From making coffee to closing multi-million-pound deals: my journey at OakNorth Bank

By Numaira Choudhary

I studied law at the University of Southampton, but when I graduated in 2016, I was fairly adamant that a career as a lawyer wasn’t for me. However, one of the modules I’d enjoyed studying was insurance, so I thought a risk management role could be interesting. This is what led me to OakNorth Bank – it was offering a one-month internship focused on risk.

I really enjoyed my placement and within a few weeks of it ending, I got a call from Joel Perlman, one of OakNorth’s co-founders, asking if I’d like to come back to help with a few other projects. Getting this call as a 22-year-old graduate from the co-founder was a pretty surreal and humbling experience.

My early responsibilities consisted of front of house activities such as making teas and coffees for client meetings and making several trips to the post office. I then had the opportunity to work on several projects and a couple of months later, Joel asked me to help manage our new office move as we were growing so quickly and needed a space twice the size. This would involve negotiating with suppliers, dealing with contractors, supervising builders, etc. so it was a huge responsibility. I had never done anything like this before, but keen to impress and always up for a challenge, I jumped at the opportunity. Being entrusted with this responsibility helped build my confidence and demonstrate my strong work ethic and hunger to OakNorth’s leadership.

After the new office renovation was complete, Rishi and Joel took the team who’d worked on the project for a meal, and it was here where we got talking about my future at OakNorth. At the time, the legal team was just three people – Ben Wulwik (our Head of Legal & Transaction Execution), Fabien Bonavia (Senior Director), and Magda Wierzchowska (who was an associate at the time). I’d heard their updates on our weekly all-hands calls and was so impressed by the substantial growth of the business loan book. I wanted a piece of the action. So, when Rishi and Joel asked what was next for me, I said I’d be keen to intern with the legal team.

Within a few months of interning and learning as much as possible about banking, I was offered a full-time position as a paralegal, and I realised I was now ready to pursue a career in law. I loved the high-pressure deal-driven environment and let Ben know that I had secured two external vacation schemes and planned to apply for some training contracts. His response wasn’t what I was expecting – he asked whether if OakNorth Bank could get authorisation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to offer training contracts, I would consider staying and doing it here.

From then on, it was a bit of a whirlwind – OakNorth Bank began the process to become SRA approved (which it received in early 2019), while I undertook the accelerated Legal Practice Course (LPC), completing it in half the time, so that I could begin my training contract and qualify much sooner. I was able to utilise the practical learning on-the-job experience for my studies. Once I passed my LPC and undertook the Professional Skills Course, I began my training contract which involved a four-month stint at Reed Smith, a dynamic international law firm which OakNorth Bank has a good relationship with. The hybrid approach between a firm (Reed Smith) and in-house (at OakNorth) gave me a unique and invaluable experience, allowing me to fully appreciate the business of law. Last month, I was delighted to qualify as a banking lawyer.

Looking back, it’s been quite a journey – I went from making coffee as an intern at 22 years old, to helping close multi-million-pound deals as a qualified lawyer four years later. I couldn’t have done it without the incredible support and confidence that OakNorth gave me, and I hope my journey will inspire others.

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