A combined role such as yours is still relatively rare in the UK, what are the main advantages to having the General Counsel also hold the Chief Risk Officer role?
General Counsel have traditionally been seen as the guardian of their organisation, due to our unique role which has a broad overview of the business. All roads tend to lead to legal when things go wrong! Businesses all over are faced with many risks and threats, and a plethora of regulations to comply with, so compliance still requires a legal interpretation and judgment. It’s actually a very natural step for the General Counsel (with the legal oversight) to fulfil the Chief Risk Officer role too. For Contis, risk can be a competitive advantage and as a Fintech, my appointment was an important strategic one. Being at the table not just as a General Counsel, but also as a member of the executive management team with responsibility for a significant function that directly impacts business performance and reputation, becomes a big advantage. Further, as a key player in the commercial success of Contis, ensuring that risk management priorities are reflected in strategic plans is also an advantage. Overall, it sends a very strong message to clients about the importance Contis places on risk by having an executive in charge who is also a solicitor.
Based on your experience, what is your advice for a smooth and successful on-boarding process for senior roles during the lockdown period?
Preparation, preparation and preparation! Peter Cox, the Executive Chairman and my boss, kept in contact throughout. A week before my start date, I was invited to provide personal details on a designated portal. I didn’t get full access, but it included a helpful note of what to expect on my first day. My equipment, including stationery, arrived the weekend before starting with a handwritten welcome card and a snapshot of my calendar for the week. My first day was a bank holiday, yet I was able to log on with full access and completed my onboarding, everything worked just fine! Upon full access, there was another welcome note, my executive management team structure and direct reports including a full list of employees. I received a call to confirm that there were no issues and that I had everything I needed. My start date had been announced to the business and there were lots of welcome messages in my inbox, including in Peter’s executive update to business and board. There was a feel of huge excitement to it all. I felt comfortable and appreciated right from the start without having had my first meeting! It was a great on-boarding experience for me despite not being able to meet anyone in person.
As a new starter, how do you build relationships and understand the business when you are all working remotely and have probably never met face to face?
My first meeting was with Peter the next day after the bank holiday who brought me up to speed on my key deliverables in a most efficient way. I then met with the executive team individually, prior to our first executive meeting the following day. I received a very warm welcome over Zoom, and they helped me understand the reasoning driving their operations, as well as the collaborative leadership approach that’s made Contis a success. It was great to learn that no employee had been furloughed and that the whole company switched to remote working immediately without any hitches. For the rest of my first week, I had meetings with my direct reports and heads of function in different geographies, learning about key priorities and Contis’ core values. In a very short time, I gained insight to the social, cultural and professional components of my role. My first week was full-on and busy. I have so far had a good start to what I expect to be an ongoing journey of learning that will help me succeed in my role and become more productive over the long term.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of pressure on businesses to digitalise products and services; how is Contis supporting the more vulnerable members of society?
Contis has a strong social mission and was founded on the belief that the most vulnerable deserve financial services that work for them. The company is a member of the Centre for Social Justice, and Peter Cox sits on their Financial Inclusion Advisory Board. One of Contis’ most significant products, Engage, helps Credit Unions to support the financially excluded in the digital age.
In response to Covid-19, Contis kicked into action and launched Contis Cares, diverting significant development resource to creating helpful solutions for the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Contis has helped provide quick and safe access to funds for the underbanked through Credit Union partners. It’s also developed a range of unique and more secure ‘carer cards’ so that banks, fintechs, supermarkets and retailers can support elderly and vulnerable customers who continue to shield.
Plans in development include an improved lending mechanism to help ease the imminent credit crisis for families and small businesses.
All this development by Contis Cares is guided by a long-term social mission to help the vulnerable get access to capital, make safe purchases and benefit from secure digital banking. None of which could be more important in the current climate.
How do you keep yourself motivated in the current climate?
I cherish long walks in Bentley Priory Nature Reserve and woodlands which are close to home. It is very uplifting to enjoy the beautiful trees, lakes with swans, old lodge meadow cows and the deer park. There is always something unusual to see, for example, an area was cordoned off with a notice that read “Caution! Baby frogs crossing. Avoid passing through this area. Thank you” It was the highlight of that day!