Santander UK will no longer require graduates applying to achieve a 2:1 degree or higher as part of an effort to promote the socio-economic diversity of its workforce.

The bank said the change would result in an additional 64,000 more applicants being eligible for its annual graduate program and reflected the fact that university performance does not guarantee success in the workplace.

“Academic merit is important, but it’s just one of many factors we consider when looking for new talent,” said Anouska Ramsay, Human Resources Director at Santander. “We believe that potential is everywhere, and this move reinforces our commitment to finding the best candidates from a wide range of backgrounds.”

The change is part of Santander’s efforts to increase the proportion of employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in managerial positions from 28% to 35% by 2030.

City firms, still trying to address gender and racial diversity in the financial sector, are increasingly turning their attention to social and economic barriers holding their employees back.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, released in April, concluded that access to “elite jobs” is often determined by a combination of a student’s subject, school and achievement.

It found that male graduates with a 2:2 degree earned, on average, 11% less than those with a 2:1 degree, while female graduates were disadvantaged by 7%.

Such concerns about equal access have prompted the City of London’s Socio-Economic Taskforce to set a target that by 2030 half of senior managers in the UK’s financial and professional services should be from working class or ‘middle’ backgrounds.

“We need to break the ‘class’ ceiling,” taskforce chair Catherine McGuinness said last year. “Removing unfair barriers to advancement is not only right, but will also enable companies to increase their productivity, employee retention and innovation.”

Santander UK’s competitive graduate programme, which places graduates across the bank, including audit, commercial banking and risk departments, will only take 68 recruits this September. However, successful applicants will receive career coaching and mentoring from senior executives and will be offered permanent employment at the end of the two to three year program.

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The decision to drop the 2:1 minimum level follows a similar move by PwC last year, with the accounting firm saying it is trying to attract entrants from a wider range of backgrounds, including those from low-income households.

Rival accounting firm EY dropped its 2:1 admissions requirement in 2015 after finding “no evidence” that success at university correlates with professional performance.

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