On the 30 June – 2 July The Lawyer hosted its first virtual event – the In-house Financial Services conference. The three-day event brought together over 200 in-house lawyers working in the financial services sector and delivered a mix of webinars, roundtables and themed networking groups hosted by The Lawyer editorial team.

The first day kicked off with a keynote from the Environment Agency’s deputy director for innovative funding finance Andrew Sissons. In his 30-minute presentation, Andrew explained the enormous economic impact and dislocation that climate change will undoubtedly have if organisations and individuals do not heed the warnings. During the audience Q&A, he particularly stressed the importance of corporates having a carbon budget: “As well as having a financial budget, you also need to have an idea of how much carbon you can afford to spend and make sure that you spend it efficiently”.

Measuring the value add of the legal team

The second session of the day was a panel led by EY partner and UK law leader for financial services Matthew Kellett on how the expectations of the legal team post-lockdown might be vastly different going forward. He was joined on screen by Brewin Dolphin head of legal Alissa Foale, Credit Suisse general counsel and global COO Julian Gooding, The Law Boutique CEO and founder Electra Japonas and EY UK financial services law managing partner Chris Price. The session included some clear examples of how you can measure the value-add of the legal team through process, mindset and ways of working.

On day two, the Vets vs Fintechs panel led by Slaughter and May’s Jan Putnis took the (virtual) stage to discuss how financial organisations can remain relevant in ever-changing times. Zopa’s head of legal Victoria Matthews explained how lawyers can’t be specialists when working in fintechs, as such businesses need fungibility in the legal team.

Staying relevant in changing times- Vets vs Fintechs

The panel, which also numbered Growth Street general counsel Simon Coles, Banco Santander head of legal for technology, costs and transformation Gloria Sánchez, and Klarna Bank general counsel Oscar Hållén, shared their insights into how in-house lawyers can not only challenge their internal clients but also their own beliefs to achieve true transformation in long-standing organisations. Both sides conclusively agreed that all firms are having to adapt at a much greater pace, whether they are well established or new to the market.

The day continued with a discussion focused on drawing comparisons from the 2008 financial crisis to demonstrate the integral and positive role that banks and other financial services organisations have played during the pandemic. “We were seen as part of the problem with the last financial crisis but I think this time we have been part of the solution, and customers have been appreciative of that. They have been able to take us up on the initiatives that we were able to offer.”

Speakers for this session included Metro Bank general counsel Sally-Ann James, Monzo Bank head of legal and company secretary James Sullivan, Oak North Bank head of legal and transaction management Ben Wulwik and Citibank general counsel Sharon Blackman. When asked about the future trajectory of financial services and their key concerns, the consensus from the group was largely keeping an eye on who transitions into the vulnerable customers’ category as a result of the Covid-19 breakout, and how organisations can support customers when government backing is no longer available.

The role of lawyers in product development

As our first virtual conference drew to a close, we took a closer look at culture and the impact on legal teams. TLT’s Robin Penfold led a webinar on the role of lawyers in product development, where the speakers agreed that legal is best placed to be the navigators, the designers and the connectors in the product development process. The ‘interrogator role’ was subsequently added to the list by Checkout.com’s Saman Harris who advised legal teams never to assume: “There is a dangerous assumption I put aside years ago, that the product development team have considered it all, and now I just ask as many questions to ensure that it has been”.

The panel, which also included Seedrs legal director Leah Moon, Deutsche Bank chief information officer legal Simon Ferres and Barclays head of Legal ventures and platforms Martin Halford, shared practical ways in which legal teams can exert themselves into the process as early as possible to ensure a focus on the right issues at the right stages. It seems that whatever the structure of the product development team, if you involve legal at the beginning, it will save you from more work at the end and can aid in build trusting relationships in the process.

Our final session focused on the culture of financial services and how legal teams can be influential in effecting positive change. Dr Tom Reader, associate professor at the LSE’s Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, explained that the key is having a compelling reason to change as “Covid-19 is testament to the fact that culture can change rapidly”. Behaviours change when the cause is important – often, change programmes are ineffective because they are meaningful only for the people who want the change, not for the people they want to change.

The speaker panel, including Paymentsense GC Karen Ozdamar, AlphaSwap GC Ehsan Haque and Principal Global Investors regional head of legal for Europe & Middle East Shika Soni, concluded the session by providing the audience with succinct suggestions on how to influence change in the financial services sector. The key takeaway? Culture doesn’t just change by asking people to… look at your own behaviour and model it!

All the sessions are now available online, so if you missed any of the above discussions have a look at the webinar section on the Financial Services Hub for information on how to view the content on-demand.