Bridge Group Publishes Research Commissioned by Leading Accountancy Firms

New research undertaken on behalf of Access Accountancy by The Bridge Group has revealed that while actions taken across the accountancy profession to improve social mobility has improved the understanding of young people from more challenging socio-economic backgrounds, there is still more to do.

The research has been covered widely in the press, including in the Financial Times and the BBC.

The report is available here.

Undertaking what is the largest cross-sector collaboration social mobility analysis exercise that has been attempted internationally, the accountancy profession has demonstrated its commitment to improving social mobility within the profession and that it is leading the way in trying to understand hiring practices and making substantive changes. Companies which are more diverse are more likely to win over top talent, and thus improve areas like employee satisfaction, leading to a more positive return. This is especially important given the current economic and political climate.

The Bridge Group undertook  a detailed analysis of socioeconomic background data from applicants and hires across ten firms and three professional bodies, as well as an analysis of the impact of Access Accountancy work experience placements at nine firms. It will also form the foundation of future monitoring, and further yearly reports.

Across 2015-16, the research found that 40% of applicants had parents with no experience of higher education, 12% were eligible for free school meals and 14% were eligible for income support. 76% attended a state school but those from Independent Schools had a success rate 14% higher compared to those from state schools. Candidates from higher income backgrounds also had a higher success rate compared to those on lower income households but there was no difference based on whether applicants’ parents had degrees or not. As a result of the findings, a number of concrete recommendations have been made. These include recommending that all signatories:

·       Identify a board member who has accountability for socio-economic diversity

·       Ring-fence a proportionate number of places for students from under-represented groups on internship programmes

·       Avoid using A-Level (or equivalent) grades as a single filter for talent and where A-Level grades are used, they should be considered in the context in which they were achieved

·       Give careful consideration to the extent to which online tests are a precise tool for assessing required competences

·       Consider, wherever practicable, the introduction of regional assessment centres outside of London

Accountancy firms are already taking significant steps towards best practice around diversity. To ensure that the best young candidates are being brought into the sector early, AA signatories are improving their targeting, and widening their outreach and work experience programmes. There is also an increased focus on the progression of students from these schemes into more permanent roles in the firms. As well as this, various firms have made substantive changes to the way that they assess applicants, from the scrapping of A-Level requirements for certain positions, to the introduction of contextualised recruitment. Finally, as well as submitting data to the Bridge Group’s cross-sector analysis, firms are beginning to conduct, and publicise, in-depth reviews of their workforce.

Sacha Romanovitch, CEO at Grant Thornton UK LLP and outgoing Chair of Access Accountancy, said:

“Investing in social mobility is a win-win and a great example of business doing well by doing good.  It leads to greater equality of opportunity, a wider pool from which to draw talent, improved organisational performance, and a more productive economy. Communities benefit through recognition of talent and the reward of opportunities and development.

However, boosting socio-economic diversity is not a simple task. It demands robust analysis and evidence to inform and evaluate any action, which is why Access Accountancy commissioned this analysis. Rigorous evaluation of this kind will ensure our efforts are producing results and help pool our collective energy, influence and evidence in pursuit of improved diversity. This cross-sector collaboration is unmatched in its scope and is testament to the commitment from the profession to address an issue and help create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”

Rachel Hopcroft, Head of Corporate Affairs at KPMG and incoming Chair, said:

“I am very pleased that Access Accountancy has led on such a crucial piece of work for the sector, with such important implications for social mobility. It is clear that our work experience programmes are having an impact, but it is equally clear that we have more to do if we want to achieve our vision of a profession that is more representative, at all levels, of the socio-economic demographic of wider society.

I am delighted to have been appointed Chair of the Patron Group. Over the next two years, we plan to deliver on our ambitious target of providing over 3,750 high quality 30-hour work experience opportunities across the UK to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. We will continue to support signatories in the collation and benchmarking of socio-economic background data on applicants and hires, and work collaboratively to address regional disadvantage. Critically, we will work to engage more businesses in our efforts as only by working together to break down barriers to social mobility will we be able to bring about the fundamental change that is required.”

After their work experience placements, 99% of students surveyed reported that they had good understanding of the accountancy profession, and 93% of students reported that they were considering accountancy as a career option. Skills gained included networking, communication and business skills.

Nicholas Miller, Chief Executive of the Bridge Group, added:

“It is fitting that the accountancy profession has committed to collecting and interrogating data, to develop a sophisticated understanding about diversity. However, the real value of this exercise is in the change that it helps to create: the challenge for the sector now is to further invest in efforts to boost socio-economic diversity, and to deploy these findings to inform policy change and to assess progress”