Day of the low costs: Joanna Day, Santander UK

Santander UK’s head of commercial law, Joanna Day, has seen the company undergo radical change and has been instrumental in guiding it through the recession.

Name: Joanna Day
Company: Santander UK Plc
Position: Head of commercial law
Industry: Financial services provider
Total operating income: £4,696 million
Total number of employees: 19,483
Total legal capability: 36 lawyers
Total legal spend: £1.5m

Joanna Day’s CV

1997-99: Postgraduate Diploma in Law, College of Law, London
2008-09: Warwick University (Abbey MBA)

Work History
1987-96: Abbey National
1996-2004: Abbey National Treasury Services
2004-2010: Santander UK

Most jobs could become a little dull after 23 years with the same company. But when that ­company is Abbey – now Banco Santander – that’s unlikely, given that the organisation, which was taken over by Grupo Santander in 2004, has seen its fair share of dramas over the last two decades.

For Abbey veteran Joanna Day, now Santander UK’s head of commercial law, it’s all part of the appeal. “We’ve gone from a small building society to something the size of Santander,” says Day. “It’s been quite a radical change.”

Radical indeed. Two years after Day’s arrival the company – then known as Abbey National – became one of the first UK building societies to demutualise. This was followed by a series of acquisitions in the 1990s including Scottish Mutual and Scottish Provident, and a merger with the National & Provincial Building Society in 1996.

This period of growth was followed by hefty losses in the early 2000s when its wholesale loans business ran into trouble following the collapse of Enron. “The markets, both in terms of the economy and regulations, have been extremely challenging over the last few years, and that obviously impacts on us,” admits Day.

“But those are challenges that everyone here relishes; there’s so much opportunity and potential for growth.”

Day is also no stranger to rebranding exercises. In 2003 Abbey National was renamed Abbey; in January 2010 Abbey was rebranded Santander UK; and Alliance & Leicester (A&L) will be brought into the Santander fold by November 2010.

These rebrandings raise numerous headaches for the legal department – during the Abbey rebranding alone 10,000 pieces of customer literature and 147 websites had to be reviewed.

While A&L was acquired in 2008, the in-house legal team was not absorbed into the Santander UK legal function until last year, leading to the departure of A&L’s former head of corporate and commercial law, Raj Singh-Dehal.

Day now reports to legal chief Karen Fortunato, along with two other department heads: Shaun Cole, head of corporate, litigation and ­secretariat; and Johnny Shepherd, head of capital markets. The are 36 lawyers in the legal team, and around 22 in Day’s commercial department.

The company reviewed its legal panel last year as a result of the ­integration with A&L. “We now have around 16 firms on the main panel on contracts that last around two years,” says Day.

“As part of the A&L integration work we immediately disbanded the A&L panel, and all spending on outside counsel now goes through the one Santander UK panel,
which reduced spend and increased efficiencies.”

This has helped contribute to a massive reduction in the business’s legal spend, falling from £6.5m in 2008 to £1.5m in 2009. The strength of the commercial team also helps to keep costs down, and Day is proud of the fact that not a single commercial contract has been outsourced since 2005.

Other measures to reduce costs include introducing templates for contracts below £100,000, allowing them to be handled by the company’s procurement function.

Outside counsel, which include Travers Smith, Ashurst, Slaughter and May, and DLA Piper, are monitored constantly using a set of key performance indicators.

What are these indicators? “High quality is a given; what we’re really looking for is a solution-driven approach. We don’t want recommendations, or sitting on the fence. We talk about finding ­solutions, not legal advice,” explains Day. “We also look at whether a firm can ­deliver to cost expectations. We don’t want surprises in that area.”

Its ability to reduce its legal spend, along with innovations such as teaming up with Essex County ­Council to provide loans to small businesses, has seen the legal team short-listed for the In-house Banking and Financial Services Team of the Year at this year’s The Lawyer awards.

Day clearly relishes the challenges of her role and would defy anyone who says that in-housers get an easier ride than their counterparts in private practice.

“I spend a huge amount of my time managing law firms and lawyers,” she says. “People think life in-house is easier than in private practice. It’s not. Someone once said to me: ’I don’t see you as a lawyer’, and I feel like I’m part of the business and get to make business decisions.