Archive | September, 2010

The impudence of youth

27 Sep

I’ve always been a bit paranoid about looking younger than I actually am and hence not being taken seriously*. In the pharmaceutical industry that’s a bit of a problem when most of the executives at networking events are middle-aged guys with grey hair.

My first ever pharmaceutical networking event was, rather amusingly, called “the Networking Event for Senior Executives in the Pharmaceutical Industry”. I was 25 had just joined the consultancy company and I believe our CEO was unable to attend, so I went instead with another senior colleague from the company.

When I arrived I did feel somewhat of a fraud. I thought everyone must think I was the work experience kid. “Yeah, sure I’m a senior executive – I’ve been in consulting for 3 whole months”. I figured I was more likely to be asked for Nintendo recommendations for their kids. I didn’t even have a suit at the time, so in a sea of dark suits I rather stood out without a suit jacket. To get around this awkwardness I sat though the entire presentation with my grey overcoat on, which kinda looked like a suit jacket. Yeah, that was a toasty presentation.

A few years later, after I had become a seriously senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry, I was due to give a talk about some research I’d done at the Licensing Executive Society Annual Meeting in Chicago. I arrived early so I went along to the pre-conference registration dressed in jeans and t-shirt to pick up my badge and info. I told the registration ladies my name and they spent a while looking for my name card in the boxes. Eventually they asked, “You’re not a speaker are you?” When I replied that I was in fact a speaker, there was much laughter: “What, you can’t be speaker – you look far too young! Mwahaha! How old are you anyway?”

So, whilst I could see the funny side, that episode didn’t really do much to dispel my paranoia.

Today at SBS we had the first day of the financial careers bootcamp. One of the presenters reeled off the list of jobs he had had since he graduated from business school. It was the most amazing list of positions in investment banking-type positions – almost all at a very senior level. In fact it was so amazing that there was some subdued laughter around the lecture theatre as we realised just how ridiculously  badass this guy’s career was. What also got some of us was that this guy looked really quite young – maybe around 40. Amazing! (I also note that this guy was the only presenter not to wear a tie. Proof, surely, that when you are that successful you can wear whatever the hell you want!).

This leads to the flip-side of the age paranoia – the jealously of successful young people! I remember being quite amazed back in 2007 when Andrew Witty (43) and Severin Schwan (40) were appointed CEOs of GlaxoSmithKline and Roche, respectively. CEO of one of the world’s biggest pharma companies at 40!

If I look at the Internet technology space it is even more painful. The space is littered with dot-com millionaires who made it in their twenties (Consequently, this is a much more comfortable, and fun, space in which to network).

My colleagues and I used to sometimes look up other executives we’d met on LinkedIn and try and gauge how old they were by when they went to university so we could compare our own progress to theirs. I’m getting to the age where I’m creeping up on some senior biotech executives. So maybe I’m feeling too old now – I’ve got some making up to do!

Ironically, one of my classmates just sent me a link to an interesting looking ideas incubator but it’s only for people under 30. So I spent all the time worrying about being too young and now I’ve missed the “young entrepreneur” boat!

I like to think now my real age now is actually 26+PhD. I know those other 4 years were useful – after all I get to put Dr on my credit cards, people go “ooh” when I tell them about it, and my knowledge of chromosome segregation in fission yeast is not to be sniffed at!

The average age of the SBS class is about 29, which means there are some seriously smart young folk in the class. I think the youngest is about 23! So I can now put the age paranoia aside (I’m starting to look my age now anyway) and look forward to learning from some of these young whippersnappers!

*there are many reasons to not take me seriously. My appearance is just one of them.

Be Cool Guys

25 Sep
Be like Milhouse

Be like Milhouse

In some ways the MBA qualification can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Sure it gives you a good all-round business education, but in some circles people have a bit of a negative impression of the sort of people that do MBAs and even use it as a term of derision. I think that’s mainly due to the nature of the type of people MBA courses attract: most MBA students are, by their very nature, ambitious and driven people, however it’s easy for ambitiousness and drive to stray in to, or be interpreted as, arrogance and pushiness.

