Interview with Ian Sayers – Regional Head of Legal & Compliance Europe at Standard Chartered Bank

Interview with Ian Sayers – Regional Head of Legal & Compliance Europe at Standard Chartered Bank


How did you get into compliance?
I’ve worked at Standard Chartered Bank for over 25 years. For the first few years, I was the Deputy Company Secretary.  From there, I moved into Risk and then on to compliance about 15 years ago.   At that time, in the central compliance team there was just me, the Global Head of Legal and Compliance plus one secretary, so I was brought in to build the central compliance team.

Was compliance your first career choice?
At school, I always wanted to be marine biologist. Jacques Cousteau was my childhood hero but, frankly, I didn’t get the A levels I needed.  I took a business course instead and found myself a job as a company secretary trainee at British Telecom, shortly after it was floated by HM Government in the early 80s.  This gave me a lot of exposure to governance and very senior people, which was useful.

How did you obtain your first job in compliance?
It was the internal move from risk to compliance at Standard Chartered. I had focused on operational risk, so there was a clear overlap of issues, skills and competencies.

What were you doing before?
After a few years at Standard Chartered, I was seconded to the Foreign Office Whitehall to work on the Asian crisis. This gave me excellent exposure to risk and when I returned to Standard Chartered, I was thrown in at the deep end to head up the country risk function globally.  This is where I learnt a lot more about banking and risk. It helped shape the rest of my career.

What attributes do you think have made you successful in your career?
I enjoy variety and I’ve always enjoyed positions where you pick up new skills.  This has ensured that I’ve always been more of a generalist than a specialist, which I prefer.

Do you look for candidates with a particular educational background or particular qualifications?
Yes, education and qualifications are important. Experience and aptitude, however, are equally important.  It’s also key to do something you enjoy and are passionate about.  People are good at what they like doing.

What advice would you give to a junior starting their career?
Be bold. Explore options, talk to others, ask your network, gain a good understanding of products and business models, as well as learning the regulations.  It’s important to understand the ‘plumbing’ of a bank.

What advice would you give to a mid-level professional?
Keep your knowledge current and broad by exploring other opportunities. Don’t specialise too much or too soon, keep your options open and be versatile.

What advice would you give to a number two?
Make yourself indispensable. Don’t be under ambitious. Build your knowledge and learn from your peers and seniors. Take the best attributes from them and use them as role models. A number one has to be ready to take the lead.  Be authoritative whist still being your authentic self.

What do you see as the growth areas of compliance in the next 18 months?
Technology is going to change so much of what we do. For example, FCC automation, working with algorithms, surveillance.  A greater understanding of the digital world, protecting the consumer, tax evasion and cybercrime are all areas where we can expect to see growing focus.

Who is the person or persons who have had the biggest impact on your career?
At first, I tried to emulate the best behaviours of my BT boss who was a fantastic role model for me. Another ex-boss gave me the opportunity to take the secondment to Whitehall, which opened further opportunities for me.  Seize chances when they arise.

Last, but not least, when you’re not in work, how do you unwind?
I like spending time with my family. We spend a lot of time at the coast, paddle-boarding, windsurfing and kite-surfing.  We also try and fit in a skiing holiday each year.

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