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Manchester High School for Girls

Laura Butler

Laura Butler, class of 1998,  lives and works in London and works in banking as a Private Client Manager 

What was your experience at Manchester High like? How do you feel it helped to shape the person you are today?

I spent ten years at Manchester High, from eight to eighteen. The experience must have shaped me hugely. I liked to work hard and at the time felt a strong sense of all of the illustrious alumnae who had gone before me, whom I remember felt impossible at the time to live up to! But I never felt that being female was a disadvantage. School gave me chances that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else: Latin and Greek, really great teaching. We were challenged to be our very best. But it was a long school day, on the school bus very early and a bit lonely not to have your friends around the corner.

When my mum hears of something I’ve done, or a friend, or how we’ve handled a situation, she always says, ‘That’s Manchester High Girls for you.’ She means we can think our way around a situation, we have a bit of gumption and we can improvise!

It’s only when I hear of others’ experiences that I realise how lucky I was.

Were there any teachers who made a particular impression on you?

History was my favourite subject and that’s still a passion. I remember thinking the teachers (Miss Townley, Mrs Cornell, Dr Joy) knew just so much about their subject, and I looked up to them and desperately wanted to be like them. Although I wasn’t much good at team sports, Miss Kilgarriff taught me PE for the ten years I was at school. The same teacher for ten years, that has to be remarkable. And Miss Welsby, Latin for seven. I enjoyed Latin and Greek.

There are also some things that I remember that would seem strange to anyone from any other school. Indoor and outdoor shoes in the Prep, and the black knickers in the PE kit. The seven day week. And my friends and I often reminisce about the school dinners!

What did you do after Manchester High?

With lots of nerves and worries, I went off to London read History at UCL, thinking that I’d give Freshers’ Week a go and go straight home afterwards. I felt nervous about what university would be like and whether I would find new friends. In the end, I really needn’t have worried. After a deep breath, I talked to as many people as I could and I felt at home almost immediately. UCL has an incredibly pastoral history department and I was lucky to have a really great personal tutor who made me feel anything was possible. And there were boys in the class! I stayed for another year and took an MA in Medieval Studies, where my Latin helped me too. I was very fortunate to study regularly in the manuscripts room at the British Library and I enjoyed the academic side of university very much.

When it came time to leave, I wanted to get a job in the British Library or the British Museum, and whilst I was applying I took a temping job with a private bank. Sixteen years later, I’m still there! I think I hadn’t realised that my kind of job existed when I was at school. I’m a Private Client manager looking after the bank’s most wealthy personal clients and I try to build a deep relationship over time, assist with their financial needs now and help them plan for the future. Financial knowledge is important but being able to talk to people, explain things, relate to their objectives, understand how they want to live their lives, is even more so.

What routes can be taken to enter into this type of career?

Within my company there are apprenticeships and graduate schemes, as well as somewhat less planned routes, such as my own! I actually started doing some of the client administration work and then went from there.

There are professional exam bodies to take examinations with, and it’s likely that all client managers have these qualifications, which can be taken whilst on the job.

The Bank has so much to offer. Lots of different departments: commercial banking, digital, legal, financial crime prevention, currency trading, and even a department for charitable giving, which I think the public might be surprised about. And of course there are jobs in human resources, training, risk and marketing, which would be the same for any large company. Within mine there is a big push to work in ways that suit you, using an agile approach, which is of great benefit to those who need their job to fit with other important areas of life.

What has been the highlight of your career?

I look after people from all walks of life: sports people, aristocracy, successful professionals, lottery winners, inherited wealth. I have met some very inspirational people. Everybody has a different story to tell, but we all have the same basic worries, about our families, and whether we will be able to afford to live our lives in the way we want to. I think I’m in quite a privileged position. It’s my job to look after people through all the ups and downs in life and sometimes my clients tell me things that they feel unable to tell the people closest to them, to explain some of the decisions they make.  

Where can you see yourself in five years?

I love my job at the moment: I look after some of the bank’s most valuable clients, I have some great colleagues and I work for an institution with a sense of social responsibility. And I’m lucky enough to be involved in some great projects, including ones to try to increase female talent at in the more senior roles at the bank, and working with external agencies to promote the company. But I am ambitious and I am thinking about the future. I’m sure there are many other jobs I’d also love. I think I will still be working for the bank, but perhaps in a different role, and I hope I’ll still be enjoying all that London has to offer. Life throws up some surprises and whatever it brings I’ll be cheerful and positive about it.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Living in Central London, I indulge in everything on offer as often as I can: restaurants, theatres, museums, galleries, and I’m a member at some of the big ones, the British Museum and British Library, the Royal Academy. After a discussion with a friend I’ve just totted up all the tickets for the plays and talks I went to in 2018, and it came to more than fifty, which is a habit that may need to be curbed! I love the vibrancy of it all, the mix of everyone together and the choice. But then I sometimes need to recover from it all and I just get to the gym for a class or the swimming pool, or shut the door and can read for hours.

I’m also involved with the Rainbows, the five and six year old girls within the Girlguiding network. They are so funny and help me to see life from a different perspective.

I still keep in touch with my university department and go to events there, and I’m lucky to have some really great friends from every part of my life, including school, who’ve been there for me in the good times and also when I’ve really needed them.

What advice would you give to girls considering your career?

It’s a tremendously rewarding one, and each day is different. You never know what you are going to be faced with, and sometimes I don’t know all the answers to the questions I’m asked. There are real advantages to working in a larger company, because of the opportunities to move internally and the benefits of the internal network. The qualifications and technical side of the role is important, but you also have to be able to adjust to different communication styles and ways of working to suit your clients, as the client is at the heart of everything we do. You need to be able to talk to people, and understand what makes them tick. To be really great at my job you have to be interested in people, and there are so many stories out there, that’s not hard!