Making Work, Work

What does Black History Month mean to you? That’s the question we are asking leading BAME figures in the legal industry this October. Here, we talk to Oliver Gayle, Director of the legal team responsible for credit restructuring at Barclays Bank PLC, about his career, his influences and his work helping to assist those from less privileged backgrounds get into a career in law.

As a director of Legal at Barclays, Oliver Gayle can work with his team of six lawyers on headline exposures worth several hundreds of millions of pounds as well as on smaller projects such as a local chain of floristry stores. Reaching this position in the banking industry came after many years of hard work, including in the major global financial crisis, where his specialism was all of a sudden in high demand.

Oliver had a somewhat unusual start to his career – having accepted a training contract at Garretts, the legal arm of Arthur Andersen, he found himself being approached to move to Addleshaw Goddard whilst at law school 18 months later, when one of the partners at Garretts moved to Addleshaw Goddard. He says “it was pretty unusual to be approached by another firm without ever having worked a day as a lawyer”. It was a move that would prove pivotal to his career given the subsequent collapse of Andersens and Garretts in the wake of the Enron accounting scandal a couple of years later. He admits there was a level of irony in that Addleshaws had previously rejected him for a training contract.

A restructuring legal team in a bank was a novel concept.

After eight years at Addleshaws as a restructuring lawyer, Oliver was approached by Barclays about what seemed like a unique opportunity. “They were seen as leaders in restructuring field, and regarded as having one of the best teams in any financial institution” he says. “They were considering setting up a restructuring legal team to support them, which was pretty novel at that time [2007].”

Oliver joined Barclays in August 2008 – six weeks later, the financial industry imploded. Lehman Brothers, HBOS, RBS – the UK banking industry followed the US banking industry in its demise. “Within weeks [of starting at Barclays],” he says, “I was talking about the liability of other financial institutions and the impact of their failure.” It was undoubtedly an interesting time to be working in banking and finance as a restructuring specialist, and he admits the timing benefited him in heightening his profile within the organisation. In 2013, he took responsibility for the UK restructuring on the legal team and in 2016 the role expanded to cover European exposures.

“Things I value are people, integrity and respect.”

Before accepting the role with Barclays, he asked his prospective boss what she was looking for in a colleague and she responded, “I want them to have integrity, be technically skilled at what they do and have fun.” This was something he says immediately resonated with him and has stuck with him as a work mantra since.

However, Oliver’s true sense of identity has deeper roots – his parents. Born in Jamaica, they moved to England where they met and married, his mother a nurse, his father a company director. They had a very strong Christian faith and it impacted every aspect of the way they lived their lives, their work ethic, how they treated other people how they spent their time and money. Being black in a predominantly white neighbourhood, and attending school where he and his sister were part of a handful of black children was challenging. His father said ‘life isn’t necessarily gonna be fair but you just got to adapt and work hard or harder. Retaliating or reacting negatively doesn’t help.’ Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s before political correctness, Oliver learned to adapt to the adversity that he was up against.

“The ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ sentiment was not unusual for my parents and the Windrush generation.”

At age 18, tragedy struck when his father was killed in an accident. At the funeral, he realised that his father, who he considered to be “just a regular guy,” had in fact impacted many people’s lives. There were hundreds of people there, with speakers rigged up outside the church as they couldn’t fit inside – the engineers and shop floor workers from his company in their overalls, directors of companies he did business with in different countries were all in attendance. Oliver drew a life lesson from this painful episode. “You don’t know how long you’re going to be around in life – when I die, I hope that I’ve generated that sort of impact on other people,” he says.

“Black History Month gives people a chance to sit back and recognise the achievements of black people and significant individuals who have made a contribution to how today’s world is lived – so much has changed in the last 50 years.”

“It’s hard to overstate both the impact and legacy of Nelson Mandela.” Oliver also highlights the achievements of the U.S. Senator and Civil Rights leader John Lewis who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. “He was very young when he was there at the start of the Civil Rights movement,” he says, “he’s always really impressed me.”

In the 1960s in the U.S., college students put themselves in the way of bodily harm to end racial segregation. In this struggle, Oliver has huge respect for some white people who stood up for the rights of people of colour at a real risk of harm or being ostracised by their community. “They acted purely for the benefit of others, which was particularly selfless.”

