Christopher Aujard: Singer & Friedlander

Singer & Friedlander has hired a new legal chief who is building up the bank’s legal function from scratch. Lorraine Cushnie reports

Christopher Aujard, head of group legal and compliance at Singer & Friedlander (S&F), likes to work with a blank canvas.

The lawyer has been hired by the bank’s new management to build up its legal function. S&F’s legal team has historically lacked a profile within the bank, but thanks to Aujard’s arrival all that is about to change.

“There was no sense of a centralised legal function. It was a greenfield site,” says Aujard on his arrival at the bank. S&F had the bare bones of a legal team covering all of its business lines, including private, investment and corporate banking and asset finance.

Aujard has already brought in senior legal counsel Clinton Genty-Nott from Citibank Consumer Retail as his number two and will soon be introducing a capital markets specialist in response to the bank’s new business line. S&F’s owner, Kaupthing Bank, recently launched a new capital markets arm, Kaupthing Capital Markets (KCM), which is set to become an increasingly important part of its UK operations.

It might seem like a strange decision to move to an underdeveloped legal function, but for Genty-Nott it was a good choice.

“Joining Singer & Friedlander was a chance to get in right at the beginning and there aren’t many places where you can do that,” he explains.

One of Aujard’s main tasks has been trying to bring more order to the firm’s system of instructing external legal advisers. Under the previous system, individual departments chose their legal counsel on an ad hoc basis with no central management. This is something Aujard is aiming to change.

“I’ve spent some time looking at how many legal advisers we’ve used in the past 12 months. At the last count it was 50,” he says.

Law firms that have been brought in to advise S&F over the years include Field Fisher Waterhouse, Latham & Watkins, Simmons & Simmons and Slaughter and May.

The group head of legal is now in the process of creating the bank’s first panel in order to keep a closer eye on advisers and on costs going forward.

An even more pressing task when Aujard took over a year ago was managing the bank’s £550m takeover by Iceland’s Kaupthing Bank. Being new in the job, Aujard and his team were not in a position to complete the deal in-house. Most of the work was therefore handled by outside counsel, with Slaughters, led by Robert Stern, advising the bank on the deal and Allen & Overy corporate partner Alan Paul acting for the bidder.

The acquisition delayed the implementation of some of the changes Aujard wanted to introduce, but he is confident that everything is back on track.

Aujard is no stranger to building up a legal team from scratch and obviously relishes the challenge.

He joined S&F from the wealth management division of National Australia Bank, where he was also charged with developing a coherent legal team. He has also enjoyed a spell at Lloyd’s of London, but started his career at Norton Rose as a corporate finance lawyer.

Aujard’s experience means he really knows the difference that a sound legal team can make to a bank’s business.

“In the financial services sector, your legal function adds a lot of value,” he says. “[Lawyers] can respond extremely quickly to enquiries. They fulfil the role of the trusted adviser.”

Away from the office you are likely to find Aujard and Genty-Nott on the slopes, both being keen skiers. Genty-Nott used to be a professional skier, with the slalom and the super G being his choice events. Surprisingly, it was his experience as a sportsman that drew him to the law when that career came to an end.

It may seem a strange link, but Genty-Nott explains that sponsorship is integral to a skier’s ability to compete at an international level, and a lawyer’s knowledge of contracts would have come in handy during negotiations (and may have earned him a few extra pounds).

Aujard, also a keen skier, prefers endurance events and competes in an annual cross-country ski marathon.

And with Kaupthing Bank setting ambitious targets for growing its new banking arm, not to mention the constantly changing regulatory environment, endurance is certainly what Aujard will need in his new job.

Christopher Aujard
Head of group legal and compliance
Singer & Friedlander

Statistics
Organisation: Singer & Friedlander
Sector: Finance
Operating income : £110m
Employees: 650
Legal spend: £1m-plus
Legal capability: 11
Head of group legal and compliance: Christopher Aujard
Reporting to: Deputy chief executive officer Kristín Pétursdóttir
Main law firm: Slaughter and May