There was an Oxford Business Alumni (OBA) event the other day in London and a number of the students attended (I did not). This would have been the first formal networking event the students had attended in association with the University and one of the students had emailed the careers director to ask for some networking tips.

I found the networking advice quite interesting – not for the advice itself – rather for what it obviously said about the career director’s experience of guiding a bunch of eager beaver new MBA students. Amongst the “Dos & Don’ts” was advice not to bring your CV to the event and not to “cling-on” to people.

I know some of my colleagues in consulting have found job-hunting MBA students a bit over-bearing and been rankled by the sense of entitlelement and unrealistic expectations.

One of the things I’m determined not to do on this course is to fall in to that “arrogant MBA” stereotype. I had my leaving-do from work last night and one of my colleagues pulled me aside for a chat about the future. His main message to me was, “stay humble“.

I think I’ll blog more about humility in a later post, but in the meantime here is my suggestion to anyone that is about to start their MBA and is going to be networking for jobs: Be Cool. Don’t be over-the-top, or too pushy when it comes to networking – it’s about building relationships that last. You want people to remember you because they liked you and you have something intelligent to talk about – be yourself – be the sort of person you would want to work with – be cool.

Here’s another networking tip: choose your opening line carefully.

I was at a networking event last year and I met the founder of a UK dating website for women who are looking for toyboys (maybe this could be a backup plan for some students if the dream job doesn’t come along 😉 ). She was a very nice lady, very full-of-life and we chatted for a while. A couple of weeks later I was at another networking event and I saw her again so went up to her for a chat. I opened with, “so how’s all the toy-boy stuff going?” Except it wasn’t her – she was a lawyer from the firm that was sponsoring the event. Whoops! It’s ok – she saw the funny side. 🙂

Suits you sir: business wear vs. casual

22 Sep
Ooh, suits you sir!

Ooh, suits you sir!

I’ll be going to my first SBS event on Monday – a finance careers bootcamp. I got the logistics email yesterday and for the dress code it says: “We strongly advise smart business wear. There will be Alumni present at this event and you should present yourself appropriately.

For day-to-day lectures at school we can wear what we want, but I’m told that the general advice is that if any event involves jobs and networking, then you should wear a suit.

That got me thinking – why are we so obsessed with the old “tin flute” and what does it say about our innovation culture?

There are a couple of examples of this that I can think of that confuse me. Take the TV show Dragon’s Den: Peter Jones has said on more than one occasion that he expects participants on Dragon’s Den  to be dressed in a suit and he looks badly on those that are not dressed smartly. Also, I was recently invited to pitch my start-up at a UK Y combinator-like seed fund. The instructions for the event specified that the dress code was again business smart.

The seed fund instructions really struck me as strange. These types of funds are meant to be competing with the likes of San Francisco-based Y Combinator itself – I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Graham himself didn’t even own a suit! They encourage people to turn up in as comfortable clothes as possible. I pitched at Y Combinator last year and I felt conspicuously over-dressed when I went to their offices wearing cream chinos and a tucked in shirt (yeah, cream chinos – I though it gave me a “West coast” look!).

I actually went to a lot of start-up/innovation/pitching events last year and it was interesting to see the differences in what people wore at these events. At Tech Media Invest it was all suits and at TechCrunch London it certainly wasn’t (yeah that’s me!).

There was an interesting story around the recent merger between Roche – an old guard Swiss pharmaceutical company – and Genentech – a relatively young California-based biotechnology company. When the Roche and Genentech executives held their first joint investor day conference the Roche executives went without their ties – which was somewhat of a first. One of the Genentech executives mentioned that he does not even own a tie and the Roche executives did not want to make the Genentech guys look out of place. To many industry observers it was seen as evidence of Roche’s desire to maintain the dynamic innovation culture at the younger biotech – quite a considerable challenge when merging two such contrasting companies.

