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Aysha Fernandes - Commercial Finance Director at UK Finance

Alumni spotlight

Aysha Fernandes

Commercial Finance Director at UK Finance

After fifteen years in our competition practice, Aysha Fernandes has fulfilled in-house legal roles at Waitrose, HSBC and UK Finance, where she was recently appointed Commercial Finance Director – her first non-legal role. A qualified yoga instructor and avid runner, she is also Co-Chair of newly launched Eversheds Sutherland Alumni Network.

Aysha explains what prompted her move in-house and why her affinity with the firm remains stronger than ever.

You joined Eversheds (legacy) in 2003 as a trainee. What are your memories from those early days?

I remember the first three months vividly because I hated it (laughs). I grew up in a seaside town. Although I spent my university holidays working as a secretary in high street firms, living and working in the City was a huge adjustment. Worthing is only 60 miles from London but a million miles from the City.

You ended up staying for fifteen years. What changed?

I made friends and got used to the tube. Then I had my three-month review and got great feedback and that was the turning point. It’s hugely motivating to know you’re good at something and also trusted and valued. From that moment I could see a future at the firm.

When you train at a firm, you know everyone: from the CEO to lawyers in all offices, to the operations staff. They all make Eversheds Sutherland the firm it is... I still feel a sense of belonging.

Whom do you most remember from your time here and why?

When you train at a firm, you know everyone: from the CEO to lawyers in all offices, to the operations staff. They all make Eversheds Sutherland the firm it is. I miss many of them and when I visit One Wood Street, I love bumping into familiar faces. I still feel a sense of belonging. 

I could pick many examples of who has influenced my career. I particularly loved working with and learnt so much from competition partners Adam Collinson and Stephen Rose.

Adam had high standards and wasn’t easy to please, but he showed faith in me on a huge investigation and allowed me a senior and highly visible role. I grew in confidence and ability whilst working with him; I also learnt that I thrive when outside my comfort zone!

With Stephen I admired his calmness, positivity and the sense we could always find a solution for the client, combined with a rigorous and methodical approach.    

Paula Barrett is also a fantastic role model. We once travelled on a whistle-stop business trip of the US, and I'm pleased we work together more often now than when I was at Eversheds. Paula is a star data privacy lawyer and always in demand, yet she’s so humble, supportive of junior lawyers and genuinely nice.

Two years after being promoted to Legal Director, you moved in-house. Why did you leave?

I really enjoyed being Legal Director. It gave me seniority and recognition whilst allowing me to follow my passions like training as a yoga teacher. But I wanted progression and was ready for a change. I’d worked with some fantastic in-house lawyers, who were more than just advisors. They were core to the business as strategic decision makers. I was attracted by that and wanted to lead my own team. 

How did you adapt to the transition?

My time at Eversheds gave me a solid grounding for life in-house. I had longstanding clients who regarded me as an extension of their in-house function. I also had broad commercial experience across several sectors.

In my experience, what’s different in-house is the pace and variety of work, which I love. 

I joined UK Finance as Interim General Counsel where I advised on a range of business and policy areas, from commercial finance and payments to economic crime; on all areas of law from competition to GDPR to niche areas, as well as governance and risk management. I also worked extensively with member lawyers and external firms, chaired several working groups and engaged with government and regulators.

Lockdown has been a fascinating time to be at UK Finance. We have led the industry response and been heavily involved in many measures to help customers, from payment holidays to UK Government loan schemes. I’ve just started a new role a role as Commercial Finance Director, doing policy and project work across all types of commercial finance, with a particular focus on regulation and standards. I look forward to continuing to support the industry response during these difficult and uncertain times.

How do you envisage the future of work evolving?

I hope we can retain the flexibility of remote working lockdown has imposed. We’ve proven it can work. My team and I work efficiently and keep in contact with daily Zoom calls. But there are benefits to being in the office: I miss having my ear to the ground about what’s happening in the organisation, observing my team, leading by example and learning from others. I hope we can get to a best-of-both-worlds, where we spend some time in the office but work remotely more often and put commuting time to better use.

I was pleased to hear about the relaunch of the Alumni Network because there’s a connection that comes from a shared experience. It’s a way for alumni to renew friendships and reach out to trusted and knowledgeable contacts for informal support.

What motivated you to be co-chair of our Alumni Network?

I was delighted when Ian Gray, Executive Partner, invited me to co-chair with him. The demands of life in-house can make it harder to maintain a network. Many of my valued relationships at the firm and with fellow alumni have drifted into mere LinkedIn connections. So I was pleased to hear about the relaunch of the Alumni Network because there’s a connection that comes from a shared experience. It’s a way for alumni to renew friendships and reach out to trusted and knowledgeable contacts for informal support. I’m excited to share my ideas in bringing this community closer together.

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