Ahead of her session at this year’s In-house Financial Services conference, The Lawyer talks to Ruth Pearson, general counsel at LendInvest, about why it’s important for legal functions to be agile and how her team manages to keep apace with change while prioritising innovation.
What is the role of the in-house function in delivering change projects?
In-house legal is uniquely positioned (compared to other business teams) to assist in delivering change projects given its holistic view of the business and natural ability to spot potential issues and provide solutions. At LendInvest, in the last year alone we have launched several new products, completed a Series C funding round, increased our headcount by 25 per cent, our assets under management by 94 per cent, partnered with a number of new financial institutions and strategic partners, adapted for GDPR and Mifid II and so there’s certainly been a lot of projects and an abundance of change to manage – all of which the legal team played a leading or key role in.
As is often spoken about at the moment, the days when in-house legal provided a siloed legal advisory function are gone – we are now business strategists, working closely with the business to identify and reduce barriers to growth and success. Key to that success is an ability to analyse the effect of innovation and change on the business and its people and to ensure it is understood and managed appropriately. In performing this role, it is important for in-house functions to be agile; to respond and adapt to changes in spec, timelines and from both internal and external stakeholders throughout the various projects being effected, and to keep that holistic view in mind. In a fast paced or high growth business, the initial spec (and therefore effect) of a six month project is likely to have changed dramatically by the time the end product is rolled out or project is complete, so it’s important to be dynamic.
How is your in-house function keeping up with the pace of technological change?
As a small team within one of the UK’s fastest growing fintechs, we are agile and our ability to continually take stock, assess and adapt our approach means that managing technological change is part of the day job. We have the luxury of fantastic tech and operations teams – on hand to provide the necessary expertise in analysing new legal tech products and separating the wheat from the (extensive) chaff. I wouldn’t say we keep pace with change, but rather we look to continuously identify inefficiencies and then work with our tech team to see if technology (whether built internally or bought in) can assist with that. Not all solutions to inefficiencies are tech-driven – we use technology where it helps us, not for technology’s sake.
With mounting cost pressures and increased uncertainty, how can businesses prioritise innovation?
At LendInvest we prioritise innovation based on an analysis of which improvements will be most effective in helping us achieve our business objectives. If your key strategic goals are clearly established and communicated well to the business, and the business understands the sequence of steps required to reach those goals, the leadership can ensure all employees are focussed in the right direction and can effectively prioritise both short term and long term change. Uncertainty is taken into account as part of our analysis, for example, the uncertainties around the future of peer to peer regulation were relevant to our decision to withdraw from that market in 2017.
There are so many areas in which automation, AI and new technologies can be utilised with the best intentions, but change can be a huge resource sucker if not fully mapped and implemented effectively or if it isn’t adding sufficient value to the strategic direction of the business.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far?
Not the most important, but a lesson I’m learning at the moment – returning to work after having a baby is every bit the juggling act people warned me it would be!