Dear Board, don’t engage me to undertake your outsource compliance requirements until you have read this!

Compliance monkeyGuernsey has an amazing regulatory framework which has become quite a selling point with financial service businesses offering their products and services and those financial service businesses wanting to come and have operations here. Some will utilise outsource compliance professionals to assist them with the cost of set up, on-going costs,  ensuring their business can have knowledgeable and professional persons on-board while it establishes and grows its presence and offerings. Even established firms may need extra compliance support in their business to be able to ensure that they can at all times remain compliant with the Guernsey regulatory framework or ensure that remediation is appropriate and effective.

In the last year the use of outsource compliance professionals has come to the forefront of the regulatory radar, instances of their failure having been identified as contributing to businesses failing to adhere to the regulatory framework. There have been numerous communications from the Commission to the industry on the issues surrounding the requirements for utilising an outsourced compliance professional and failures where this has not been met, showing that the Commission are treating this seriously.

At the end of the day the responsibility for compliance to the regulatory framework is laid firmly at the feet of the Board and they are the first point of call when failings or regulatory deficiencies are identified by the Commission. The need to ensure a Licensee is meeting the regulatory requirements forms at the most basic level with the minimum criteria of licensing as well as being mentioned throughout the regulations, codes instructions, and guidance issued by the Commission.

So what needs to be considered by Boards? Here are some questions to be asked but at all times refer to the legislation regulations, rules,instruction and codes that pertain to your business and licence.

Prior to any engagement consider these points.

You wouldn’t employ anyone to undertake the role in a full-time capacity so why would you chose anyone to do your outsource function?

Prior to any engagement do your due diligence on the outsource company/ person, the person who will be your appointed compliance representative and the people who will be doing the work. At the very minimum the person who will be undertaking the work needs to be suitably qualified and knowledgeable of the area your business operates in and the regulatory rules that pertain to your licence.  You will need to ensure that you can evidence that they have been appropriately screened as you will be expected to have been as diligent with your provider as with your own staff!

You wouldn’t employ anyone who doesn’t have the time for your business?

Prior to any engagement you need to work out how much time will be required. This will change from the role that compliance professional will undertake, as an example an outsourced MLRO will have different time requirements to a compliance professional assisting with licensing.

When you actually look at it, if you have a compliance professional for two hours a week it would take them eighteen weeks to achieve one thirty-six hour working week in your business! Obviously cost is a major factor in this assessment and knowledge and experience never come cheap. The time any compliance professional spends on your business must be commensurate to the size, complexity and nature of your business and the role undertaken.

You need to be aware that a compliance professional will also be working for other firms, there is obviously a risk regarding resources. If their clients require more time or the outsource provider or person undertaking the role has issues with resources will you be affected? You need to ensure that there are controls in place or a plan B to mitigate these risk.

You wouldn’t have any old agreement?

You need to ensure that the outsource agreement meets the requirement of the Guernsey regulatory framework and is legally binding. The Board cannot discharge its responsibilities only delegate the work, it is often a good idea to have a Guernsey Advocate firm look over any agreement, especially if the Board are not familiar with Guernsey Law or this area.

During any engagement consider these points.

You wouldn’t want to be assessed by any old criteria, what criteria is the business or business area being assessed to?

Again this depends on the role you are utilising the outsourced compliance professional for, but you need to know how they are monitoring you and to what standard.  The Board must make sure that it can evidence and satisfy itself and the Commission that the Guernsey regulatory framework requirements have been met.

You wouldn’t want any report, do the reports provided give the full picture of the work being undertaken?

The reports that are provided to the Board must be meaningful and contain accurate management information. This allow the Board to see the whole picture of their business or the area that the outsourced provided has been contracted to service and assess the level of compliance to the regulatory framework. If areas or remediation work have been identified are the Board kept appropriately up to date?

You wouldn’t want to keep on anyone who isn’t performing, is the outsource provider performing to the required standards?

Throughout any engagement the Board must consistently monitor and evidence its monitoring of the outsource provider and/or those undertaking the work for the Licensee. Is the Board satisfied with the work undertaken, is the monitoring of the business meeting the requirements of the Guernsey regulatory framework, has the business changed in its complexity, nature or size and is the person doing the role still suitable?

