Following the Christmas break, a period where I’d physically transformed into a turkey as much as humanely possible, writes Alex Foster, I felt my first Pub Club of the year had to hit two criteria: the first being an un-roasted meal, and the second being with a friendly face.
Luckily, I was dining with Nick Swales, regional director of Rathbones’ Newcastle office, one of the friendliest faces in the industry. We sat down in one of Swales’s (and my) favourite jaunts in Newcastle, The Broad Chare, for anything but festive fayre.
Swales and I both opt for the delicious squash, cornmeal, blue cheese and sage salad, and he begins by telling me how he had his heart set on the industry from a young age.
‘My uncle introduced me to the stock market as he had an interest in it. His broker lent me a book which I read and I became fascinated myself.’
Swales picked subjects at O level that he thought would have been useful for a career in this industry – economics, maths and statistics – then studied politics and economics at university.
‘One of my biggest regrets was that I dropped my favourite subject, geography, at O level, thinking that it wouldn’t prepare me for my future career,’ Swales explains. ‘The truth is, of course, that one needs to be a rounded person and not too specialised to succeed in finance. I have worked with linguists, theologians, scientists and lots of economists, maths and business graduates.’
Illustrating an industry-wide problem
The variety of backgrounds that Swales has seen illustrates a problem he feels incredibly frustrated by.
‘For young guns trying to work their way into investments, there has been, in the past, a distinct lack of a defined pathway, such as is available for accountants and lawyers, for example,’ Swales says.
This is something he is actively trying to change, by offering something he never had as a student.
‘I’ve been pushing as a board member of the CISI and with others for exams and dedicated training in universities specialising in investment management, which several institutions now offer, ensuring students are more prepared when they eventually graduate.’
But for Swales, the problem goes deeper than this, right back to effective exposure in school.
He says: ‘I have given financial education talks at local schools over many years, who informed me that there are students interested in finance. However, often one finds that out of a room of 30 kids, one is interested and the other 29 are not.’
To combat this, the office has partnered with the NE1 CAN scheme in Newcastle, a body of retail and city centre businesses that have a programme to get interested pupils in the region to attend relevant career days.
‘Rathbones has been central to the finance module which delivers output to around 60 young people all with an interest in finance as a possible career from many different schools in the area,’ Swales explains. ‘Thus an interested and engaged audience turns up and it is an efficient way to spread the news about careers in finance.’
After hearing all this, I was astonished to discover that on top of these responsibilities Swales is chairman of the investment committee for the pension fund of Newcastle University, a trustee of the university’s Development Trust and recently became chairman of the Newcastle Theatre Royal Trust. I am genuinely intrigued to know how Swales relaxes, if he does at all. Funnily enough, I know the answer already.
‘I don’t really stop – work is relaxation for me. I had a beach holiday once when I was young and hated every second of it,’ Swales jokes. ‘But I do tap into my love of geography. I’ve just crossed off my 40th American state, visiting Oregon last summer. I was fascinated to learn that Portland has its own Silicon Valley, aptly nicknamed Silicon Forest.’
Honestly, it would not have surprised me if Swales had done a few odd jobs while he was there, but this was a question for another day.