ACCPA: Rethinking Compliance in Africa

Compliance is both a global and local phenomenon. All over the world, compliance professionals are constantly seeking local expertise to solve their most challenging problems. The Association of Certified Compliance Professionals in Africa (ACCPA) plans to address these challenges by becoming a repository of ideas, expertise, and knowledge on compliance solutions specifically designed for Africa. In the ACCPA’s latest magazine, Alfred Pobi – Accuity’s Account Manager for West, Central and Francophone Africa, is interviewed about his vision for compliance in the region. Read the interview here, or take a look at the online copy of ACCPA Compliance Magazine.

ACCPA: How did you end up in Compliance?

Alfred Pobi: My background is in banking. I previously worked for different commercial banks in various capacities. However, over the past decade, there has been a lot of emphasis on compliance and regulations. So when the opportunity came up to work with Accuity as an Account Manager for the West, Central and Francophone Africa region I did not hesitate. Accuity needed someone who spoke both English and French and someone with a background in client onboarding, specifically in the areas of AML and sanctions screening. They also needed someone who knows Africa from the inside. They saw my background and thought I would be a good fit. And yes, it has been a perfect fit so far.

ACCPA: As an African compliance expert, what is your vision for compliance in Africa?

Alfred Pobi: I was born in Africa. I represent both the French and English speaking regions of the continent. My mother is Togolese and father is Ghanaian. As someone of African heritage, I would be pleased to see African central banks, FIUs, and regulators be recognized and given the same level of significance that is accorded Western regulators within the international compliance arena. I have been working closely with the Central Bank of Ghana and they have done a great job in trying to get banks to implement AML policies and procedures. The important thing for me is to ensure that none of my clients or the countries that I work in comes under sanctions from the FATF or other international regulators.

ACCPA: What do you think should be the key role for an organization like ACCPA?

Alfred Pobi: ACCPA’s key role would be synergy. The situation we have here in Africa is that there are intergovernmental organizations like UEMOA and GIABA in West Africa, COMESA and ESAAMLG in East and Southern Africa that operate in the public sector. On the other hand, we have huge Pan-African banks like Ecobank, Bank of Africa, and Access Bank that operate solely within the private sector in both French and English speaking regions. While all these institutions are working towards the same compliance goals, they do not always communicate with one another due to language and cultural barriers.

ACCPA as an independent continental organization can provide synergy by creating an environment where all these institutions can interact and share information with one another. ACCPA’s ability to bring together over 800 compliance professionals from both the public and private sectors in such a short period of time is an attestation to the kind of synergy ACCPA can bring to the compliance sector in Africa.

ACCPA: What is Accuity’s approach in Africa?

Alfred Pobi: A couple of years ago Accuity deliberately prioritized having people with local knowledge work in local markets. This is the reason why I travel around Africa. As an African who understands the West, I have the capacity to navigate between both worlds in ways that many of my peers cannot. When I sit down with a client in Senegal, Ghana, Togo, Gabon, Mauritius, and elsewhere in Africa, I can connect with them easily because I understand the challenges they face and where they are coming from. Having contextual knowledge is a necessary ingredient in the type of work that I do here in Africa.

Accuity also adopts the approach of having an interactive relationship with local African regulators. At our most recent Accuity Briefing on Trade Based Money Laundering in Mauritius, the Director of the FIU (Guillaume Ollivry) was in attendance. Similarly, we had an event in Ghana recently where the Head of the AML unit at the central bank, Mrs. Frances Sackey (Chief Manager, Financial Integrity Office, Financial Stability Department, Bank of Ghana) spoke, as did the Financial Intelligence Centre. Our approach is very much one that harnesses the authority of local regulators to instill a strong culture of compliance among local banks.

Senior management at Accuity values our relationship with African regulators. In fact, Accuity will be hosting a round table discussion with African regulators and compliance professionals in Accra in March 2016. While Accuity is hosting the event, the platform will mainly belong to African regulators to allow them to interact with each other to share experiences and how best to address challenges.

ACCPA: What is the most challenging compliance issue for African banks?

Alfred Pobi: Many African banks lack the necessary tools for effective compliance screening yet in some cases senior management remain uninterested in improving compliance procedures. I have dealt with many compliance officers who are willing to improve their compliance procedures but cannot proceed because senior management is not engaged. This is not the case for all banks, but in others the attitude of management towards compliance definitely needs to change.

ACCPA: What type of compliance products and services are most relevant for Africa?

Alfred Pobi: Accuity offers a number of industry leading compliance screening products that will be of great value to African banks. Our flagship product, the Bankers Almanac, is the world’s leading KYC tool for financial counterparties. Bankers Almanac is a well-established database with more than 24,000 international banks and financial institutions from across the globe. To use the database, you just type in the name of a bank or SWIFT code and it will bring up important information about that bank. You can obtain information such as annual reports, SSI information, data on ownership structure, address and contact details on almost every bank that operates internationally. It is important to note that African banks also need to conduct screening on their correspondent banks; screening shouldn’t be one-way affair. If you are dealing with an unknown or small regional bank in Europe or Asia, it is important that you get your hands on all the information you can find about the counterparty to reduce your risk portfolio.  This is where the Bankers Almanac can be of great help to African banks.

We also offer other industry leading products for sanctions and PEP screening for both accounts and payments. Accuity was the first company to offer screening tools for Dual Use Goods in trade based money laundering.

ACCPA: What is the way forward for African compliance?

Alfred Pobi: Many compliance professionals at African banks lack frequent training that would allow them to keep up to date with the latest trends and regulations. Banks should prioritize compliance and invest in their compliance staff by providing them with ongoing training. There is immense pressure on compliance professionals to do their work properly yet training is not being offered frequently enough. There also needs to be a change in compliance culture from the back office, to the front office all the way to senior management and greater regulatory oversight. Senior management should appreciate that non-compliance comes with financial implications as regulators impose fines on non-compliant banks.

ACCPA: Why did you join ACCPA?

Alfred Pobi: I joined ACCPA because ACCPA has done something new for Africa. ACCPA has taken a continental approach that is not seen in Europe or elsewhere.  ACCPA is going to greatly improve information sharing within the compliance sector in Africa. This is indeed refreshing and I’m happy to be member of such an innovative and forward thinking organization.