The most important aspect to any outsource relationship is that you have the right person/firm, they add something to your business, provide you with the accurate management information, they get on with you and are honest to you regarding their business and yours. By hopefully considering and evidencing these requirements a Board will be able to show that they have acted to ensure that their business meets the requirements of the Guernsey regulatory framework. In the unfortunate case where things have not worked out the Board will be able to evidence that they were aware of the issues at the earliest opportunity and have acted to mitigate any non-compliance and remediate the situation.

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F1- Team Guernsey

Singapore F1The excitement of the Singapore Grand Prix has only be heightened by the restriction on what information can be passed to the Drivers. This addition to the regulations has come about as a result of what the fans and the controllers of Formula 1 believe is the driving of the car from the pit wall rather than the Driver actually driving and racing. To me, though the cars are complex, it is the Drivers who have the best perspective and the feel of what is going on around them in order to make the winning or best decisions, as we saw with Hamilton in Monza, who then capitalised on the situation and went on to win the race.

I don’t think it can be questioned that Guernsey is racing in the Formula 1 of Financial Centres globally, or that it has developed a high standard of regulation to be adhered to, while flexible enough to allow businesses to develop and have an advantage over other competing jurisdictions. One of the concerns that I am spoken to about and have previously posted on is whether the Directors and Partners of our Financial Service Businesses are becoming controlled by Compliance Officers and departments, and that essential business decisions are being curtailed and taken out of the hands of these Drivers.

The Board or Partners of a business must work to achieve the aims and objectives that have been set down. To do this they must obtain suitable and sufficient management information to assess whether opportunities are able to be taken. This information does not just come from the compliance department or officer but from a whole host of potential reports from committees and operational units.  They are listening, analysing and digesting all this information in much the same way that a racing driver pre-race will do with his team.  The strategies will be discussed and engineers and technicians will provide reams of information to allow the drivers to realise their strengths and weaknesses and those of the opposition. Drivers must also be aware of the regulations and where the track limits are and what is acceptable and what will be punished and penalised.

It then comes down to the race. Though the reports from the data sources are important to the team and must be continually analysed to ensure that the engines and electrical systems are performing as well as identifying and managing potential issues as they happen. The most important feedback though comes from the Drivers, who feel the track, the car and can see the tyres and the degradation, while eyeing the competition, corners and hazards.  The Directors and Partners are the drivers seeing through their visors the race as it develops, more than a compliance officer, the operational staff and support services, who remain in the pits or the pit wall, working hard behind the scenes and preparing for any eventuality that may occur and ensuring the strategy remains on track. This is why there is a need to have effective management information that is relevant, short and succinct for the Drivers who are racing.

At the end of the day it is up for the drivers to decide how to use the information they receive, some will push too hard and end up in the barriers, blow their engines or destroy their tyres. Blowing the engine or planting yourself into a barrier ensures that the race is over and for a financial service business it potentially means a total rebuild of the business, legal expenses and a loss of reputation. If the Directors or Partners act recklessly or with a cavalier attitude why would an investor or customer place their money or assets with the business? Destroying your tyres means that the driver can continue the race but they will be slower and need to pit stop more, allowing the competitors to seize the advantage, potentially the sponsors as well if the poor performance continues.  We have already seen this year in F1 how sponsors and investors have left or sold their holdings as well as the threats of doing so due to legal proceedings relating to the sport.

By over controlling the drivers or providing them with excessive information or information that is not succinct there are two possible outcomes.

  • The Driver cannot race effectively and take advantage of the opportunities as they arise with the potential of not seeing the hazards ahead or;
  • The Driver does not understand the severity of what they are being told or chooses to ignore the information, acting recklessly they or the team are penalised.

For the Directors and Partners this has the potential of substandard performance to potential legal and regulatory action against them and the business.

2014 SingaporeAs Sterling Moss said before the 2014 Singapore Grand Prix “to win the race you must be the first home”, and to do this the Drivers must have the freedom to race while also respecting the information that they are receiving. For any Director or Partner to have the right information delivered at the right time will assist them in driving the race to their full potential and to bring the race home, while minimising regulatory and legal exceptions or issues that may inhibit them being the first home. Drivers need to have the trust in their teams to continually advance the car to the changing regulations.  The team must provide the Driver with appropriate and effective information so that they can run to the regulations.

The trust developed between the compliance function as well as the other functions of the Business with the Directors and Partners is essential and will assist in the development of the business and the achieving of the Businesses aims and objectives in and effective and efficient manner. Undoubtedly in any season there will be set backs, but for any Driver to have trust and respect of their team reciprocated means that these setbacks can be overcome, potentially without detriment to their championship hopes. Most importantly this cohesiveness will allow the team to focus on the future, perfecting their car to ensure that they remain competitive providing the best outcome for their sponsors and greatest potential to win points and achieve the rewards, Team Guernsey must aspire to this.  Failure to let the Driver race can lose you the race or race advantage the same as the Driver not accurately analysing the right information provided succinctly to manage the car.

