Ranbir, who was the firm between 1998 and 2003, is Head of Compliance for APAC for the US fintech company, Fiserv. He looks back on a career so far that is full of challenges and opportunities that came along at just the right time.
Did you always want to be a lawyer?
I was not sure what I wanted to do. Like others, perhaps, I chose law because I thought it would strengthen my analytical skills and communication, which might be relevant to any career perspective.
What did you do on graduation?
I studied Law in India and then did a master’s at King's College London. After that, I was looking for some work experience and got the opportunity to train and work with Herbert Smith, London. In fact, I think I may have been one of the first foreign lawyers to be taken on by Herbert Smith.
Tell me about your time with the firm
I was fortunate to be sent to the Singapore office. I had gravitated towards project finance and energy work and there was an opening in Singapore with a particular focus on project finance. With project finance, energy projects or any other infrastructure related work, it is a more tangible experience as you are able to see the impact the projects have on the economy, society, and livelihoods in a location. Added to that, much of the work I was doing was for emerging economies, which made it especially interesting and closer to home.
Why did you leave? How did the opportunity to move on come about?
The project finance work had slowed down somewhat and, as a young lawyer, I wanted to continue to grow and extend my experience to other areas. It was at this time I come across an opportunity at JPMorgan, who were looking for a regional legal counsel - I thought that was a promising opportunity with a very reputable institution. JPMorgan had initiated plans to grow their cash management business and they were looking for a lawyer to set up a legal framework, facilitate introduction of new products, negotiate large deals, and much else besides.
Didn’t you find that daunting?
Yes, initially, as it was all very new, but gradually I got comfortable with the role with some great support from my line management (which is something I learnt from and over the years have endeavoured to replicate with my teams and new joiners). It also helped that for a relatively nascent business and expansion in new markets there were no rule books, it was an exploratory journey for all involved. I realised during this time that dealing with ambiguity is a key part of one’s ability to add value and be a credible risk partner - something I found myself to be strong in. In a way, it is only when you are open to taking on new challenges that you discover your own strengths (and areas that need to be worked upon!). The other thing I learnt was the value of strong communication (particularly in large organisations), timely escalations, and utilising expertise within the organisation to make informed risk calls.
I also learnt that every organisation has its own risk profile, and it is crucial you understand that – and this is also an important point for outside counsels to recognize. It can't be the same advice to a bank, to a payment services company or a crypto company, because they will all have different risk profiles.
How long were you with JP Morgan?
Why do you move on from that?
Essentially, it was an organisational reset in the business I was supporting, and that led to number of staff including colleagues from legal and compliance moving to other banks. I followed my then Compliance colleagues to join Standard Chartered Bank, where I was given a global role.
What did the global role encompass?
In my final years with JPMorgan we had to do a repapering exercise across many clients’ contracts. Repapering is the review, risk assessment, and remediation of contracts and other documents to comply with evolving company policies or regulatory changes. That was a huge exercise successfully executed that provided a particular strength to my overall experience.
Standard Chartered offered me a role as Legal lead for a global client documentation project for corporate businesses. This allowed me helpful exposure to a wide range of services and products of a global bank – and eventually led to my progress into cross-border compliance which required a wider perspective that I had gained from the global documentation project.
During my Cross Border Compliance role, I helped build a risk management framework across the footprint of the bank, first as regional head and then global head. We had to create clear rules of the road for our businesses for what they can and can't do in engaging clients on a cross border basis. Over time, we produced this for close to 90 countries, and improved that progressively based on experience.
On top of that, we digitised the content and automated the cross-border rules advisory. That took more than a year, but we ended up with a system that was user-friendly and efficient, helping people to get answers to questions across a range of cross border scenarios any time of the day! The automated portal was particularly useful during the long covid period due to its availability across time zones without any breaks.
One of the most interesting aspects which we hadn't thought of, but we realised was a great consequential benefit, was the back end/usage data we gained from the use of automated portals (in comparison, the corresponding data in a manual ecosystem is not available or mostly lost in plethora of advisory emails and calls). The data capability enabled by automation gave us access to all kinds of useful information that could be harnessed for data driven risk management and by the business for opportunities. Our automated workflows and approvals were saving the company thousands of people-hours. That got me interested in technology, and that is how Coinbase came into my life.
How did that happen?
I was approached by a headhunter. Even though I knew little about cryptocurrencies, I had a lot to offer in terms of regulatory risk management – increasing relevant to crypto as a new asset class and in relation to the underlying financial technology. Pursuant to an intensive interviewing process, I was appointed as head of compliance for APAC. As it happened (due to unrelenting crypto industry headwinds in 2022), that didn’t last as long as I would have liked, but it was a useful learning experience and led me to my current role which is a continuation of my journey in enabling transformation financial technology from a legal & regulatory perspective.
I joined Fiserv as Head of Compliance for Asia Pacific. Fiserv is a global leader in payments and financial technology and one of Fortune® World’s Most Admired Companies™, known for its innovation and range of services provided across the financial services sector, and is one of the largest merchant acquirers in the world. You could say it is omnipresent – it would be fair to say that every minute of the day, people, businesses, and financial institutions are connecting with one another through payments and financial services technology from Fiserv!
I am responsible for oversight over financial crime compliance, regulatory compliance, and licensing matters, and have a key role in relation to business enablement while managing regulatory risk. I head a capable team of seven.
APAC, as a region, is leading digitisation in the payments space. Why is this? Because a lot of people in the region are “unbanked”, as the expression goes, and having access to digital payments overcomes this problem. Instead of having to go through a process of being financially included through the conventional banking system, there is scope for leapfrogging into the latest payments methods including mobile based technology.
What do you like to do outside of work?
These are early days in my new role and I have got my head down to make sure that the APAC Compliance team consistently delivers on its mandate. But usually, if and when I have time, I love horse riding and, before, I played a lot of polo. I love going for walks, going on runs to keep fit. I have two teenage children, who have picked up my love of horses, and like horse riding. That's something I really enjoy being able to do with them.