Speaker interview: Dean Nash

Dean Nash, Head of Legal & Compliance, Monzo Bank

What are the 3 biggest challenges for in-house teams in FS firms today?

From my perspective it is first the speed of technological change in financial services; this means legal teams needing to know how the technology works, speak the language of their stakeholders (increasingly more likely to be a software developer than a business manager) and operate their way by redefining their engagement to work with agile development teams. This can be a real challenge for legal teams, but when it is done well can be hugely powerful.
Second is the rate of regulatory change in financial services. The regulators have been very active in all areas, from consumer protection to facilitating innovation and market stability. These create far reaching and complicated pieces of regulation that have massive impacts on virtually every financial services firm. The legal team need to scope, interpret, raise resource for, and oversee implementation of these huge projects – at a time when the legal foundation for many of these pieces of regulation is under question by Brexit.
Third is demonstrating value. Every other part of the business is automating as many processes as possible, and with so much regulation and legislation available at the touch of a button, the challenge of demonstrating value can be a real challenge. I think lawyers have a critical and unique role to play in business success, but demonstrating that beyond a vague concept of ‘trusted advisor’ is a real challenge.

What key steps can legal teams take, to create a higher value proposition for the business and for customers?

The key is to look to colleagues around the rest of the organisation and adopt the best practices being utilised across the organisation. I woke very closely with our risk team to ensure that legal risk is managed in a smart and risk-based way. I view legal risk in quite a simple way as coming down to two things: 1. The risk that we can’t enforce our rights as we would like to, or 2. We have breached a law and will be punished one way or another. Lawyers need to really understand – genuinely – what is your company’s risk appetite for these things? Are there other solutions to these risks aside from legal solutions? What are the processes and controls we need in place to manage these risks? How can you ensure these processes work with the business objectives and not against them?

What hurdles do legal teams face, in terms of implementing and delivering value from new technology solutions? How can these be overcome?

To answer this I think you need a really honest appraisal of the technology solutions you currently use and the value you add with that technology. What technology solution improvement would bring the largest value-add to the business for the least disruption? How does the cost / benefit analysis of this stack up against other ‘value-add’ initiatives such as stratifying or functionalising legal services? The simplest and biggest value-add I’ve experienced has come from investment in better communication, collaboration and management tools: basically, better hardware and software.

How do you view the current level of interaction / collaboration between in-house teams across the FS industry, and how could this develop in the future?

I think the industry is doing a great job of collaborating across some of the unique issues that we face as ‘fintechs’. Whether that is as a learning environment to understand early stage fundraising mechanics, or to share concerns about regulatory changes that may increase barriers to entry into financial services. The community is setting our sights around some of the pain points that we all feel, and seeing if we can (disruptively) propose collaborative solutions to common problems. First up – the dreaded NDA. We’d love to agree an industry standard and save everyone a lot of frustrating back and forth at the outset of an exciting business collaboration.

Which pain points for in-house teams most lend themselves to automation, and which pain points will be the most difficult for technology to fix?

I don’t think lawyers are best placed to answer that question to be honest. We are too likely to see the services we provide through the prism of our own training and biases. Legal teams will always have a critical role to play at a high level strategic level. For example, how upcoming regulation shapes business strategy, or which court to have a particular case heard in, or overall risk appetite given business. And doubtlessly lower, more repeatable tasks will be lost to either standardisation or automation. However, to make this happen, legal teams need to absorb developers and engineers into their teams and ask ‘what code could you write to replace the work I do?’

Why will you be speaking at Finance Edge’s Next Generation In-House Summit, and what do you hope to get out of the event?

As a bank that is less than two years old we have the luxury of being able to approach customer problems, business problems and indeed legal problems as an entirely greenfield project. This means digging back to first principles as to why we should design something in a particular way. For example, why should a lawyer review a contract before it is signed? Why should we protect our intellectual property? Why should we have terms and conditions for our products? Getting right back to the why and the first principles of these things has meant the way we approach our designs to these problems and the use of technology in those designs has been a fascinating process for me – and I would like to share this others. I am also keen to learn how other firms are approaching the question of technology in their organisations and see if there is any best practice I can take back to Monzo.