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UK to compliance officers: ‘Show a backbone’

A former compliance officer at the Bank of Beirut (UK) lied to the Financial Conduct Authority. Anthony Willis said the bank was complying with orders to enhance its compliance program when it wasn’t. When the FCA caught Wilis in the lies, he said it wasn’t his fault.

The bank never allotted sufficient resources for him to do the compliance officer job, Willis said. And “at times he felt under pressure from senior management to be careful in his communications” with the FCA.

The bank, he implied, had turned him into window dressing, a toothless tiger of a compliance officer. He went along with it to save his job.

The FCA acknowledged the intimidation. Willis, it said, “was influenced by comments made by senior management.”

But the agency still blamed him. 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.”

(You need prior FCA approval to be a UK bank compliance officer.)

Georgina Philippou, the FCA’s acting director of enforcement and market oversight, stopped short of calling Wilis a coward. But just barely.

“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,” she said.

The FCA fined Willis £19,600 ($30,000).

The agency didn’t explain how it would have protected him from retaliation by his former employer if he had shown some backbone.

Without knowing that part of the equation, 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).

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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