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Leveraging Global Challenges to Accelerate the Impact of Compliance

Home > Perspectives > Leveraging Global Challenges to Accelerate the Impact of Compliance

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes estimates that annual illicit proceeds total more than $2 trillion globally. Proceeds of crime generated in the United States were estimated to total approximately $300 billion in 2010 or about 2% of the overall U.S. economy. As history would remind us and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, crisis creates extreme vulnerability to fraud and financial crime across our global financial systems.

The ExCo vs. The Status Quo brings together like-minded individuals and brands to illuminate the innovative actions companies are taking to make a bigger impact. This diverse community of industry leaders are building the conversation around what’s working, what’s not, and how to make things better – together – through a shared commitment towards a common goal.

Monique Elgin is the Vice President of Group Corporate Ethics and Compliance at the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). She is from New Zealand and worked in a variety of legal roles in London ahead of relocating to the Middle East, where she has spent the past five years successfully designing and delivering an internationally recognized compliance program across ADNOC group. In a recent feature in Modern Counsel, Monique discussed how building strong relationships has been a key factor in being able to effectively tackle a variety of issues. More specifically, she spoke about how hearing others and being heard is so much more important than being right.

Working as a woman in a male-dominated industry, Monique also shared this perspective: In the energy industry worldwide, women represent approximately 22% of the workforce. That fact crystallizes the kind of opportunity to have a seat at the table that is presented to both Monique and other female colleagues – and ADNOC – to respectively present and receive a unique perspective.

When Exiger’s Rob Mitchell nominated Monique for this campaign, I was drawn to her view of the world and the leadership strength she’s brought to the legal ethics and compliance community over the course of her career.

What does making the world a safer place to do business mean to you?

Monique Elgin, Vice President of Group Corporate Ethics and Compliance at ADNOC: Making the world a safer place to do business is a perfect way to encapsulate the real spirit of community that exists for people who operate in the risk and compliance space. It gives the sense that it’s more than just a job for most of us; it’s a calling. We’re all looking around at ourselves, not just the company we operate in, not just the community we operate in, but the global community we’re all inextricably part of now. And we’re saying “How can we do more better together? How can we raise the tide across countries . . . across continents, really?” That’s what it means to me. It’s about interconnectedness to do more and better.

It’s about interconnectedness to do more and better.

You mentioned global community. You’ve clearly worked all over the world: you hail from New Zealand, find yourself working in the Middle East, and you made that transition by way of London. You’ve worked in some version of this industry over the course of your entire career. How have you seen the role of compliance change over the past 10 to 15 years? How has the COVID-19 pandemic further evolved it?

ME: When you ask me, a compliance professional, how the role has evolved over the past 10 to 15 years, I’m of course completely biased. I think it has become far more interesting. It’s far more meaningful. People are more engaged in the underlying benefits that risk and compliance professionals can deliver to their organizations as business enablers.

I think in the compliance industry there was a period where it was a check box. Having some compliance people in a room at the back was a necessary evil to prove that you were trying, even if you weren’t. Whereas these days, it’s no longer differentiated between businesses. It’s an expectation that your compliance professionals and your compliance program will speak for itself. It’s an expectation that you have people who are empowered and passionate about what they’re doing to such an extent that they will go into depth on frankly uncomfortable subject matter and make themselves heard, even if it makes people uncomfortable. I think compliance professionals are much more interconnected with the business and people that they work with in order to do more and better business. That’s what I’ve seen.

You mentioned a theme we hear about increasingly which is this idea that compliance is becoming a business enabler especially with the acceleration impact of technology. How has technology impacted your company’s ability to keep up with all of the regulatory change, insane data complexity, and your expanding global third party network?

ME:  At Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), the availability of technology to build and support the effective compliance program that we now have has enabled us to evolve at a completely different pace. If you were operating in North America or in Europe 30 years ago, you were building manual systems from scratch. People were manually checking document to document, It was slow, turgid, and it wasn’t connected or personal. It was really hard to bring compliance processes to life for people and for people to feel it supported delivering revenue.

