This article was originally published on The Lawyer.
Between 2004 and 2017, Monica Risam rose through the in-house ranks of two global companies, GE Capital and then insurance powerhouse Aviva. Since leaving the latter two years ago, Risam has been putting that knowledge to good use at wealth management firm Lombard International Group (LIG). On joining, she set up upon improving several strands to the in-house legal department, largely based around efficiencies. This included a comprehensive look at LIG’s choice of panel firms.
Risam was no stranger to running panel review processes, having played a core role in Aviva’s recruitment exercice. She followed a similar path this time round, asking historic advisers to submit proposals, as well as firms that knew key shareholders. There was a score card judged by Risam, a procurement officer and European chief, looking at relevant expertise, jurisdictional reach, innovation, diversity and Risam’s so-called “X-Factor”. “That’s the chemistry and connection you feel in the room,” she explains.
“They needed to understand the business as well as develop and show an interest in it, with the idea that what you put in affects what you get out of it.”
While the timetable of the panel review was slightly delayed due to Covid-19, firms were publicly announced at the end of May. A total of eleven firms were asked to tender, though in the end the winning places were taken by Allen & Overy, Baker McKenzie, DLA Piper and Linklaters. Bakers was a new appointment for both LIG and Risam, who was impressed by the firm’s co-ordinated approach across multiple jurisdictions. A key part of the review was to bring LIG’s global advisers together.
"I observed that the firms used by the legal team varied widely, so I wanted to think about simplification. I’ve been clear on global connectivity and our group’s mission to support the growth of the business,” she says.
In addition, LIG has a separate, smaller panel covering niche areas and localised support, of which reputational expert Schillings is part.
Preparing at a time of Covid-19
Luxembourg-headquartered LIG has been growing since it was acquired by Blackstone in 2014, promptly followed by the acquisition of Philadelphia Financial Life Assurance a year later. When Risam joined in 2018, she took on the role of European GC, but it was part-and-parcel that she would assume the role of global lead at some point. At the start, she spent much of her time in the Luxembourg office, though pre-pandemic she had been based more in London, not only saving on travel time but demonstrating the company’s overall commitment to growth worldwide.
Risam now leads 50 in her team, though that includes legal professionals, regulatory and compliance experts as well as the company secretarial functions. She is supported by two heads of legal for Europe, Audrey Coque and Emilio Tartaro, who are based in Luxembourg and split their time between the northern and southern climes of Europe. John Reilly is general counsel for the US side of the business, while two compliance officers manage their own teams as well as a head of regulatory affairs.
While compliance is an integral part of any financial company, the UK’s lockdown highlighted a need for stringent measures even further. It was important for Risam’s team to ensure salespeople working at home were following procedures, which led to a distance-selling framework in order to engage partners and clients, as well as protect the company. How to ensure documents could be properly signed was also an important consideration, resulting in the introduction of a new electronic tool that enabled LIG to sign up for its first policy on 14 April.
Risam explains: “Digitalisation is a key enabler for LIG’s strategy, so the legal team continue to be involved in a number of projects that enables it to continue innovating for the business.”
The outbreak of Covid-19 also coincided with the arrival of new CEO, Stuart Parkinson, to LIG. He leads the 11-strong senior leadership team of which Risam is a part. Soon after the legal panel was decided upon, Risam help a virtual group day for all four firms to engage further on how the relationship would work, with Parkinson joining to introduce himself to the 35 partners who dialled in from across the globe. His involvement goes to show the importance of legal in the overall running of the company, as Risam seeks to root out inefficiencies and shifts perceptions of the department.