Late 2020 saw the launch of Citisoft’s EMEA Insights Programme, an initiative focused on introducing university students to the investment industry through a series of research projects. Alongside many firms in our industry mobilising new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, we introduced the first EMEA Insights Programme to serve as a conduit for students to consider careers in asset management who might not otherwise have an awareness of the industry. The programme concluded with presentations by the students on ESG investing, the investment management industry in Russia, the management of resource wealth in Angola, and fintech’s effect on the investment industry.
The Insights Programme first required Citisoft to select two UK universities to partner with. The decision was largely arbitrary, though alumni outreach and geographic proximity—hardly the stuff of a ruthless weeding-out process—were the main factors. One university had a sponsoring faculty member in their Economics department, the other treated it as a work-based learning opportunity open to students in multiple majors. There were no application essays, interviews, or rounds of candidate selection. The only constraint on participation was the size of the groups to address the four topics. What emerged was a group of 19 students from the UK, Europe, Asia, and Africa who were relied upon to work largely independently with regular feedback from the programme coordinator.
Our approach to selecting schools and students for the Insights Programme defies many factors commonly associated with prestige such as acceptance rate, test scores, or career placement numbers. Frankly, I think we need to resist the temptation of quantifying a programme or its participants to make a positive impact on our communities and our industry. The requirement for immediate and measurable payoff, our desire to appear selective and a nagging need to perceive ourselves as leaders or winners tends to bury efforts at openness and may exclude those that we insist we would like to involve. Furthermore, the grafting of business principles onto these efforts, such as cost-benefit analysis, performance assessments, seeking competitive advantage, or analysing ourselves versus a peer group can lead to needless ambivalence about what to do, over-assessment of results, and a yearning to return to our comfort zones.
Chief among the principles of the Insights Programme is to see it as community outreach and building up “soft power” with students that they take into their careers. Although goodwill is difficult to quantify, we can show our commitment to inclusion and genuine interest in the participants’ viewpoints by focusing on the work they do during the Insights Programme, rather than on their purported credentials from before. The Insights Programme starts a dialogue between Citisoft and potential future clients, partners, and consultants, perhaps even competitors.
That said, we may also never hear from many of the participants again. Avoiding expectations of what participants should get out of the programme creates diversity and inclusion in a manner similar to our collaborative approach to it. We can only hope to increase the number of participants as we continue the programme to deliver on our DEI commitments.