Helen Wong - Chief Compliance Officer USA
Helen earned both her business and finance undergraduate degree and MBA in 2007. Prior to joining Casdaq Trading, Helen held various compliance and risk management positions at Fidelity Investments and Sun Life Securities. Starting her career with Casdaq as a compliance officer she quickly proved her capabilities and became our Chief compliance Officer USA in 2017.
In her spare time Helen enjoys travelling the 50 states of America, dragging her husband and young daughter along with her when she has the time
MEET OUR CHIEF COMPLIANCE OFFICER USA
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CURRENT ROLE AS CHIEF COMPLIANCE OFFICER (USA) AT CASDAQ TRADING.
There are really four parts to my job: sourcing, analyzing, communicating, and monitoring & reporting.
The biggest part is the sourcing or identifying new legislation and the analysis of changes to legislation and regulations and then forming recommendations for the business units.
Next is building awareness - communicating to the business units any changes where they might need to take action to conform to the regulations. Sometimes there is resistance and the changes aren’t welcome because they’re perceived to be onerous or to interfere with how the business units are currently doing business. So, in your communication you have to ‘sell’ the recommendation with respect to the required changes - explain the benefit so they buy into the changes, understand them, and ultimately appreciate them.
We must also monitor to ensure the business units are implementing the changes. The regulators want us to demonstrate that we have processes in place to identify changes and monitor action plans to implementation. This leads to the last aspect of my role which is monitoring and reporting.
For example, with the anti-money laundering/anti-terrorist financing legislation, we need the business units to file quarterly attestations confirming that they have performed the required monitoring and investigation over that period. There is also monitoring and reporting, either on a monthly or quarterly basis, on other regulated areas such as privacy, personal trading of investment personnel and complaint handling. If we discover any exceptions, more often than not, it’s because there was a gap in understanding and therefore additional training is required.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
There is no such thing as a typical day in compliance. I don’t typically work crazy hours. Like most of us, I do have days when an issue suddenly arises and I have to deal with it, regardless of how much time it takes.
Most days I come into work with a to-do list that usually includes several documents that need to be reviewed and/or a piece of legislation I am trying to help a business unit analyze from a compliance perspective. Of course, I have my inbox and phone to manage as well. In my job I provide guidance and advisory service to the business units so I receive a lot of incoming calls that are unplanned which I also have to manage with my other priorities. I also have certain reports for management that I need to complete on a monthly or quarterly basis and deadlines to manage. So really, I can only plan my day so much.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY AND COMPLIANCE?
I started my trading career with Sun Life Securities - the discount brokerage arm of the Sun Life Financial group of companies. Shortly thereafter, a compliance position came up internally. I had already started looking at compliance roles so it was good timing and a good fit for me.
WHAT ENTRY-LEVEL POSITIONS ARE THERE WITHIN THE COMPLIANCE SIDE?
There are many different compliance functions or roles because of the different lines of business within the financial services industry - each requiring a slightly different focus and knowledge base. Ideally, individuals looking for an entry-level position should have some formal education and experience within the financial services industry, be trainable, and be willing to study on an ongoing basis. You can enter through different lines of business. I entered through the discount brokerage side, but someone could come from the full service side, from a bank or from an insurance company.
WHAT SKILLS DO YOU NEED TO HAVE TO DO YOUR JOB?
You need to have analytical skills because of the amount of time spent analyzing changes/additions to the legislation and regulations. You need organizational skills because you have multiple priorities and deadlines to manage, as well as having to be reactive to people calling on you for advice. Communication skills are also important. You need to be able to communicate effectively - both verbally and written. You can’t just dictate, but need to explain how and why and put the rules in the readers’ perspective. You also need to be able to influence people. It’s not enough to just tell people what to do and what not to do. You need to make sure people understand and buy in to what you are asking them to do and how you are asking them to conduct their business. You also need to make sure they understand and can relate to the issues enough to explain it to their employees or other clients, as required.
DO YOU SEE COMPLIANCE AS A GROWING AREA?
It is definitely one of the fastest growing areas within the financial services industry and may be one of the best areas to be in right now. With the anti-money laundering/anti-terrorist financing rules, federal and provincial privacy legislation and the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation etc., monitoring and reporting on new requirements takes an increasing number of people and man-hours to manage.
HOW HAS EDUCATION PLAYED A ROLE IN YOUR CAREER SUCCESS?
Continuing your education is a “must do” today. The financial services landscape keeps changing and you have to study to keep up. Even if a course isn’t specifically necessary to do for your current job, employers are looking for you to be proactive and demonstrate you are willing to learn. It makes you stand out as someone who understands change, is looking to position yourself to manage that change and is looking to move your career forward.
I am consistently looking to improve my wealth management knowledge and give myself more options, and it has helped me to relate to what the other business units are doing. For example, as part of my monitoring and oversight responsibilities, I review marketing documents before they get published. Our Wealth Management division writes financial planning articles for advisors that come to me for approval. My financial planning education has helped me to understand what is written and provide valuable feedback to help all parties manage the risk.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS STARTING OUT IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY AND WHO MIGHT WANT TO WORK IN A COMPLIANCE ROLE?
If you don’t have any financial services industry experience, you will probably need to pass your local regulator exams or courses to get an entry-level position at a financial institution. Again, you need to demonstrate an interest in continuous education.
If you have financial services industry experience you probably already have the exposure to financial products and services in one line of business or another, which is a good starting point to enter into an entry-level Compliance Officer role.
New York is probably the best place to be if you want a career in Compliance because it’s currently where most of the financial services companies’ head offices are located as well as their compliance departments. There are some field or regional compliance positions, but most of the strategic focus is at head office.