Natalie Bryant

In the spotlight: Natalie Bryant from Sharesies

"The in-house legal environment is going through so much change, compared to what it was like when I was starting out. I'm really thrilled that at Sharesies I'm able to ensure that innovation is really baked into our DNA and set it as a priority."

Can you tell us about your role at Sharesies, what you love about it and what it is teaching you about yourself?

My role is General Counsel at Sharesies. I lead the legal team in NZ and soon to be in Australia. I'm also part of the senior leadership team. Sharesies is a fast-growing FinTech business that has a purpose to create the most financially empowered generation. We want someone with $5 to have the same investment opportunities as someone with $500k. 

Until last year I was the sole lawyer for the business. In the past year, our business has been through incredible growth, and to keep up with this growth we've hired 2 talented wāhine into my team. We're currently looking for another #legallegend to come join us. This is so exciting and I love leading and growing the legal function.

I feel incredibly privileged to be part of the Sharesies' journey–having joined the company back in 2017 as its first employee. I love the passion and purpose of our business and the opportunity to work with such talented people. 

What I love about my role is the opportunity to grow, support, and work with such a talented legal and wider Sharesies team. 

What it is teaching me is: 

  • How important it is to enjoy the journey. Sometimes in the moment things can feel really big in terms of the mountains to climb, but having faith in yourself and surrounding yourself with great support networks and inspiring people is key. I've learned it's so crucial to have strong and supportive relationships both within the business and outside, and also to be able to ask for help and support. 
  • The importance of leadership, listening, and investing in personal and professional growth. 
  • How invested I get in something that I enjoy and believe in. 
  • I've been incredibly lucky to have had some amazing career experiences and looking back, I feel they've all set me up so well for my role with Sharesies. 

How did you go about setting up the greenfields legal function when you joined the company?

I feel it's happened both organically and also quite deliberately in terms of the things I've done.

I was the sole legal counsel for the first 3 years, in the early stages of our journey. This involved covering a raft of other areas outside of a purely legal role. In a start-up, you roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. My role covered areas from managing audits, corporate governance, some facilities management etc. It's an amazing opportunity to learn all aspects of the business and wear some different hats. Also, it's great to be taken out of your comfort zone. As we have grown so fast it's about adapting to the changing needs of the business and devolving responsibility for things – so I'm now doing less of the 'doing' but more leading and setting direction.

Some of the key things that I did were:

  • Building a network of fantastic advisers and champions for the business and this has been crucial for our success. This involved investing in relationships with our external legal advisers (Jeremy Muir from Minters and Dean Oppenhuis from Bell Gully) who were generous with their time in the early days to catch up for a coffee and invest in the future of Sharesies. 
  • When I was able to hire, I took steps to get feedback from my key stakeholders and Board on what they want and need from a legal team. This is invaluable for setting the direction and ensuring the team is tuned into the priorities of the business and our Board. Juno has been another firm that has been incredible at helping me set the direction for the legal team.
  • Facilitating our first team offsite.
  • Working with inspiring female founders of law firms and alternative legal services. To name a few: Juno; Checklist Legal; and HIVE Legal. I've worked with some amazing people in NZ and Australia on legal operations and innovation.
  • Using alternative models for legal service. Speaking to other global FinTech legal teams on what they do has also been incredible in terms of giving me ideas but also confirming that what we're doing is leading the way as well. 
  • At Sharesies we have quarterly reviews and this has been great from my perspective in terms of setting the rhythm within the team for feedback and pushing forward next initiatives. 

What is your biggest challenge and how are you tackling it?

Prioritisation. As a small team, we're often pulled in many different directions. With so much happening at Sharesies as a fast high-growth company, deciding what work to do now, what work to do later, and what work we shouldn't touch is key!

We're working on different ideas to agree on how to prioritise work with the different business teams, explaining that we can't do everything, so we need to get clear on what the businesses prioritise.

Work-life balance is also a regular challenge. When you're so passionate about your company's purpose, especially a BCorp like Sharesies with such a powerful mission, then it's easy to be so invested and go that extra mile. Lawyers are typically high achievers and it's crucial to be aware of the impact this can have on your personal life and health - so stepping back to check-in and prioritise life outside of work is key. Life and work are way more blurred since COVID-19 so realising the importance of prioritising well-being, mental health, family and friends have never been more important. 

Being supportive of my team is crucial in terms of their needs, opportunities that excite them and their development. At Sharesies we have values of 'in it together' and 'always care". This is a huge part of our DNA as a business. 

Innovation is baked into the DNA of Sharesies – how does this impact the way the in-house legal team operates?

We are definitely inspired by the awesome Sharesies team to try new things with tech and innovative practices.

We also get access to some great tech that allows us to test out new ways of working.

We're trialing some new matter management practices based around systems the team already uses. We think this is important to go to where our clients already are and work with systems they're familiar with. 

The Sharesies team is also very open to collaborating with us as we trial new processes, which brings better ideas and outcomes. 

For example, we recently co-designed a new document automation for collecting consent to use personal information for our promotional purposes. As we worked through the feedback process, the events team came up with a great feature request to have the participant attach an image of themselves. This helps the team identify who has given a consent letter when footage is reviewed.

Our team understood the capabilities of the technology we were using and knew we could make the request happen. The clients really take ownership of the automation and as we're building it with them, we get the opportunity to explain other issues, such as privacy and data security, in a meaningful, practical way.

Looking forward, how do you see the role of the in-house lawyer evolving over the next five-ten years?

If the robots haven't taken over, millennials will be the main generation working in-house in ten years. With the increasing tech skills required, the role of the 2030 lawyer is likely to look and feel very different than today. I see new law grads coming through and they are just so inspiring in terms of the different skills that they bring.  As well as being obviously technically good as a lawyer, they are very tech-savy. They could be coders, film-makers, designers and it's all part of their DNA. They are super inspiring and fun to be around.

We expect more technology to bring new regulations, especially in our business. We will see advice delivered in different ways, with more and more video advice and self-help for basic issues. And I see some areas remaining the same: we will continue to offer risk based advice; a deep knowledge of businesses; and being able to see around corners. 

It's going to be super exciting. The in-house legal environment is going through so much change, compared to what it was like when I was starting out. I'm really thrilled that at Sharesies I'm able to ensure that innovation is really baked into our DNA and set it as a priority.