When I was working in a lab I wore jeans and a t-shirt everyday. It was quite a shift for me when I started working in consulting and I was expected to wear smart clothes and a tie (but not a full suit) to work. I can’t imagine Google or Genentech would have got very far if they’d required people to wear a tie to work. So, if we aspire to Californian levels of innovation perhaps we might improve the UK innovation culture if we all just… loosened up a bit.

And what shall I wear on Monday? Well of course I will obey the instructions and wear my suit like a good little MBA student, but if I’m feeling brave I might indulge my rebellious streak by unbuttoning my collar…

Dundee Supermarket Sweep

16 Sep
Asda pic by Dominic

Asda pic by Dominic

As a Dundonian away from home I like to keep a close eye on my home city’s economic news, mostly through the Courier’s website. I hate it when something bad happens there, such as when NCR closed down its manufacturing plant there, or more recently when computer game company Realtime Worlds went in to administration (although there is hope that some of it can be saved).

I’m always hoping to see good news, but I see something about once a year that really annoys me – “excitement” about a new supermarket being built in the city. Just today I’ve seen that Asda will be building a new supermarket on the old NCR site.

Alan Mitchell, chief executive of Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce  said the move would be a major economic boost. “The proposals will bring a significant amount of investment into the area, as well as creating up to 480 new jobs at a time when they are needed most.”

Woop-di-do! Another supermarket for Dundee!

I think this dependence on new supermarkets and treating it as if it is really good news for the city is really quite depressing. Are there thousands of families sitting around in Dundee thinking, “you know what Dundee really needs? Another supermarket! I just don’t have anywhere to shop in this fine city I wish there was another supermarket so I could shop there.” Are there folk in Edinburgh and Aberdeen looking at the news thinking, “Smashing! There’s a new Asda being built in Dundee – let’s travel there to do our weekly shopping in future!” No they are not.

Fact is there is a finite amount of supermarket shopping that can be done in an area. All that will happen once this supermarket is built is that people who used to shop in one of the other supermarkets in Dundee, will now shop at the new Asda. These other supermarkets will have slightly fewer customers and one of them will close down eventually. We don’t suddenly have a need to do more shopping just because there is a new supermarket in the city!

More likely is that the supermarket continues to put the squeeze on small and independent retailers in the city.

And as for the job creation? Well I do think it’s nice to have the construction work while the supermarket is being built, but the fact is that the jobs that are being created at the supermarket are mostly low value positions. They are still welcome and essential for a diverse economy, but I don’t believe we’ll end up with 480 net jobs created and they are in no way comparable with 480 skilled jobs being lost at a manufacturing plant.

I wish the city would show a bit more ambition. It’s become too predictable that as soon as some major employer shuts down, Dundee City Council is imagining a new supermarket for the site. Could they not have shown a bit more ambition to get a major employer in there? You know – one of the ones that actually exports something so isn’t dependent on recycling the same pot of consumer retail money the is swirling round the place. I know it’s not easy – no-one is going to move there just because there is a vacant plot – but by putting an identi-kit supermarket on the site we’re losing a potential site for something that could have had net benefit to the city.

It is disingenuous* to suggest that a new supermarket is a “major economic boost”.

Until I see a proper company bringing 480 jobs to Dundee I just can’t get excited. Until then the supermarkets can sweep off.

*yeah I’m not really sure disingenuous is the right word. Sounds quite good though!

So yeah, I got 820 in my GMAT

13 Sep
Facebook by Franco Bouly

Facebook by Franco Bouly

It can’t have been so long ago that the first time you really knew anything about your new classmates was the first day of the MBA course (or induction week). However, in this age of Facebook it’s been quite interesting observing the level of communication that has sprung up between the students before most of us have even met.

