OakNorth Bank’s senior director Ryan Magee explains that the biggest learning curve when transitioning from private practice to in-house is the all important risk evaluation and ability to challenge yourself to find the best possible outcome for the business.
How can lawyers best get a sense of the risk appetite of the business and what it’s trying to achieve?
If you’re working at a bank, it’s about understanding how credit decisions are made – knowing why we might back a particular borrower but not another. I am very lucky with my role at OakNorth Bank in that I sit on three to four credit committees a week. In any lending institution, credit committees (sometimes called investment committees at other institutions) are where the key decisions are made on whether to lend or not to lend to a borrower. In almost all other banks it feels like this is clouded in secrecy and that the committee’s decision lacks clarity, transparency or accountability (particularly from a borrower’s perspective). At OakNorth Bank, every client attends their own credit committee and gets full transparency into how the decision is made. After the client presents, we discuss and challenge the transaction with them. We believe in having a diverse range of people and opinions in each credit committee, which is why I get to be involved in the process. As an in-house lawyer it’s important to figure out where the key decisions at their institutions are being made and then finding a way to get a seat at that table to fully understand the businesses’ risk appetite.
What is the biggest learning curve when transitioning from private practice to an in-house role?
The answer is simple – it’s about learning to truly evaluate risk. At a private practice it’s so easy to fall into the trap of simply pointing out the risks and then pushing the decision on whether or not to proceed with a borrower on to someone else (I think at one time or another we’ve all probably been guilty of this). As an in-house lawyer you need to be a decision maker, you must break down the risk and look at it from so many different angles (is it really a risk in real life?). Yes, there may be legal risk, but more often than not there’s a solution or a commercial mitigant and you really have to challenge yourself to find those solutions. Being a transactional lawyer, I know that each deal comes with its own complexities, but at the end of the day you have to find the best possible outcome for the borrower and the businesses, otherwise, there wouldn’t be any deals to transact.
What is OakNorth’s ‘zero base’ value and how has this influenced the businesses’ ability to adapt to the constantly changing world?
Zero basing is one of my favourite things about OakNorth and why I believe it’s the key to us never becoming a tick box lender. It’s the concept of looking at everything through fresh eyes and never doing something because that’s simply how it has been done in the past. Zero basing challenges you to start again. If you were doing it from scratch, how would you do it, can you do it better and can you make it more efficient. Having a good process is a huge part of any organisation, but having the chance to take a step back and look at the bigger picture gives us a chance to rip it up and start again.
What jobs did you do before embarking on your legal career?
I have had a series of weird and wonderful jobs before eventually pursuing a legal career. I started out washing dishes at 14 years old, I was a waiter, I was a barman, I sold telecommunication products from a call centre, I was a sofa salesman, I worked at a bank and I even managed a tenpin bowling alley for a while. I look back now with fond memories. Each of those roles has shaped me in one way or another and I wouldn’t be where I am today without having those jobs. But most of all I know never to buy a sofa in a bank holiday sale. I’ll let you in on a secret – it’s not really a sale!