Red tape officers must allow banks to take risks: There's no business without it

There's no business without risk-taking (Source: Flickr)
It's clear there is still a major gap in understanding how growth can be maintained and stimulated by effective risk management, rather than restricted by focusing purely on compliance control as this recent report on soaring pay for so-called red tape officers shows.
Some still blame excessive regulation for a stalling in financial firms’ productivity, but in reality there has been no lack of productivity in the trading arms of most of the world's investment banks whether you look before, during or post the financial crisis.
Witness the multi-billion dollar fines levied by regulators on both sides of the Atlantic relating to FX alone: they have hardly dented cash-flow, but the reputational harm is still being felt.
All the big banks have been hiring armies of compliance officers - yet the financial services are still getting slammed for wrong-doing.
This points to two conclusions: either firms have simply hired risk and compliance officers who just weren’t up to the job, or senior management right up to executive board director level weren’t taking these officers’ advice seriously or providing strong leadership in controlled risk management from top down when it came to front office deal-doing.
We believe the answer is a combination of the two.
For regulatory compliance to work, firms need officers who don’t just know the rules but know how to focus on work habits with the backing of senior business leaders, so banks and insurers can still make money and provide honest services out of what makes them tick - risking their capital. After all, there's no business without risk-taking.
But the supply of that level of front-office understanding and experience for compliance officers is thin, driving up pay amid rising demand.
Compliance challenges, meanwhile, are not going away - this isn't just the fall-out from the credit crunch. We are dealing first with the clean-up 15 years ago from the dot.comcrash via Sarbanes Oxley and Dodd Frank.
But now firms have to deal with all the "know-your-client and know-your-client's-client" enabling legislation that started in earnest after 9/11, such as the Patriot Act in the US and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in the UK.
Enforcement is also being ratcheted up in our post-Isis terrorist finance world, coupled with all the cross-border anti-money laundering, anti-corruption (FCPA in the US and the UK Bribery Act) and sanctions-enforcing rules that are here to stay.
There may be a temptation to have a box-ticking approach when it comes to compliance, but that won't allow for sustainable growth.
The best risk-focused compliance experts likely command pay packages equal to the traders they support.
It's now more important than ever for firms to invest as wisely in risk managers and financial managers and financial crime compliance officers as they would in the traders themselves; analyse the challenges before you get into trouble and build sustainable compliance infrastructure so that risk taking can still thrive.
Clearly excessive compliance could hamper london's pre-eminence as a global financial city, but the current chancellor is aware of this, and seems to approve of a risk-based approach to good regulation.
Properly enforced this approach to regulation could re-engender the age-old British values whereby my word is my bond reigns once again.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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