SBS does actually have it’s own intranet,  iSBS, to which you are given access after you have accepted your offer and paid your deposit. The iSBS is a bit like something from a user experience designer’s worst nightmare, but there is a discussion forum of sorts in there. The most important link in there was to the Facebook and Google Groups that had been set up by a couple of the students that had been admitted in the first rounds.

I was a bit surprised to see anything other than Facebook being used, but I duly signed up for both the groups. It’s actually very interesting to see that the Google Group is far more active than the Facebook group. I’m not entirely certain why that is. It could be that there are some particularly active people in the Google Group that aren’t on Facebook (the 1%ers of the 90/9/1 rule). In my case I find the Google Group a bit easier to access from work, basically because it doesn’t look like you are messing around on Facebook! I do wonder how widespread use of Google Groups is – I’d never really used it before – and how it compares to all the Facebook groups.

Another interesting factor with this early interactions is the normal use of Facebook. Although I have only met a couple of the incoming students already, I am friends with nearly 50 of them on Facebook although there are 178 members of the group at the time of writing. I actually sat there for quite a few weeks with 35 Facebook friend invites pending. It kind of felt a little odd to me to invite all these strangers in to what is meant to be a fairly personal space on the Internet.

However, I also don’t want to be Steve – “that oddball who doesn’t add people on Facebook” – so I caved in to the imaginary peer pressure and added everyone. I have to admit that I have put most of the people, other than those I have already met or chatted with frequently, on to a specific “MBA list”. I expect 99% of people who use Facebook don’t bother with different privacy settings for their lists (Zuckerburg actually said as much recently). There’s barely any difference (so please don’t be insulted if you’re reading this!), but it’s more for the principal. Once I meet people and get to know them better I will open up full access (ooh you privileged people!), which I think basically means you will get to see my phone number on my profile!

Although I joke about it here, I think there’s interesting parallels to children’s experiences with Facebook, where peer pressure to add people to Facebook, means that what should be a private space is opened up to hundreds of people who the child barely knows. When I was a kid I probably only knew a few dozen people, but if you’re 14 years old today and only have a few dozen friends on your Facebook you probably look a bit sad. If someone my age feels some kind of pressure to add people then how can a kid resist?

As well as the Facebook and Google groups, one enterprising fellow set up a Google Docs spreadsheet where everyone could add their profile, which includes qualifications, work experience, current job function, post-MBA goal etc. It makes for fascinating reading and means that you essentially know loads of details about a large number of the students before you’ve even met them. I might have done it slightly differently – the data includes ‘relationship status’ and GMAT score, which I think is unnecessary. The relationship status feels a bit like the dating column and with regards to GMAT scores, well, it doesn’t really matter other than to satisfy curiosity – which I am as guilty of as the next person. However, we all start as equals on this course so GMAT score doesn’t matter. (I have to admit I was tempted to put my score as 820 – “yes, even the GMAC people didn’t think it was possible but I beat the system!*”)

Interestingly, there is an average GMAT calculation at the bottom of the spreadsheet. It currently stands at 717, which is pretty high and certainly higher than the previous reported average of (I think) 680-690. However, this is a clear example of selection bias – when you’ve got the braniacs putting down their 790 scores, it’s quite reasonable  that the students with lower scores will not want to publicly put themselves up for comparison. Indeed quite a few students have left the GMAT field field blank. I expect that the real GMAT average will be close to the previous year’s.

I wonder what the average would be if I went and upped my GMAT score to 8,000. Hmmm….

Anyway, this pre-MBA communication has been very valuable. Not only have I got to know a number of students in advance, it’s also made up for some of the inadequacies of the iSBS. There have more than a couple of occasions where I, or other students, have only found out about some important event (such as the flippin’ start date!) thanks to interactions in the Google Group.

*I should point out for anyone that is not familiar with the GMAT, that 800 is the maximum possible score. The average score, over the thousands that take the test each year, is 540.