Technology makes it possible for us to work in a modern world. We can connect with people like yourself and other members of the Exiger team when we just want to see what is out there and then very quickly move into implementation. We can troubleshoot easily and the systems themselves enable us to access them easily. They also enable us to access information from all over the world quickly, easily, and efficiently. We’ve got a register of it and we can enable our partners in the business units by giving them access to the same information we have. We can give it to them rather than holding it to ourselves and just saying, “No.” We can say, “See what we’re seeing. What do you think?” Technology, I think, has changed every industry but if you are working hard to build something new and different, it’s a step change.

Technology, I think, has changed every industry but if you are working hard to build something new and different, it’s a step change.

Increasingly the market is receiving encouragement from regulators directly, and in particular this last year, to embrace technology and innovation. How does that translate to the oil services industry?

ME: In terms of an evolution, it’s possible that the energy sector, perhaps not so much in the States but in other parts of the world, has lagged behind in terms of regulatory pressure. In the banking industry, this has been extremely heavy and driven a lot of activity for years, but now it’s in the energy sector and other areas of industry that we’re seeing increased regulatory focus and pressure. That means people need to start looking at what they were doing or whether they were doing anything at all. Perhaps starting on a clean piece of paper. I think it really helps to have regulatory pressure to say, “I don’t care that you did it for the past 15 or 20 years. Is it working? Is it keeping pace with the standards that we are expecting? Can we test it? Is it effective?”

This is leading a lot of people to look at their compliance programs all over again. Whether someone is in the energy industry or elsewhere, they can ask themselves “Could we be doing this better? Do we need to look elsewhere for partners? Do we need to reconsider whether we’re approaching this in the most modern and effective way?” It’s a partnership in some ways. I know people tend to think of regulators as a challenging external third party, but when you think about it, in many ways the regulators are partners to business and are driving the need to do better business wherever in the world they are and lifting the bar for the benefit of everybody. I think that’s really driving change.

To come up with a solution, plan or a policy for a company is one thing, but if the thing takes five months for a company to roll out it’s just not going to work. . . no matter how innovative it is. Making sure that the solutions we bring are helping companies find themselves in a better, more sustainable place to manage the true risk that they’re faced with managing is incredibly important.

On that same note, we find ourselves in an environment where a lot of companies are being forced to do more with less whether it’s because of the pandemic or because of a contraction in a particular part of the economy, how do you think our current environment could accelerate the need to do just that: more with less?

ME:  Everybody’s experiencing it on some level. I think you’d have to be living very remotely from civilization to  not be feeling this pressure to do as much as possible with as little as possible, but still very well and quickly. It’s hard. It’s tough. Innovation is going to make it easier for us.

I don’t know what it was like for Exiger when everybody went home and started working remotely. We were not operating in a way that enabled remote working in our head offices and that changed virtually overnight. It was the most extraordinary technological shift I have ever seen in an organization. It turns out we were ready for anything. And when it had to be rolled out in one week instead of six months, it happened. Out of that pressure comes real innovation, comes real impetus, comes real momentum. At the end of it, you look back and you think that was a bit painful, but actually where we’ve wound up is so much better than where we would have been if we’d just gone along in the way that we originally planned.

So, I think it’s been tough. It’s been hard. But there’s been a real sense of global community through this pandemic. Coming out the other side and into this next year, I believe that this will drive more innovation. Hopefully in the years to come, we’ll look back and say it was painful, but worth it.

It was the most extraordinary technological shift I have ever seen in an organization. It turns out we were ready for anything.

What are the biggest challenges facing your industry related to financial crime and corruption today, what keeps you up at night? What’s the biggest challenge the industry is facing at this stage?

ME:  The biggest challenge the industry is facing right now is probably that we’re being squeezed by the economic climate, industry changes and by a change in expectations. I think that there was an acceptance for a long time of lower standards of business practice in the energy industry, if we’re being totally honest. And I say this from a very fortunate position because the company I work for is located in a jurisdiction that has very low corruption risks in the sector.

Broadly speaking, the energy industry has been globally challenged by corruption risks. That’s no longer acceptable. Even if it was 10 years ago, people are still going to dig it up. Coming to terms with that is difficult but it’s really important. I think, there’s a new wave coming for this industry that involves different energy sources, business practices and a different sense of community spirit. I think the industry is up for it, but it’s a challenge.

