ‘a barometer of future potential?’

Meanwhile, Andrew was proud of the fact that members of Henderson’s senior management board were from a variety of backgrounds and cultures – some had never been to university. The question for Andrew therefore became ‘are we actually creating the opportunity for the same diversity of people to come through now?’ That’s where the Investment2020 concept was born. The idea was to give his managers across the business the opportunity to hire a trainee, based not on work experience in the sector and on grades, but on an individual’s ‘special spark.’ Andrew had so much faith in the qualities young people could bring to his company that he funded trainee’s salaries and training through his centralised CEO budget. The impact was spectacular for the young people hired and for the business. Managers found themselves working with enthusiastic trainees excited by the opportunity that they had been given, and a hungry to learn. Their enthusiasm inspired the people around them and very quickly they were contributing to the business.

CK:  Tell me about your involvement.

KS:  I first heard about the role in 2014 from Victoria Nye, Director of the Investment Association, who was supporting the set-up and operation of Investment2020. She had seen first-hand my work showcasing careers in financial services to students in schools, colleges and universities. I was very excited – progress was being made to develop pathways into the financial services industry, especially for school leavers, but I felt that the investments and savings industry was behind. So, for me, the only way was up. I thought it was a brilliant project to take on because I could be part of the journey. I remember thinking, ‘what a delicious opportunity!’ That’s really why I joined.

CK:  It’s interesting that you have described the trend of lack of diversity as being a relatively recent phenomenon. I can also see that current leaders of the governance functions in financial services do have relatively diverse educational backgrounds. A lot of them were school leavers, they joined financial services one way or another, were self-starters and have had long successful careers – it’s very much 50/50 as to whether or not there’s a university degree in their background. University has of course become a far more popular choice over the past 10-15 years, so having a degree has become something of a pre-requisite.

KS:  It’s a really interesting point. Looking back it wasn’t uncommon to start off in a very junior position and to work your way up – those doors were open to you. The City was a smaller place, there were fewer people entering into it. Now, there is more competition and there’s also been an incredible drive over the last couple of decades to send young people to university. While this is a fantastic opportunity, this is not the only route after leaving school to achieving a career in financial services. There seems to be a misconception about this. Earlier this year we commissioned a piece of research of 1,500 people in the UK aged 16 to 24, and three quarters said they believe a degree is needed to secure a job in the sector. The financial services industry is beginning to address this perception, but more needs to be done. The whole idea that you can have one entry level programme – often a graduate programme – for the whole business does not make sense, especially for a large business. People do not necessarily fit nicely within a traditional graduate programme. Maybe they will fit in an alternative graduate programme, perhaps they will fit within a school leaver programme, and of course we add to that returners to work. People are looking at their career at different stages now.

CK:  Do you have a sense of the impression that young people have of the investment management industry via your work with Investment2020?

KS:  The research we commissioned earlier this year showed there is a strong perception among young people as to what it is like to work in the financial services industry, and more often than not it’s putting them off considering a career. Over a third said ‘it’s not an industry for people like us.’ Some of the words that they associated with the industry as being ‘challenging’ and ‘stressful’, come to mind. Furthermore, investment management was highlighted as the least preferred part of financial services to have a career in. Ways to improve this perception come in many guises. At Investment2020 we are about spreading the word and educating young people as to what the industry does. For investment management, I think an incredibly important part is helping young people understand the social good that the industry does. There is a genuine story to be told and I don’t feel that story is being told well enough, often enough or has enough reach.

CKThere has been something of a perfect storm in recent years. The crisis was so damaging to the reputation of financial services. There seems to be a common perception that people in the financial services industry are focussed on wealth, above all else. This is certainly a problem. Do you find that, once you have interacted with the Investment2020 audience, it’s easy to break down and challenge those negative perceptions?

KS:  It is hard to be sure, but the investment management story is a really good story. It is positive, it’s easy to tell, and interesting to talk about making money grow and teaming that money up with projects that need funding. I invite them to think what those projects are so they begin to realise the benefit and importance of the industry. When you talk about how incredibly varied and far reaching the impact is in a global context, they can’t help but say ‘wow, I didn’t actually realise that.’

CK:  How about when you discuss entry points and different roles. How do people see themselves as fitting in?

KS:  Young people often deselect themselves, for example, if they aren’t especially numerate. There is a perception that they won’t fit in and enjoy their work. The industry needs to help change this stereotype as it is losing out on a large pool of talent. Firms need to do more to highlight the variety of roles that cater to a variety of skill sets.

CK:  This all tunes into a wider piece regarding financial education. So there is a bigger story as to how and why the industry could be interesting and seen as important – we’re all concerned about our own personal financial security. In terms of challenges, have you faced any challenges from within the industry – such as any reluctance to accept that diversity is a valid and important issue at entry stage?

KS:  The starting point is that the industry has a beating heart, it’s made of people.   We tend to deal with three groups within a business. The person who often buys in and is on board is at the CEO level. They get it – they see the business case for a diverse workforce. Then we speak to line managers who can be harder to reach, but who as soon as they see the benefits in action become very keen. Finally, we work with HR and recruitment managers, who are critical in making sure the programme is set up and runs smoothly.

CK:  You must have varying degrees of success when it comes to getting people to understand the benefits.

KS:  Getting the people who will be directly affected when it comes to taking on a new recruit is the key. It’s getting them comfortable with how much resource is required to train somebody who doesn’t have any background in the industry and to develop them and then start to see the benefits to the business. Sometimes there is the temptation to want to recruit in their image. We are fortunate to have lots of ‘converted’ industry ambassadors who are willing to share their experience with industry peers.

CK:  In terms of your goals for Investment2020 and measuring progress, do you have a set lifespan and attached goals, or is this an ongoing initiative?

KS:  Definitely ongoing. I see it going from strength to strength. We have grown enormously since it launched. We also have a really engaged Board. We have over 1,100 trainees and apprentices who are great ambassadors for the programme and from an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds. Nine in 10 are from state schools, nearly half are school leavers, and over 40% are BAME. Over a third of trainees are women, which is above the industry norm, but we would like to build on this further. We have come a long way, and we’re proud of that. I would like to see a deeper take-up within the industry. This includes our existing clients, and equally I would like to see us having a broader reach across the savings and investment industry. There are still a lot of firms who could come on board. So, for me there’s still a lot to do!

CK:  With regard to trainees who join the programme, do you know what percentage of them stay within the industry?

KS:  Yes, three quarters are offered a permanent job.

CK:  That’s a fantastic statistic.

KS:  It is, and for those who don’t stay on in a permanent role, the majority of them decide to go to university. So what’s great is that it allows for flexibility for both the employee and employer.