How to get 72,000 airmiles and an MBA

11 Sep
Credit cards by theTruthAbout

Credit cards by theTruthAbout

Your MBA fees payment is likely to be one of the largest purchases you’ve ever made in one go. If you’re clever and plan ahead, you might be able to take advantage of this.

When I was getting ready to pay my fees, I did have the thought, rather too late in the day, that if I could pay with a British Airways credit card I could get loads of airmiles. Looking at the British Airways American Express card I could have got 54,000 airmiles for making the £36,000 purchase, plus a 18,000 miles bonus for spending over £3,000 in the first 3 months. That’s enough airmiles to get to the moon and back (note at the time of posting, only Virgin has any plans to fly to the moon). Also, if you spend over £10,000 in a year you get a free companion ticket for wherever you decide to fly to using your airmiles.

So although I though I was too late I rather hastily applied for the BA AmEx card and, thanks to the massive NatWest delays, I actually got my AmEx card in time!

Of course, what dumbass here forgot to check was whether you could actually pay for Oxford University course fees with AmEx. You can’t. Doh! AmEx charge particularly high transaction fees so many retailers won’t accept the card.

So I will have to take advantage of the 14 day cancellation period to cancel the card – the BA AmEx has a £150/year fee so it’s not really worth keeping unless I’m likely to rack up points over the year – which I’m not.

However, if you are not a dumbass and if you plan in advance there are plenty of cards you could use to rack up points of some kind whilst paying for your fees. In fact, if you’re in the US it looks like the British Airways card you can get with some fat airmiles bonuses is in fact a Visa card. Back in the UK, there are some other options for Visa cards that will give you standard airmiles. It doesn’t have to be airmiles – if you get a Tesco or Sainsbury’s Visa card you could rack up a massive amount of Tesco Clubcard points or Nectar points – probably enough for quite a few free tins of beans!

British Baked Beans on Toast by fritish

British Baked Beans on Toast by fritish

Of course the major limitation is that you’re not going to be able to make a £36,000 transaction on your credit card in one go. In fact, when I queried this with AmEx they said I couldn’t even do it in instalments whilst paying it off (i.e. in £4000 chunks) – your credit limit is the maximum you can spend on the card each month – even if you are paying it off at the same time. From speaking with other students it seems that one guy did manage to get a temporary credit limit increase to make the payment then pay it off instantly. Others had been paying in instalments somehow.

So think about the actual transaction in advance, if you find a good credit card deal apply for it in plenty of time and you could get a nice bonus!

NatWest MBA Loan

10 Sep
Digbeth Natwest Cashpoint Installation 5

Natwest image by Flickr user getgood

Another day, another blog that I probably won’t update as often as I intend…

So, I’m about to start an MBA at Oxford University’s Saïd Buisness School (SBS). I’ll talk a little bit about why I’m doing the course, and what I plan to write about here in a later post. First, as with many great and important things in life, I’d like to start with a little bit of a rant.

Warning: this is a lengthy post – they won’t all be like this – but it is quite representative of what I’m about to talk about here.

An MBA is generally quite expensive so if, like myself, you haven’t managed to save loads of money upfront, you might be considering applying for a bank loan to fund your MBA fees and living expenses. Unfortunately, thanks to the recent financial meltdown, your choices are limited for loans in the UK. SBS used to have an arrangement with Barclays bank, with a special MBA loan deal for students. Unfortunately this was withdrawn when the financial crisis hit. Fortunately, there is still one bank that will give loans to MBA students: NatWest – part of the once illustrious, Royal Bank of Scotland.

Surprisingly, there is very little information about the loan out there on the blogosphere. I thought some other heavily-debt-ridden student would have written about the application process, but apparently not. I am writing this post to fill the void. Hopefully with some Google magic, this post will come top for a search for “NatWest MBA loan” (HINT: give me some Google juice by linking to this post using the link text NatWest MBA loan).