There are still pockets of the world, industries, and personalities that have work to do to a place where one can more confidently say we’re all working to make the world a safer place to do business.

Can you share an example of any kind of major trend or development in your industry that you think will help actually make the world a safer place to do business?

ME: I’ll touch on something that you referenced in your introduction. I think the oil industry is challenged by a lack of gender balance and frankly, perhaps diversity as a whole. Entities in the energy industry, as they are all over the world in many industries, are working to rectify that. ADNOC is working on that.

Will it make the world a safer place to do business? I like to believe so. All the reports that one reads about having more gender diversity in the boardroom and throughout your decision making process suggest that less risky decisions are made and that different perspectives drive better outcomes. Having more than one voice driving the way decisions pan out can often lead to a more general wellbeing for people on both sides of that particular equation. I could be a bit optimistic, but I would like to believe that is something that is changing and will be beneficial for everyone.

Having more than one voice driving the way decisions pan out can often lead to a more general wellbeing for people on both sides of that particular equation.

I couldn’t agree more. This idea of minimizing blind spots by introducing more diversity to a group of thinkers, in particular in a function like compliance where you’re trying to think ahead and enact preventative measures to mitigate risks before they become a big issue. ‘I am a product of my own experiences and knowledge so the person sitting next to me with their own unique experience and knowledge might think of this issue a little bit differently’. It’s just an incredible testament to the power of diversity.

ME: It particularly impacts things like whistleblowing, where if you are taking a very monolithic approach. Looking at it through your lens, you miss all the noise, stories and opportunities to hear and fix things to help people around the edges. That’s what makes it such a fascinating field again. I know that not everybody believes this, but I really do. It’s so interesting. And you’ve got a global audience here on the phone now.

We do.

ME: Yeah. New York is such a diverse city and I know you’ve got people from other diverse cities all over the world at Exiger. There are people from all over the world in Abu Dhabi, and I’m in a minority. I look around and I hear the stories and different perspectives, languages, approaches, and realize I’m just one of the voices that inform that conversation. And it’s so enriching.

It’s awesome. It’s energizing too, right?

ME: It is, because every day you have an opportunity to challenge someone’s paradigm in a positive way. “Hey. Could we do something else as well? Could we do something more? Have you thought about how that would work out?”

But also my paradigm is challenged by others in the same way. “I never really thought of that. You’re absolutely right. I didn’t even think about how that would translate. I didn’t even consider that would completely turn a particular sector of our colleagues off from ever picking up the phone to talk to us. Let’s rethink about that. Who can help us with this? How can we do this better for everyone?”

Shifting to you specifically, Monique, if there’s one legacy you can leave behind in your career around this theme of making the world a safer place to do business, what is it?

ME: I would really like to leave some of the enthusiasm behind. If I could leave the legacy that compliance is a really exciting, interesting profession to be part of, that it’s not just a job but a calling. It might feel sometimes like you’re a small cog in a big machine, but every day, the things that you do are actually meaningful. If you didn’t come to work, those things wouldn’t happen and some changes might never happen. Some problems might not get solved. If I could leave that legacy behind, that would be great.

Rapid Fire Round with Monique

  • Favorite Place to Travel: I was due to fly to Milan at the end of February, and I kept looking at the news thinking, “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to go. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to go.” Obviously, I didn’t go. But, Italy. Italy is somewhere I love to go one day soon.
  • Favorite Food: Any kind of cheese. And actually the ones that have been around for so long they could actually escort themselves out the door are probably my favorite.
  • Favorite Show to Binge: Everyone’s going to roll their eyes, but I just started Emily in Paris over the weekend. I had an evening to myself for the first time in ages. Then I watched three episodes in a row. I think it’s being panned by the critics, but I’m pretty sure everyone I know loves it and now so do I.
  • Favorite Book: The Count of Monte Cristo which I read for the first time when I was 17 in a weekend or something. I couldn’t put it down. It was fantastic then. I think it’s still fantastic now. I love the writing. I love the story. It’s an epic story of fantastic proportions.
  • Favorite Band/Singer: I’ve got really eclectic music tastes. I like loads and find it impossible to answer, but I will dance to pretty much anything.

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