Surviving your legal articles – A Q&A with our head of Private Banking SA, Cumesh Moodliar

Career | Professional Insights

Challenging degrees, demanding articles and high-pressure careers. Investec professionals share their insights into how they managed to ‘pay their dues’, and not only survive, but thrive.

Survival
noun
The state or fact of continuing to live or exist,
typically in spite of difficult circumstances.

Cumesh Moodliar is currently the Head of Private Banking SA. He holds a BA, LLB, LLM (Tax) and completed a Program for Leadership Development (PLD) at Harvard Business School in 2015, and the Archbishop Tutu Fellowship in 2016.

He started his career at Goldberg & De Villiers, an established Eastern Cape-based law firm, where he headed up the commercial law department. At Investec, he was head of the Eastern Cape branch for Private Banking from 2012 to 2016 before moving into his current role.

What influenced your decision to study law?

The motivating factor was… I wasn’t accepted into medicine! Seriously though, my sister and uncle both worked in law and that was a contributing factor. I also wanted a career where I could add value and assist other people. It gives you a broader purpose than just earning a living. I wanted to make a difference.

What were the pros and cons to work for corporate vs a firm?

I actually wanted to get practical experience in a law firm. With my LLB I had great theory, but no practical insight yet. My two years of articles gave me the best grounding, even for the work that I do today.

You quickly learn how the legal system works. We went to the Magistrates Court and we realised that the clerk of the court could make or break your life. If you didn’t have their cooperation, they would not go out of their way to help you. If you took the time to build a relationship with them, respected them and they respected you, it was a different story. A level of arrogance because you have a qualification will not get you very far.

Was it challenging to work and study at the same time?

It was hard. At that time, we didn’t get much study leave for the Bar exam. So, you really had to make time and be disciplined to study at night and over weekends. Over time, this changed and now more study leave is given – which helps a lot!

How did you structure your time?

You have to realise it is for a limited time. If you want to complete your articles in the two-year period, you have to set your timelines. It means making sacrifices.

We were told the candidate attorneys were the ones switching on the lights in the morning and switching them off at night. That has changed over time, but you have to put in extra hours if you want to build a career. Your days are definitely not normal office hours.

People are working more remotely, but being present in the office and getting exposure to the people and culture is essential.

What is the one thing that you wish you knew before you started articles (that nobody told you)

Attention to detail is not negotiable. At the outset, take the time to read the instruction, understand what is being asked of you, clarify everything and know the timelines involved. In law, for example, you have regulated time periods. You have to file notices in certain times and there are very real consequences if you don’t.

Then, understanding the balance of power. It’s not with the senior partner, it’s with their PA. You need to get them on your side, they are the gatekeepers.

You also realise that there are no stupid questions.

Why did you transition from commercial law to banking?

I enjoyed my role and the people I worked with, but after practicing law for 18 years and managing the law firm for six years, I started to contemplate a venture into the broader commercial world.

Investec was a client of the law firm and I got to know the team there as well as some of the clients. I was always intrigued by Investec’s entrepreneurial spirit and, as a client, I was impressed by the sense of ownership shown by the bankers I engaged with.

In discussions with one of the Investec team, I became aware of an opportunity within the Private Bank and that was the start of my Investec journey.

What were the financial lessons you learnt?

In a lot of professions, there will be times were you feel peer pressure to drive the right car, dress well, and have a decent address. People often focus on the perception of what success should be. If you work on building perception not on your balance sheet, you are not focusing on your actual financial wellness.

If you focus on the perception of what success should be, you don’t focus on your actual financial wellness.

The lesson is to pay attention on savings, building investments etc much earlier in your career. You often don’t get exposure to the right financial advice as a young professional. Get the basics right and get the right financial planning advice.

For example, take the time to scrutinise your interest rates, monthly fees and expenses. If you are getting the new car at prime plus 7%, you should be saying ‘thanks, I don’t need this car right now’.

What advice would you give your 25 year-old self now?

Quite a few things. Invest. Invest. Invest. You think you’ll start later, but the earlier, the better. Part of that means walking away from instant gratification.

And then, invest in yourself. Part of that is and work/life balance. If you focus on building a career too much, you are paying a price elsewhere. Find hobbies or interests you are passionate about outside of work and pursue these.

Look at your ‘bigger picture’ life and what you want, especially from a life partner. I think people often stumble into relationships, so make sure you look for a life partnership you really want and deserve.

You run so fast and life happens. Take the time to pause and reflect more.

What drives and motivates you?

In all honesty, what gets me up in the morning is people. And then, energy for Investec Private Banking right now. I believe that the banking industry is in a very challenging and exciting time and the level of disruption is high. Investec will always stay true to our DNA, but we also need to evolve into something that will look quite different in 10 years’ time. That’s the exciting part and it motivates me.

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