So, I’m sure at some point on the MBA course we’ll discuss what happens to an industry when a monopoly emerges. Well, with only one bank giving a general MBA loan in the UK, that does represent somewhat of a monopoly, and my experience of the application process has been less than stellar.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m very grateful that the loan exists. You’re essentially getting a massive loan with no real security behind it other than your future post-MBA earning potential. The purpose of this post is really just to inform anyone who is planning to do an MBA and is thinking they will use the NatWest MBA loan to fund it.

On the face of it the loan is a pretty amazing offer: they will lend you up to 80% of your course fees and up to 2/3 of your pre-MBA gross salary. Wow! Now given that the average pre-MBA salary at SBS, is £41,000 (I wasn’t earning quite that much),  and the course fees are £36,000 that means a fairly sizeable loan! You don’t have to make any payments during the course (of course interest starts accruing immediately) and at the end of the 12-month course you get a 3 month grace before you have to start making payments, just in case you have not managed to secure a job yet.

At the time the only savings I had were the 20% of fees (so sad!), so I took the above statement at face value and applied for the full 80% + 2/3. There’s no way I needed the full “2/3 pre-MBA gross salary” as living expenses, but I figured if I didn’t spend it, it would give me a good runway at the end of the course, and if I got a job with no problems I could just pay whatever was left over back as a lump sum.

The loan is actually “arranged” by the AMBA, and the process is that once you have an offer from a business school, you send your loan application to your business school, which then signs it and stamps it to confirm you indeed do have a place on their course. The application is then sent to AMBA, who wave a magic wand over the application to justify the 1% fee they add to your loan, and they then send it to NatWest.

Once your application is in the hands of NatWest, you will be contacted by a relationship manager from NatWest private banking. He will be your point of contact for the application process. From speaking with other students also applying for the loan, almost all of us had the same relationship manager.

Now in the original application form there is a section where you have to enter a very rudimentary budget covering bills, rent etc. This is where things get interesting…

My relationship manager contacted me to say that they would need to see a more detailed budget, outlining exactly how the whole living expenses cost would be spent. OK, fair enough – the budget in the application form was too basic to cover all costs, so I duly completed a more detailed budget and sent it to them. This was July 12th – plenty of time to get the loan confirmed before the deadline for fees payment (1st Sept), right?

On 22nd July I get a reply saying that there are some things on my budget that are not covered by the MBA loan: mortgage and bills for the flat I co-own with my brother in Scotland, gym membership, miscellaneous, leisure, and… wait for it… mobile phone! The email also contained the revealing line: “£2400 travel for treks and job search must be more specific, as this doesn’t fall into the basic costs/expenses and basic study equipment” (my emphasis).

We had now gone from talking about “2/3 of your pre-MBA gross salary” for living expenses to “basic costs/expenses”. They had basically used my budget against me! I don’t mind not having the Scotland flat bills covered – my brother has a lodger that covers my half of the mortgage. However, I find it quite ridiculous that they automatically excluded “miscellaneous” and “leisure”. I have no intention of living a champagne lifestyle on NatWest’s money (I won’t have the time!) but most people would agree that about 1/3 of the value of an MBA is the network you build with fellow students and having £0 to socialise with them might have put a bit of a dampener on the networking. Also the point of “miscellaneous” is that you can’t possibly budget for every expense – to omit it is a bit daft. As for saying that they won’t cover your mobile phone – well that is just ludicrous. Perhaps NatWest is stuck in 1996, but these days most people would agree that having a mobile phone is essential for getting a job. Even the Big Issue sellers have mobile phones!

Big Issue seller

Big issue seller by Flickr user rofanator

NatWest also said they needed the fees confirmed by SBS on SBS headed paper – the same fees that had been stamped and confirmed by the school on the application form. Grrrr!

