Reggie Nelson is not your typical financial services professional. Yes, he attended university and has a degree in economics, but for the east Londoner, the usual traits required for entry into the City end there.
Nelson was born and raised on a council estate. He did not attend private school, did not go to one of the UK’s top universities and does not have a particularly stellar academic record.
The 23-year-old is also black and, in an industry where more than 99% of his fellow workers are not, that sets Nelson apart.
When we meet at the offices of Legal & General Investment Management, one of the UK’s biggest fund managers where Nelson works as an analyst, he appears completely at ease with his surroundings.
It is hard to imagine his trajectory to this point required such an extraordinary effort, but the truth is his arrival at the City money manager would not have been possible had Nelson not taken a brave and unorthodox step five years earlier.
When he was just 17 Nelson says he felt his life was at a crossroads. His dad, who was an alcoholic, had recently died of liver failure and Nelson had become disenchanted with the path he was on. Up until that point he thought football would be his route out of the Canning Town housing estate where he grew up — he had been signed by Woking FC as an apprentice at the age of 16 — but the death of his father convinced him he needed to pursue something more stable to try to secure a better life for his mum, his sister and himself.
“I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone,” he says. “Do something those around me weren’t doing; something different.”
That something was going door to door in the wealthiest suburb of the UK capital and asking those who answered how they had made money and how they could afford to live there. On a Saturday morning in March 2014, after googling “richest area in London”, Nelson took the Tube to Kensington and spent the day knocking on doors, armed with only a smile and a pre-prepared speech.
To anyone who answered, he said: “I just wanted to know what skills and qualities you had that allowed you to live in a wealthy area like this so I can extrapolate that and use it for myself.”
He laughs at that now. “I would never do anything like that now as I have the right people around me to guide and advise me,” he says. “But back then I didn’t know what to do. I felt stuck, lost.”
Some slammed the door in his face, most did not answer and others politely said they were unable to help. But after knocking on 15 doors and stopping people in the street Nelson arrived at the white stucco home of Quintin Price, then an influential fund manager at BlackRock, the world’s largest investment company.
“Quintin was parking the car somewhere and so Elizabeth [his wife] answered the buzzer,” he says. “They had a camera and could see who it was before they opened, and she said: ‘Hi, can I help you?’
“I gave her my speech and she asked if it was a school project. I said no. At that point she opened the door, invited me in and started asking what I was studying, what I do. I told her I was on a football contract but that I didn’t want to play any more, and at that point Quintin walks in and explains to me what he does. I remember it very well; what I was wearing, what was said. It was a life-changing moment.”
That conversation was to alter the course of Nelson’s life. Price arranged for him to attend a training day for undergraduates at BlackRock’s headquarters in London three months later. He was the youngest there. “I was like a sponge on that day,” Nelson recalls.
“I was going to do whatever Quintin did. Firstly, what he told me about his job at that initial meeting sounded interesting and, second, I was in awe of his house and everything in it. My mentality was: ‘If this guy can teach me what he did then hopefully I can imitate that and have a better life for my family,’” he says.
Nelson was invited back that summer to complete a week-long work experience programme at the asset manager. At the end of that week Price sat down with Nelson and his mum and encouraged the 17-year-old to go to university. He became his mentor.
“I said to him: ‘OK but what do I study?’,” says Nelson. “He advised me to do something finance-related. At that point I wasn’t going to go to university and so I had to call random universities and say: ‘Look, do you have anything finance-related?’ Kingston University eventually got back to me and offered me a place.”
Nelson graduated in 2017 with a 2:1 in economics and Mandarin. He went on to do a couple more stints at BlackRock, but the fund manager did not offer him a full-time graduate position (“Everything happens for a reason,” says Nelson). After a short posting at Funding Circle, a peer-to-peer lender, Nelson arrived at LGIM. He is the only black person on his floor but says he enjoys working at the company very much. “It was a long journey to get here but I was very happy to sign on the dotted line,” Nelson says.
Nelson has since become a mentor to other young people wanting to get into finance. He has met UK Prime Minister Theresa May, spoken at a host of events on improving diversity and social mobility within the City, and has had his story told on the BBC and ITV’s This Morning.
His life has changed dramatically, but what about his relationship with Price, who has since left BlackRock. Has that endured?
“We are in constant contact,” Nelson says. “Quintin never helped me financially. He said from day one that he wanted me to do it all myself and I totally agree with that.
“He is someone I go to for advice. We meet up for lunch, dinner, I go to his house and speak to him often. He has become a father figure to me.”
Reggie Nelson CV
2017: BSc, economics with Mandarin, Kingston University
2018 to present: Graduate analyst, Legal & General Investment Management
2017-18: Account manager, Funding Circle
2016: Summer analyst, BlackRock
2014-16: Various internships and placements: Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Aberdeen Standard Investments, Armstrong Investment Managers, BlackRock, Bank of England
2014-15: Projects assistant, Kingston University London
2012-14: Footballer, Woking Football Club
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