Bisi Giwa is an S166 expert with considerable, varied and direct experience of transformation and change in financial crime, regulatory compliance, conduct and culture, business-wide risk assessment, monitoring/assurance, MI, training and competence, having worked with high-risk entities/jurisdictions/transactions including trade finance, global transaction banking, private & corporate banking and institutional banking with a focus on fully compliant business growth as well as risk mitigation. She has in-depth knowledge of culture legal and financial regulatory system in the UK and middle east and north Africa (MENA) regions.
Could you share your career progression and how you moved into the compliance space?
I started my career as a solicitor, having done a Law degree, a master’s and gone on to law school. I've always put in a lot of thought and effort into my career in terms of what I would like to achieve, and I felt that a Law background would give me a good foundation to build whatever I wanted on top of that. I've always endeavoured to complete whatever tasks were given to me diligently and when I transitioned from being a solicitor into Compliance, I had to start from the bottom of the food chain. As a Compliance Analyst, when I joined, there was a file review that nobody wanted to do, and I knew that was my opportunity to show what I was made of. It took me many long nights working, but I did it and it propelled me to the next level because within three months of joining the bank, I was promoted. From then on, I've worked my way up, doing research or extra courses and training in areas I felt I had to improve. I've had some pitfalls and challenges along the way, and I've had to be resilient and learn some persuasive and communication skills, as well as acknowledge my mistakes, but I'm sure we'll come onto that!
What drove you to move from the Legal space into Compliance?
I very quickly understood in terms of my skill set that I had a head for business, and I had a mind for strategic problem-solving. As a trainee solicitor, I practised in a family law firm and I had six seats in that time, and I realised that Compliance was an area that lends itself naturally to what I was doing in some of those seats. When you're talking about risk mitigation, adhering to rules and regulations, my background as a solicitor lent itself to Compliance. It's all about understanding the rules and then applying it to the business. There is a tendency to want to apply science to Compliance and unfortunately, it's not science, it's an art. You've got to understand the rules and the particular bespoke nature of your business and then marry the two together and I think lawyers tend to be able to do that successfully.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you've faced in your career and are any due to gender?
When I was a Compliance Analyst, I didn't have that many challenges because I wasn't a decision-maker. As I progressed and started to take on leadership roles, the challenges began to surface. Compliance is a high-pressure role with the business demanding decisions and advice from you because there are deals on the table. My main challenge has been persuading senior managers and the business to do the right thing and be compliant. This involves a lot of back and forth and unfortunately Compliance has been dubbed the business prevention team because of that, which is sad because that's not what we're there to do at all! So, to help me overcome these challenges, I have an open-door policy and I have engaged a coach to enhance my communication skills because it’s imperative that I am able to articulate the importance of adherence to the rules and regulations. In terms of gender, it’s been difficult sometimes when I’ve been the only woman in the boardroom, but it’s hard to know whether that’s just the contentious nature of the job.
Do you believe there's a glass ceiling for women and has that changed over the years?
If you'd asked me this question a few of years ago, I would have said there was definitely a glass ceiling, but I think things are evolving. Women are getting more senior roles and into the boardroom too. There are definitely more opportunities for qualified women in the financial industry, so we're seeing the glass ceiling break a bit. However, maybe it's impossible not to have gender discrimination in certain industries. Some might be male-dominated because the sheer physical strength of a man is needed, for example. The fashion industry is also more aligned with women and in the modelling industry, women are paid better than men. Gender discrimination is something that perhaps we need to deal with on a case-by-case basis.
Have you noticed any differences between the Financial Services sector and the legal sector in terms of diversity?
I did notice a change when I moved sectors, yes. If I've been subjected to any gender discrimination or racial discrimination, it's been more in the Legal profession. Financial Services is evolving, and diversity is a top priority for the major banks that are now required to publish their gender pay gaps. Their board diversity policy has to be up to date and kept ready for the regulators too in case they call for it. It's a slow change, but nonetheless, the trajectory is positive.
What are the key things that have helped or hindered your career?
The biggest help for me has been my faith in God, but also my commitment, my relentlessness and my ability to focus on what's needed. In terms of hindrance, my approach and my leadership style have been deemed too tough sometimes and I’ve had to temper my toughness as much as I can with a lot of love and kindness to my team and colleagues. However, I’m naturally a straight-talking, passionate person, so I try to be conscious of my audience and I tailor my delivery and management styles, working with a coach on dealing with people one-to-one. That has really helped me to communicate better while remaining true to myself.
What's the biggest break you've had in your career because you moved up fairly rapidly?
My biggest break was one particular deal that was very lucrative commercially for the bank I was working for. The CEO was on my case to approve an account, and everything looked OK, all the boxes were ticked, but I knew something wasn't right. So, I didn't sign it off on a Friday and I went home to sleep on it. I did some research online about guarantee deals and offshore jurisdictions and it confirmed my doubts. The next day, I was on the phone to the fraud department, the police were involved, and we stopped the deal, saving the bank millions. The board quickly found out that I was responsible, and things went from there. It was a very exciting time for me, and I moved up the ranks to become the MLRO quickly.
What advice would you give to a woman looking to progress their career within Banking or Compliance?
Every woman should know who they are and be self-assured and confident of that. Humility has to remain at the core and there has to also be a willingness to learn and improve yourself. You've got to be bold when seeking opportunities; be diligent and work hard. If everyone has the same skill set, people are looking for who will go the extra mile. Post-pandemic, there will be many more people on the market, so finding a niche will be valuable, as will embracing technology, because we are unlikely to go back to the way things were before. In Compliance, I think we're going to move into automation in a significant way. A lot of mundane activities or tasks could be automated from gathering information, to scenarios, to filtering, to audit reports, so tech will play a huge role.
Have there been any specific individuals who have advised you or helped you get where you are?
Yes, I find inspiration in a variety of people and things. As I mentioned earlier, I have faced some challenges along the way and the Holy Spirit has been instrumental in advising and guiding me especially when I hit a roadblock and it seems like there is no way forward. In addition, my dad who passed away in 2018 was a great inspiration to me. He was very hard working and relentless. He taught me to stay focused and goal oriented, no matter the obstacles that come my way. Furthermore, many of my bosses have inspired me, however, most recently, my non-executive director for risk and compliance Anne Mee, has inspired me tremendously. Although I only worked with her for a short period, she had an impact on me and my career and I look up to her a lot. She’s been a mentor and a role model. Her passion for this industry was motivating and put fire in me to climb to greater heights in my career. I am very grateful for her for this.
Posted 7 days ago