Don’t change for the sake of change!

It has been an interesting few weeks with lots of nervous Directors concerned with their compliance functions and wondering what to do in light of the recent Commission’s findings and fines that have been publically issued. What must be remembered is that the Directors are responsible for the compliance function and framework (Chapter 2 of the Commission’s Handbook’s) of their business and not the consultants they may employ.  So what needs to be done?

Don’t Panic! There really is little point in panicking and it will only tend to make things worse. Panicking only creates more fears, which may not be justified in some cases, fear then leads to aggression and that only leads to breakdown in communication. The key in gaining an understanding of what has happened and where your business may sit in the regulatory framework will be down to communication with your compliance provider.

Review your compliance framework. Are you satisfied that you have all the evidence to support the previous findings of your compliance function provided by your consultants? Does their review go far enough and look at all the areas of the regulation that pertains to your business? Are they evidencing their findings suitably to back up their conclusions? At the end of the day your compliance framework is your responsibility and you need to evidence that you are satisfied with it, those that undertake the review role and that you have oversight to control it.

I have previously had licensees who would sit down with me during the year and go through my monitoring programme and how they correlated to the reports I was providing them. The positive was that it gave them comfort and evidenced to the Commission that they had true oversight and control of their compliance framework.

Communicate clearly and calmly. This is important, the oversight review you have done will provide you with questions that you need to have satisfied.  In light of the recent Commission actions and public statement released, you will also need to know the facts of what happened and why it happened as you need to assess if you could find yourself in the same situation of being incorrectly reported to on the regulatory requirements.

Even if your provider was not concerned in the recent Commission’s action you need to ensure that they would not put your business in jeopardy. It is important that from your review you can put any queries or concerns across in a calm manner. Your consultants may be defensive but the discussion needs to be open and honest so you can establish the facts. It is vital that your consultants and/or their management have the ability to constructively deal and satisfy any questions or concerns you may have.

Potential areas to discuss and obtain evidence on. Are you satisfied with the work that has been and continues being undertaken? Do you need to increase the time that the consultants provide to your business? Is the compliance monitoring utilised to assess your business suitable? Do the reports provided to you evidence the review that has been undertaken and do they cover the requirements of the regulatory framework? Are you getting the service that you require and want, remember you are the customer here!

Are the consultants suitably qualified or knowledgeable in the areas pertaining to your business, and have you got the evidence? It is always best to assume that you need enough information to satisfy yourself as you would for any of your employees. Your compliance consultants will be able to provide you with evidence of the consultant’s qualifications and suitability.  I was always more than happy to provide my certificates to licensees as I am very proud of what I have achieved!

Review, assess, conclude and evidence. Once you have the responses to your queries and concerns, you will be in a situation where you can review and assess where your current framework is and where it is going. You may be satisfied that everything is suitable or your compliance consultants are making changes to bring their game up for you and are able to service your requirements appropriately going forward. You may find that it’s time to bring your compliance function in-house wholly or partially, or if you remain unsatisfied you have the option to move to another provider, but do your due diligence.

What is vitally important in your conclusion is that you evidence all of the findings. The Commission will be asking you the questions about your compliance framework, how you monitor and mitigate the risks and are able to ensure oversight. You will be held accountable by the Commission so you need to have the answers and evidence. It’s just good Corporate Governance at the end of the day.

I was approached earlier this week by a Licensee who had just been visited by the Commission. The Commission was impressed that AML/CTF was discussed and documented at their meetings and how this evidenced the oversight and responsibility the Licensee took. One happy Licensee always means one happy Compliance monkey. This shows the power of good minutes and how the Commission view the importance of them in the evidencing of the oversight of the compliance function taken by Licensees.

At the end of the day you do not want to be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. People make mistakes it is whether they can learn from them.  Whatever conclusion you come to will allow you to make the best decision for your business, just make sure that it is clearly evidenced. Don’t change just for change sake!

Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

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One of the great things about compliance is that you get to assist licensees in creating and maintaining a suitable compliance framework. It is not just about meeting the regulatory requirements, part of the role is to also make a compliance framework that is suitable to also achieve the aims and objectives of the licensee’s business. I have worked as a compliance consultant, compliance officer and MLRO in the Regulated, Prescribed and Registered sectors of our financial services industry and each Licensee I worked for or provided advice to, was unique in its aims and objectives as were their products and services. For a Licensee to be successful in their business, aims and objectives as well as adherence to regulatory requirements, make up a bespoke compliance solution.

We are in an ever-changing business and regulatory climate, it’s not just the rules and the regulations that are changing but the approach the Commission takes in its supervision to Licensees. This leads to a real business problem for Directors in ensuring that their business meets the requirements and expectations of the Commission as well having to meet its own business aims and objectives. Compliance professionals can assist Licensees through their greater exposure to changes in industry practice and their exposure to the Commission and an understanding of the current supervision expectations. It’s really a no brainer having a compliance professional on tap and this will take away the worry of ensuring you are meeting the regulatory requirements and expectations while having a compliance framework that meets the aims and objectives of your business, or is it?

Having worked in many sectors of our financial services industry undertaking various roles to do with regulatory compliance and anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism does not mean that I am the font of all practical or theoretical knowledge in this area to be paid homage to and worshipped, I can assure you all I am not always right! Like everyone I am strong in some areas, adequate in others, and weak in a few (well maybe one or two). I always ensure that anything I undertake is something I can do well, and I believe it is refreshing to Directors when I turn round and tell them that what they are asking is out of my remit and refer them to compliance professional’s or experts who is more suitable. It is what compliance professionals and experts are there to provide isn’t it?

For compliance professionals contracts are their bread and butter.  This can lead them to grab everything that comes their way, with potentially their financial security coming at the expense of the quality of service and relations with a Licensee.  There is also the potential to obtain contracts for the financial security of the compliance professional rather than the financial best interest of the Licensee, leading to conflicts of interests.  I have previously advised Licensees to keep projects in-house due to the cost involved and more importantly that they were actually best placed to do the work themselves. It was great to be contacted later to be advised by the Licensee that they had decided that they were actually best placed to do the work and offered me a smaller contract which they did not have the expertise to undertake on their own.  Honesty means that Licensees will come back to you and also recommend your services, trust is a currency of the highest value.

Part of any compliance professional’s work is in writing and producing compliance documents and programmes to facilitate the Licensee’s compliance framework. It is all too easy for Licensees, who do not have the necessary compliance expertise in this area to unknowingly engage and pay for an all singing all dancing document that meets the regulatory requirements and some more, but won’t easily facilitate the achievement of the businesses aims and objectives. I once assisted a Licensee on review of the suitability of their compliance procedures that had been previously provided by a compliance professional. Their manual was at a very high level having a multitude of committees and quangos written into their procedures that would not be out-of-place in a global financial institution but totally unworkable for a firm that employed less than ten people locally and had a Board of six directors (inclusive of two employees). Though this document showed the theoretical prowess of the previous consultant, the manual was unworkable for the Licensee’s business and showed a lack of understanding of the regulatory framework. The Licensee had abandoned trying to follow the draconian requirements of this manual and had instead reverted to good industry practice, leading to the corporate governance headache of not following their own procedures. In this case the Licensee ended up paying twice to ensure that they had a suitable compliance procedures for their business.

Unfortunately there are compliance professionals out there who take on business they can’t service or do not have the expertise to manage effectively and/or facilitate adequately. There are compliance professionals who gold plate policies and procedures to impress their knowledge on the Licensee and obviously fail by not tailoring the policies and procedures to the business, leading to further costs being incurred by the Licensee. Unfortunately some compliance professionals negatively portray the Commission as a Vlad the Impaler archetype to scare Licensees into taking on unnecessary work due to potential misunderstanding of the rules or regulations or work the licensee would be best place to undertake themselves.

What can a Licensee do to minimise getting something that they do not require and ensure that they get the service they have paid for? It is all about doing your due diligence and I believe that the following points will be able to help a licensee.

  • Understand what knowledge and qualifications a compliance professional has.  They should be able to provide qualifications and a resume.
  • Get references or speak to previous customers of the compliance professional to get a feel of the suitability of the compliance consultant. The benefits of Guernsey is that it is quite easy to find out about people.
  • Talk to the compliance professional get a feel of their experience and knowledge, are they just about enhancing themselves, are they financially independent and are they interested in actually providing something that will enhance your business.
  • Is the compliance professional informing you as to potential or actual the regulatory issues or are they about scaring you into using their service.
  • Has the compliance professional got the capability and capacity? If it’s a firm is the actual person that will be undertaking work for you qualified, suitable and have the time?
  • Shop around with other compliance professional’s to see what they have to say about the work you need to be undertaken.

