UBS: transforming the local community

Craig O'Callaghan learns how the global bank is making a difference to the lives of young people in central London

While many financial institutions make an effort to have a positive impact on the wider community through community projects, few do so with as much vigour and passion as UBS. The global bank's efforts recently earned it a prestigious Dragon Award, a scheme celebrating corporate responsibility organised by the Lord Mayor of London.

"It was the 25th anniversary of the awards, and we were named as the company that's made the most impact in London over those 25 years," Alison Braybrooks, a community affairs project manager at UBS, tells us. "The awards are very well-established and prestigious so understandably we're very proud."

Focusing on the two themes of education and entrepreneurship, UBS has made a tremendous difference to the Hackney area of London, which is close to where its City office is located. In turn, this commitment has inspired a positive attitude within the bank.

"Our corporate responsibility activities have obvious benefits for the community, but I think they also tell people a lot about the workplace culture here," says Alison. "They show we're an organisation where you're going to meet good people, people who are taking the time to support the local community, which brings a good atmosphere to the workplace."

Helping Hackney

UBS's connection to Hackney dates back a long way. The bank has resided in or adjacent to the borough for many decades. Despite its proximity to the "Square Mile" in the City of London, Hackney remains to this day, despite significant recent progress, deprived on many measures. As recently as 2002, only about 30 per cent of young people were achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs.

Since then, the borough has undergone a real improvement, some of which can be attributed to the efforts of UBS. "We've always made an effort to support the local community and address its needs" says Alison. "There's a place for one-off community projects like painting and decorating, but our focus has always been on the long-term and on having a real impact."

Perhaps the most ambitious of UBS's long-term projects is the Bridge Academy, a local school sponsored and, established in partnership by the bank. "There was a lack of mixed non-denominational education provision for young people in Hackney, so we were asked if we might consider establishing a school," says Alison. "Before then, many children were having to leave the borough in order to complete their education."

Building bridges

The Bridge Academy provides, in many ways, a great focal point for UBS's community investment, with 3,600 volunteers from the bank giving roughly 37,500 hours of their time since the school opened in 2003.

"Schools are one of the places where we can help the best," Alison explains. "As a global bank, we have an extremely well-educated workforce who can help make a big difference by helping young people develop their job skills and obtain the necessary qualifications."

It's perhaps unsurprising, given their field of work, that many UBS volunteers work at the school as maths and numeracy tutors to young people in particular need of extra tuition. What is perhaps more unexpected, though, is that the bank uses the fact that, due to its global presence, its employees speak a total of 42 different languages in order to hold foreign language lessons.

"We go into lessons and help with French and Spanish oral practice," says Alison. "It's a really popular scheme that we run every year and it always produces brilliant results. This year, everyone got the required pass which was fantastic."

In addition to offering further tuition, employees at UBS are also on hand to help students navigate the application process for universities, as every sixth former at the Academy is paired with a graduate mentor. "Around 80 per cent of the sixth formers at the Academy don't have anyone in their family who's been to university," Alison tells us, "so it can be tricky for them to find the right higher education course for them. It's very typical for students in east London to just go to their local university."

"However, our mentor scheme has been able to open these young people up to the range of undergraduate opportunities available. This year, two students have received offers from Cambridge, and a quarter in total have offers from Russell Group universities, which is brilliant."

All together now

The scale of UBS's achievements at the Bridge Academy and in the wider Hackney area wouldn't have been possible without support for community affairs from senior members of the bank. Alison highlights Mark Yallop, chief executive officer for the UK, as a good example of someone who is passionate about community affairs and reinforces this message from the top.

"Mark wants to get even more people involved and sees community affairs as very important," says Alison. "At our recent volunteer awards, he spent time chatting to recent graduate joiners about the work they were doing and finding out about their careers."

Alison also says that graduates joining UBS often show an extraordinary level of commitment towards the community. "There's nothing harder than starting your first job, so the fact that people find time to get involved and raise money is extraordinary," says Alison. "Two graduates recently raised £5,000 in a cake sale and you can't help but wonder how they managed it. I've got no idea how many cakes they must have made!"

"That's what's great about the graduate population: they surprise you. They love the fact they can get involved and come up with new ideas."

Making a difference as a graduate

Anna Oestmann joined UBS as a graduate in 2012, having previously worked at the bank as a summer intern before her final year of studying PPE at the University of Oxford. Having been exposed to UBS's community affairs work on her internship, Anna was keen to get involved once she started a permanent job at the bank. We asked her to talk us through some of her most notable community affairs projects to date.

SportInspired Games

The SportInspired Games is an annual community sports programme held for about 150 local primary school children from Hackney. First year UBS graduates organise the event alongside SportInspired, who run a network of local sports clubs.

Anna "Our role was primarily focused on recruiting volunteers; in the end we had about 70 UBS employees helping out on the day. The event gives children exposure to sports they might not otherwise have, but also has a lasting impact."

As well as organising the Games, Anna's team did a sponsored 10km run dressed in morph suits. Between them, they raised £1,750, which was then matched by UBS.

Anna "Last term, we used that money to pay for sports clubs to visit the schools and hold badminton sessions. At the end of the year we organised a badminton tournament, which was really great because it was something all the children had been practicing towards and they were so excited to play. Two of the three schools have confirmed they'd like to continue paying for the badminton club themselves next term as it's been so popular, which is really good to hear."

Graduate fundraiser

Anna also sat on the Graduate Community Affairs Committee and took a leading role in organising a networking and fundraising event centred on community affairs.

Anna "Organising the event was stressful but it turned out to be a really great evening. UBS sponsors the London Symphony Orchestra and together they turned this abandoned church near Old Street in central London into a beautiful concert venue."

Raffle ticket sales combined with takings from the bar meant the event raised a total of £1,856.30 for charity, and the event also served as a platform to raise graduate awareness of the community affairs network within UBS.

Anna "UK chief executive officer Mark Yallop is the chair of the community affairs committee and he gave an inspiring talk about how important it is for big banks to make a positive impact on society. The City's financial services industry has a social responsibility to contribute to the local communities on our doorstep."

Personal highlight

Anna "The SportInspired Games have probably been the biggest highlight for me so far; we were really lucky with the weather and the children all had such a great time. I also really enjoyed the two terms I spent on a primary school reading programme. I had a 7-year-old "buddy" I'd go and read with once a week, and it was amazing to see her confidence improve. She was always excited each week to come out of her lunch break to sit with me and read a book."