Compliance Officers Should “Show Some Backbone”

Anthony Willis, the former compliance officer at the Bank of Beirut in the UK was caught lying to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and then he had the nerve to say it wasn’t his fault.  He maintained the position that the bank never allotted sufficient resources for him to do the compliance officer job, which may have been, but that doesn’t excuse his lying to the federal investigation agency. He stated that “at times he felt under pressure from senior management to be careful in his communications” with the FCA, which he did because he feared for his job. The bank, he implied, had turned him into a lame duck compliance officer with no authority and no senior-level backing.  The FCA acknowledged the intimidation. Willis, it said, “was influenced by comments made by senior management.”

Unfortunately this happens all too often.  Companies hire compliance officers to “check a box”, who are “yes-men”. They don’t actually want the compliance officer to do their job, they just want to be able to showcase them and say yes, they have compliance officer and yes, they have a compliance program.

Not surprisingly, the FCA still blamed Mr. Willis, and we believe US government agencies will also hold compliance officers accountable in these situations. Job pressures didn’t excuse his misconduct, the FCA said. Given his position as a compliance officer for a UK bank, he “should have resisted . . . senior management in these circumstances.”  This is easily said, but perhaps not so easily done when one fears for their job.

“We are reliant on compliance officers . . . to act as an important line of defense, to support effective regulation at firms and to show backbone even when challenged by their colleagues,” Georgina Philippou, the FCA’s acting director of enforcement and market oversight said.  The FCA didn’t explain how it would have protected him from retaliation by his former employer if he had had stood up to them, and without knowing that, the choices for compliance officers at UK banks look bleak: Do your job and be fired or don’t do it and be fined or worse (and still lose your job).

– This article is based largely on a post on the FCPA Blog by Richard Cassin.  See the original article at:

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