At Barclays, Black History Month events include displays, exhibitions, special food every Tuesday and Thursday, and they also have black entrepreneurs coming to discuss their businesses, and panel-type discussions with senior management of colour.

Why is BHM so important in terms of understanding social history, identity and gaining equality in the workplace?

“As a society, you can learn where people are coming from and their perspectives from events like Black History Month. It helps you gain respect and understanding of their points of view.” Being a big advocate of diversity and social mobility, Oliver is convinced that more equality in the workplace will result in more equality in society. That’s why he is heavily invested in educational initiatives with charities and pro bono schemes. He’s on the board of Frontline, a charity that seeks to develop high quality candidates as social workers and leaders working with vulnerable children.

“Children’s opportunities in life are materially impacted by their parenting and immediate home life and the charity Frontline looks to impact the lives of the most vulnerable children and families.”

Outside of work, he also supports various schemes helping to diversify the entry into law, working with minority ethnic groups and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. At Barclays, he is involved in a children’s literacy scheme that partners with primary schools.

“I understand that the opportunities I had were just because of who my parents were. You don’t choose your parents and in my case, it was to my advantage.”

To unplug from his professional life, Oliver keeps himself quite fit and exercises in the gym, and he’s also keen on cuisine. “I’m quite handy in the kitchen,” he says, “And sometimes do catering on the side, at functions such as christenings or private parties. My wife, who watches MasterChef, urges me to apply but the standard is so high nowadays, I’ll just stick to law for now.”

To us, this sounds like the perfect way to unwind after long stressful days at the office.

Oliver Gayle is a director in the Barclays legal team and is head of legal for the Bank’s Credit Restructuring team. He has been at Barclays for 10 years and prior to that was at Addleshaw Goddard and legacy firm Addleshaw Booth for 8 years. Oliver is also on the board of the charity Frontline and has a keen interest in supporting initiatives for diversity in the legal and other professions. He is married with no children (yet!).

The Legal Update

While cryptocurrency valuations may currently be in a state of decline, confidence around them being a long term prospect seems to be increasing, and more people in the legal industry are taking note. At Obelisk Support,  we follow this topic with interest as our clients get on the cryptocurrency bandwagon. Investment fund lawyer John Lore advises clients on cryptocurrencies and investments as part of his firm Capital Fund Law Group, and places great importance on educating the wider industry on the implications of cryptocurrency investment and blockchain technology. He took some time out of his increasingly busy schedule to talk to us about the pressing issues and how lawyers are responding.

What is your legal background and when did you decide to create the Capital Fund Law Group?

I was previously with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, where I worked within their Hedge Fund and Private Equity practice. Then in 2010, I launched my own firm to focus exclusively on the investment fund sector and fund manager sector. To begin with, most of our clients were in the United States and it took a few years to build a global clientele.

How did you first come to deal with cryptocurrencies? What were the perceptions and predictions for cryptocurrencies like then, and how have they evolved since?

We started getting some phone calls about cryptocurrencies around 2013. We initially held off were as we were not ready to jump into the asset class, until 2016 when we launched our first cryptocurrency fund. [In those years] we invested effort in getting up to speed on regulations and drafting some of the initial disclaimer language. It was still very new so getting comfortable from a regulatory perspective took some time.

In terms of wider perceptions – honestly, I didn’t see much perception at all from legal community early on, pretty much nothing was being discussed back then. The shift in perceptions really happened recently in Spring 2017 where there was an explosion of activity in cryptocurrency due to the initial major surge in price of Bitcoin.

Though perceptions around cryptocurrency are rapidly developing, it’s still a very new area. How do you support and advise clients who are interested yet inexperienced?

We emphasise a solid experience in finance. From 2017, we ended up receiving hundreds of phone calls for individuals who wanted to start cryptocurrency funds. We were, and still are, very cautious about representing fund managers who have experience with crypto but don’t have a background in the finance sector. We are more on the side of tempering the swift formation of a cryptocurrency fund and teaching emerging managers how to create the proper structure for a fund. There are a lot of people we deal with who are very savvy with technology and are startup focused, so we advise them to partner with career finance people to create a more diversified skillset.