The result of all that red-lining is that they had taken my living expenses from a comfortable 2/3 of my pre-MBA gross salary, down to …drumroll£11,000. Having lived in London on a student stipend of around £14,000 when doing my PhD I know that it’s not really feasible to live on less than £1k a month in Oxford. So, having stewed over it for a few days, I sent a rather disgruntled email to my relationship manager on 26th July.

Here’s a tip: my relationship manager was really quite decent, but he won’t contact you unless he has something specific to tell you or request from you. He is primarily acting as the middle man between you and the bank’s underwriters who are making the decisions about your loan. Hence, my ranty email was pretty much ignored. So, on 2nd August I sent another email with a revised budget with my living expenses closer to £14,000.

Tick, tock and I don’t hear anything till a couple of weeks later when I am on holiday in Scotland. I get a phone call: my loan is progressing, but could I please go in to a NatWest branch with my passport and driving licence to prove my ID? So on 16th or 17th August I change my plans for the day and on my way to the airport to fly back to England, I pop in to the Dundee NatWest branch and they take copies of my ID. Well, after all I had only been a NatWest customer for the previous 13 years, so really I could be anyone!

So I keep contacting my relationship manager to check on the progress of my loan application, and for two weeks I am told that it should be approved by the following Friday. Approval does not follow.

Eventually I get told that my loan was close to approval, but then another underwriter took over the application and they want more information about my budget! I still had a miscellaneous line in there, with examples of the sorts of things that might include, but no – they wanted exact expenditure. They also wanted me to justify the amount I was going to spend on shopping for food and how much I might spend on food at the business school. You might not expect this when you first make the application! I was reduced to the level of saying how much I might spend on haircuts, toiletries and medicine and in a moment of facetiousness I included the line “Breathe mints – £3/month” (well – I gotta make that network, although as someone at my work commented “I should maybe budget a little more”!). This budget was sent on 26th August.

Polos by Andrew Mason

Polos by Andrew Mason

On 1st September, I received my credit agreement. There was no way I was going to be able to pay the fees on time so I had pre-warned SBS. In fact, they had also been talking to NatWest too, sending more documents – oh yeah, NatWest had more questions about the fees which SBS had to confirm.

Today, 2nd September I went in to my local NatWest branch to sign the credit agreement. The money should be in my account tomorrow so I can pay the business school and immerse myself in to a fantastic amount of debt! Note I do not have the money at the time of writing this post, so it will be saved as a draft till the money is safely in my account!

So what are the takeaways from this for anyone planning on doing a MBA and applying to NatWest for a loan to fund it? Well, first of all take the “2/3 pre-MBA gross salary” bit with a pinch of salt – it is total BS, verging on mis-leading advertising. The catch is that you will only learn this after having accepted the place at your business school and paying the rather hefty non-refundable deposit. If you have applied on the assumption that you will get this mythical 2/3, you might be a bit screwed when you find out you will not get it. I might complain to NatWest or some ombudsman and suggest that their marketing for the loan is a bit dangerously mis-leading.

Second, it takes ages. My application took about 2 months to get sorted, so if you are a Round 3 admit don’t delay your loan application!

Third, underwriters are toady little sh*ts! My relationship manager was quite decent and did tell me he had been shouting at the underwriters because of their anally retentive ways. I do believe he was getting massively pi$$ed off with them in the end. The loan application hasn’t always been so tortuous. A friend of mine made the same application 18 months before me and did not have to jump through as many hoops as me. This recent attention to detail by the underwriters was confirmed by the relationship manager. I guess they have to justify their job somehow!

Lastly, just to rub salt in to your wounds – my loan interest rate is 7% above base rate – currently 0.5%. I will be praying interest rates stay low. Compare this to London Business School, which has a special loan deal with HSBC with an interest rate of 2.75% above Bank of England base rate. Over the course of the loan that interest difference will mean I pay thousands of pounds more interest than a LBS student! Gutted!

/Update: the money finally made its way in to my bank account on 6th September