Confessions of a “Reg Geek”

Published On January 20, 2019

Radar, in its regular feature, takes time out with the compliance professional, Sophie Boyle, who is always on the front and second line at an established alternative asset manager in London.

How long have you been working in a regulatory role now?

Almost ten years – I started the month Lehman Brothers crashed. First as an asset management regulatory consultant at Deloitte in Luxembourg and I then moved to London to PwC where I was seconded to the FCA for six months and for the last two and a half years in the London compliance team at CQS.

When you started out, did you ever imagine you end up working in compliance?

No. I wanted to gain some professional experience for a year or two before going to work at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, but then the crisis happened and I was enjoying what I was doing!

What might a typical day look like?

I start the day by checking regulatory news sources and email updates and throughout the day I keep an eye on Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) news pages. In the mornings we liaise with our Hong Kong colleagues and in the afternoon with our New York colleagues. I always have a piece of regulation to review or a policy or presentation to work on. In between, queries may come up from the portfolio managers or sales and client services and I also do some monitoring around communications and MiFID II research. At lunchtime I try to go outside, either for a run or a walk, and on Wednesdays we have yoga in the office.

How big is the compliance team at CQS?

The compliance team has grown over the last few years. The team is led by the global head of compliance from London and our global compliance team cover all CQS offices in London, NY, HK, Jersey and Sydney. Therefore, our regulatory work is varied and challenging as we keep up with all the regulations and changes in those jurisdictions. Sophie Boyle Radar / 51

What do you most remember about your time working for the FCA?

There is a strong sense of doing the right thing for investors. I learnt a lot about the way the FCA approaches various issues and carries out firm supervision.

How different is it moving from a consulting role at PwC to an environment when you are working full time in compliance at one firm?

During AIFMD I worked across a number of firms providing input at different stages of their project – I spent a lot of time in tubes travelling across London! Working for one firm is similar to onsite projects however being at one firm enables me to work on a project from beginning to end. I do miss not seeing how other firms are approaching issues however there is a good forum of compliance officers where we share thoughts and issues. It has also enabled me to observe the theory in practice by getting involved in the day to day compliance tasks that I would not get involved in when I was as a consultant.

What characterizes the culture of CQS?

CQS has a friendly down to earth culture where people work hard to achieve CQS’ ambitions for growth. As I saw when I managed the MiFID II project which cut across so many areas within the firm, we worked as a team and tried to carry everyone along on the journey to compliance.

Apologies for mentioning painful things, but based on your hands-on experience of MiFID II what about the directive and its application makes the least sense to you right now?

The fact that MiFID II is a one-size fits all style directive obviously makes sense for most of the market focussed provisions in MiFIR but less so for the provisions in MiFID II. When implementing rules, sometimes you had to look at the bigger picture and see that a specific rule was better designed towards wealth managers, for example and that for our business it didn’t fit perfectly. However, the FCA did seek to apply a proportionate approach in some of these areas which was obviously very helpful when trying to get the square peg in a round hole.

How would the front office at CQS describe you and your team? Cooperative? Combative? Protective? Informed? Essential? All these things?

Essential, informed and solutions focussed.

What excites you most about your job?

I am absolutely a “reg geek”. I really enjoy reading new regulation and working out how it will impact the firm and I enjoy sharing new regulatory developments and trying to explain the “why” behind a rule. For example, with MiFID research I always explain the rule behind why something is or is not in scope of the research definition. I try to convert others to reg geekism.

Who is your favourite ever individual regulator and why?

I don’t do favourites… but the FCA is a good regulator to interact with and I have been impressed when reading that the fines imposed by the Australian regulator, ASIC, have on occasion been paid to charities which provide financial education to Australians.

Is there someone you look up to? Do you have any golden nuggets that you bear mind and are happy to share?

I admire Helena Morrissey and what she has achieved throughout her career, balancing work and family life. Being thrown into the deep end has always been a great way of learning very quickly! In my first month of working in as a consultant I was sent to a fund directors’ training session after a senior colleague had dropped out at the last minute, on the promise that it wasn’t interactive…we were given a role play to work in small groups for the next day and half. Also “never write something you don’t understand” is a simple but an effective nugget of gold too.

What advice would you give to aspirants looking to get into financial services and maybe even compliance?

There are so many different parts of financial services and I think internship is a good starting point to get a feel for which areas interest you. Some introductory industry exams are also very helpful to get an overview of how the various roles and business types fit in. If you aspire to get into Compliance, the FCA or other regulators’ news pages offer useful reading as they often explain the context and the rules in an understandable way, particularly in enforcement cases, and effectively provide a wealth of real-life cases to digest.

What is the secret to good compliance?

Robust controls, knowledge of the rules and good interaction with the business.

If you were not in compliance and could pick any career you liked what would it be?