My UEA Story: James Blower
James Blower studied Law at UEA, graduating in 1999. He shares his memories of UEA, explains what he’s been up to since he left, and offers sage advice to those studying today.
I know it’s a cliché, but I genuinely made friends for life on that course. I’m still in regular touch with several of them and my ‘to do’ list includes organising a reunion!
What have you been up to since you graduated?
Quite a lot! I joined Barclays after graduation, working in a variety of roles in product, risk and stockbroking before moving to Guernsey with to run offshore corporate teams. While in Guernsey I applied for a job to start up and run an offshore savings bank – and got it. This started my journey in savings which saw me return to the UK in 2013 to set up the savings division for a new challenger bank in the UK called Shawbrook. After 18 months there, I left to set up my own business, The Savings Guru, which, bar a stint working for another bank in 2016, I’ve done ever since.
What was your ambition for your career when you started at UEA? Did you have a specific career path in mind?
I knew I wanted to go into business as I’d grown up with an interest in money – specifically investing, and how businesses make a profit. But wasn’t 100% sure exactly what I wanted to do. I saw my Law degree as a great foundation to understand the legal workings of companies.
Why did you choose to study at UEA? And what do you remember about your time there?
I found out that UEA was rated as a top 10 law school in The Times and I chose my course as it had a lot of business law modules as part of the compulsory syllabus and some great options in the free choice sections that other law schools didn’t offer. I know it’s a cliché, but I genuinely made friends for life on that course. I’m still in regular touch with several of them and my ‘to do’ list includes organising a reunion!
I served on the Student Union as Publicity Officer, which I really enjoyed and gave me a great early insight in dealing with the media, which is now something I do regularly as I’m often approached by the national press and TV/radio for my insight on the savings market.
What are the key skills you’ve used throughout your career?
When you run your own business, you have to have a working knowledge across the board of all competencies – finance, HR, law, risk etc. I think there’s two which I consider I use daily and that’s my core competence in savings and marketing. I’m constantly learning, sharing my expertise and building my knowledge in savings. On marketing, I never stop promoting my business and what we do – whether that’s proactive business development or more subtle ways of making people aware of what we do.
How has your degree influenced your career?
It gave me a fantastic grounding in business law. I’ve used those skills many times in my career and in some surprising situations, from writing the terms and conditions for the new bank I set up, fighting a trademark dispute with telephone giant O2 (we won!) and dealing with some very challenging situations with employees including the police turning up to arrest a member of staff for very serious criminal allegations.
What personal or professional achievement are you most proud of?
Professionally, being the youngest ever Managing Director of an offshore bank at 31 was a definite high. Personally, I’ve been able to help other people develop their careers and I find it hugely rewarding being able to support someone else unleash their potential.
Would you recommend studying at UEA? Why?
One-hundred per cent. I think it’s a great university. I think the campus helps make it a real community and it’s easy to dip in and dip out of uni life on your terms. I look back on my time at UEA with huge fondness. I learned skills I use to this day, made great friends and genuinely really enjoyed my time there. Norwich is a beautiful place to live and study and one of the safest cities you can live in.
Is there any advice you would give to current students, wishing to follow a similar career path to you?
Two things. Firstly, there’s no shortcut to the top. Secondly, it is easier than ever to create a business or pursue your passion. On the first one, I think there’s far too much published which suggests that there’s easy ways of doing things or short cuts to the top. I don’t know anyone at the top of their field who hasn’t had to work hard to get there. There’s always exceptions and I’m sure there’s people who have had it easier than others but most people at the top of their game are incredibly dedicated to their field of expertise.
However, social media has levelled the field, removed so many barriers to market and made it possible to make money from the most obscure passions. If you’re prepared to put the work in, there’s a route to market for just about anything these days and that’s a massive opportunity for people to create careers that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
And what is next for you?
Short term, I want to develop the consumer side of Savings Guru. We’ve spent much of the past six years working for banks building savings businesses for them. We’ve used that knowledge to help savers make more of their money – that’s an area I’d like to do more in. Longer term, I’d like to be a mentor and investor in people who want to start their own business.
James Blower studied Law at UEA, graduating in 1999