How have lawyers had to adjust their learning and experience to cryptocurrencies and the blockchain? 

There is much more interest now than there was, particularly in recognising that certain aspect of blockchain technology will change the future of a number of industries. From the investment side, we’ve seen a lot more education pop up – there have been some real strong early adopters on the legal side, who lack seasoned experience in finance, that we end up turning away but that gap is now getting filled by others. In general, there is a continued interest in the legal community in understanding the space and serving it. We, of course, only see a small slice of that in an investment context but in terms of the blockchain universe e.g. smart contracts, coin offering token offerings etc. there is a tremendous need for legal counsel in all those fields.

I think we’re right in the middle of the shift between curiosity and significant resources being allocated to the area. Again, I can only speak for the investment side, but a lot will depend on emergence of institutional investment and Wall Street involvement. I anticipate along with the rest of the cryptocurrency community that there will be major transitioning to a greater focus from these areas.

What impact are cryptocurrencies and the blockchain having now? 

There’s a plethora of opportunities that can be matched with technology across many sectors. On the investment side, there are major opportunities for cryptocurrencies as a stored value, and blockchain is already proving to be a very important aspect of the industry going forward.

What is the future looking like? Will certain cryptocurrencies eventually become a way of life for more institutions and individuals?

There’s the question of whether it will gain mainstream acceptance and whether it will continue as a convenient form of exchanging value. My predictions are: as an investment vehicle, yes, for next few years it will be limited to hedge funds and to high net worth individuals as a major trading instrument, but that can change as soon as there are infrastructures capability such as custodies and exchanges allowing for exchange traded funds (ETFs) – that would provide a strong avenue for retail level participation. Regarding seeing cryptocurrency as a replacement currency for our existing financial structures, that is more of an academic question at this point.

What developments and changes are still required to ensure longevity?

That’s exactly the question I like to be asked! Right now, the question most people have in mind is when and how the problem of custody will be resolved. That is both a technological problem and a legal problem. Getting the technology to a place where we can satisfy the custody requirement to meet financial crime compliance and to satisfy the regulatory requirement of jurisdictions around the world is a big challenge. So, we announced in July at our Cryptocurrency Custody workshop the creation of a working group, an international council of self-regulatory organisations that is going to be co-sponsored by the Stanford Law Blockchain Law and Policy Journal, and the Global Center for Investment Fund Studies, our non-profit research centre. There is a real need for international dialogue. There has been a tremendous interest in London, Dubai, and parts of Asia, and everyone is looking to the U.S. on this – a lot of dialogue is needed on how regulations will be shaped how self-regulatory bodies will play a part in that.

John Lore is a member of the New York State Bar and the Utah State Bar.  Mr. Lore represents fund managers and securities issuers throughout the United States. Capital Fund Law Group advises emerging and established hedge fund managers, with a strong focus on cryptocurrency funds on all aspects of fund formation and ongoing operations.

Making Work, Work

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

Gareth is a UK-qualified lawyer who trained at a Silver Circle law firm in 1992 and worked for several law firms, specialising in finance, asset finance, derivatives and syndicated loans until 1997. With 7 years law firm experience, he was headhunted to join the in-house team of a global bank, becoming a transactional lawyer dealing with the suite of legal documents, as well as a regulatory element.

From 1999 to 2005, he worked for Barclays first in London, then in Hong Kong, but in 2008, felt it was time to come back to the UK. He had a young family by then and was offered the chance to come into the family business, a school furniture manufacturer, with his father.  He remained with the company until 2014, then worked in wealth management until 2017 but he missed being a lawyer.

He contacted Obelisk in March 2017 and was onboarded shortly after as an Obelisk consultant. In June 2017, Barclays contacted Obelisk – they were looking for a banking and finance lawyer for the Debt Advisory team, someone who had experience with LMA style facility agreements or debt structuring or lending/security taking. Out of 14 legal consultants, Gareth was selected and in July 2017, started his first freelance legal role as a returner at Barclays, a role that boosted his confidence in a rapidly-changing market.

He went on to win an Obelisk award in 2017.

Thanks to Barclays, Gareth made a successful comeback on the legal scene.

Obelisk turns 8