At the end of the day it is the Licensee and its Directors who are responsible for the suitability of their compliance framework and adherence to it, the Commission will hold them accountable for any failings regardless of who undertook the work. A compliance professional can be part of the problem if you do not do your due diligence on them or understand the needs of your business but, if you have done your research and you are aware of the requirements that you need to meet, they can definitely be part of the solution in achieving a suitable and sufficient compliance framework that meets the regulatory obligations, expectations and the business aims and objectives of the Licensee.

The Compliance Conundrum

A topic of conversation that often comes up is about “how compliance has become a monster”, sapping the dynamism of a business while slowly choking the new business streams by making the business over compliant. Has the compliance function gone too far and are they now holding Boards and Directors to a compliance and regulatory ransom leading to a loss in commerciality of the Guernsey Finance Sector?

Directors constantly berate me about having board packs that have compliance reports running to some 40 pages or more, how they spend more resources on compliance matters then on the direction of the business and that the compliance function does not assist them in achieving their business objectives. To my mind there is a balance that needs redressing in order that businesses can achieve high standards of compliance, while also achieving the businesses purpose and providing products and services to their clients that are competitive in cost with other jurisdictions.

The relationship between the Board and the compliance function must be one that is symbiotic, both assisting and nurturing one another. The compliance function must undertake suitable and sufficient monitoring of its business and report its findings effectively and efficiently to the Board. This is normally done by either an exception report or in a traditional report style over 40 pages and both have their own benefits and problems.

While using an exception reporting format this allows for immediate notifications of compliance and regulatory issues to the Board. The exception report though can fail to provide the assurance to the Board that the compliance function is suitable or sufficient due to its lack of content and oversight of the business.

The traditional compliance report of 40 pages or more will ensure that the Board can assess the suitability of its monitoring programme and compliance function. The problem with the traditional Compliance report is that its size may lead to regulatory or compliance issues being lost in the pages of the document. I am also aware that in some cases the traditional report format provided so much content but actually lacked the substance required to be provided to the Board in assessing the compliance status and function, a failing for the compliance function and a regulatory failing for the Board.

The compliance function must ensure that it has a suitable and sufficient Compliance Monitoring Programme and the Board must review this document annually to ensure that they are satisfied that it meets the Business and the regulatory requirements for the risks of the business being undertaken. The Compliance Monitoring Programme is the working paper of the compliance function, it shows the testing and findings of the compliance function and allows for suitable and informative compliance reports to be generated for the Board. The compliance report’s to the Board need to be a hybrid version of the traditional report and the exception report becoming more a précis of the Compliance Monitoring Programme, allowing the Board to see the matters of concern while also being assured of the compliance status of the Business.

The compliance function is the adviser to the Board in respect of the regulatory framework, providing advice and solutions to the Board in order that they can achieve the chosen business direction. This is where the business can become choked and the dynamism and competitiveness lost due to the gold plating of a business’s policies and procedures. The compliance function must always remember that it is the Board who decide the level of risk that they are satisfied to work with and that the compliance function is there to mitigate the risk by insuring that suitable and sufficient policies are in place. The compliance function must assess the regulatory requirements applicable to the business being undertaken and ensure that the Business is meeting these minimum requirements. The compliance function must never seek to direct the Board or the Business but to inform the Board what is required and expected of them in respect of the risks that the Board have deemed as acceptable.

I do believe that in some cases the compliance function has gone too far and seeks to control the business due to their own personal views or prejudices. It must always be remembered by all stakeholders in the finance industry in Guernsey that without the business there is no compliance function and without a compliance function there can be no business. It is vital that the compliance function is able to provide the required regulatory information to the Board in a succinct and effective manner in order that the Board can discharge their regulatory duties effectively and efficiently.

It is important that the compliance function provide the Board with first class regulatory advice that is free from their own personal prejudices. This is required in order that the Board can ascertain what the minimum regulatory requirements are and how best they can meet these requirements and make business decisions that will not endanger the Business or its clients. The Board must assess on an annual basis the suitability of its compliance function, if it is not providing the Board with the required information or are making the business lack commerciality by over compliance of the policies and procedures the Board must address these matters as they are ultimately responsible for the compliance function and its suitability and effectiveness.