GTInterviews is a series of conversations with our community of industry experts - from our network partners and clients through to our own team. We discuss what brings people to the world of due diligence and investigations and how they see the industry changing in the coming years. This month we chatted with Irmela van der Bijl Mysen and Roar Østby who founded Vier Advokatfirma AS.
As partners at Vier Advokatfirma AS, they help companies establish honest businesses through the prevention of financial crime and oppression.
What is your background and how did it lead you to become a business ethics specialist?
Roar: In 1994, I started my career as a lawyer in Norway's prosecution service. However, I soon discovered my passion for preventing economic crime rather than solely focusing on punishment. This led me to work on anti-money laundering (AML) legislation while still serving in the prosecution service. This drive to combat financial crime ultimately led me to become a compliance officer. Later, I advised industries on how to manage regulations to avoid financial crime. I joined PwC as a lawyer, followed by a position at Deloitte. Eventually, I made history by becoming the first compliance officer for Norway's largest bank, the DNB.
Irmela: My career began with my role as a lawyer and deputy judge at the Court of First Instance before joining the Council of Ethics for the Norwegian Government's pension fund which oversees investments for 9,000 companies across 72 countries. We not only examined allegations of human rights abuses, environmental damage, and corruption violations but also explored the strategies employed by companies to transform their culture. This role allowed me to grasp the practical aspects of compliance, such as structuring businesses around policies that champion human rights and combat corruption. Over five years, I learned what effective and best practice Compliance Programs are as opposed to “paper compliance” programs.
Later, I joined Statkraft and then Aker Energy as Chief Compliance Officer, an oil and gas company with an offshore Environmental Management Plan (EMP) licence enabling operations in Ghana. Here, I spearheaded the creation of a comprehensive compliance program at both the company's headquarters and the local Ghanaian office. Managing risks related to fraud, corruption, and money laundering became second nature to me.
In the spring of 2020, fuelled by our passion for leveraging our legal expertise and first-hand experiences, Roar and I took a leap and established our own company, Vier Advokatfirma AS, together with our fantastic colleagues. Our mission is to assist organisations in implementing successful compliance strategies that align with their goals and values.
Could you tell us more about the anti-corruption and human rights networks and initiatives you are involved with?
"In the world of compliance, there's no single right answer. It's all about the art of managing your role. Our mission with this course is to unleash the potential of Compliance Officers, equipping them with a diverse toolbox to overcome any challenge that comes their way." - Roar Østby
Irmela: Our compliance and human rights networks were born out of a collaboration with our clients at Vier Advokatfirma. We wanted to start a dialogue between organisations across Norway who are striving to build successful compliance functions and implement effective policies. In practice, it is not an easy task and so it's valuable to learn from the experiences of others. Every three months, we organise engaging meetings where we delve into specific cases. Participants can openly share their dilemmas, and with our legal and practical expertise, Roar and I provide the theoretical context whilst also sharing our experience in how to manage difficult dilemmas. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and our network is growing which we appreciate!
We were also recently approached by JUC, a prominent Danish legal organisation renowned for its diverse training programs. They asked us to host their compliance certification course. This five-day program takes an international perspective on the legal expectations and guidelines organisations must adhere to while remaining firmly rooted in real-life dilemmas. Throughout the course, we guide participants in constructing a comprehensive compliance program, covering crucial elements like risk assessments, due diligence, management's role, training, and monitoring. Attendees not only gain insights from our expertise but also benefit from external speakers from around the globe. These accomplished individuals bring their first-hand experiences in developing successful compliance programs and knowledge on mitigating the challenges that can arise.
Roar: In the world of compliance, there's no single right answer. It's all about the art of managing your role. Our mission with this course is to unleash the potential of Compliance Officers, equipping them with a diverse toolbox to overcome any challenge that comes their way.
You have extensive experience in establishing anti-corruption and compliance programs for businesses. Could you share your most key piece of advice?
"Lastly, don’t allow your colleagues to view the compliance role as an adversary. Instead, re-position the compliance function as a facilitator of a successful and prosperous business." - Irmela van der Bijl Mysen
Irmela: My first piece of advice would be ensuring your management team is committed to enacting positive change within the organisation. It may sound like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how often it's overlooked. Even the most hardworking, detail oriented, efficient Compliance Officer cannot successfully protect the business alone. It needs to be a priority for those at the top.
Also, don’t allow risks to lurk in the shadows. Completing your risk assessments is key. But remember, risk assessments shouldn't be confined to a dusty corner and left to gather cobwebs. They must be seamlessly integrated into the very fabric of your business. Once you've broken down the risks, you can tailor your compliance program to tackle these challenges head-on.
Lastly, don’t allow your colleagues to view the compliance role as an adversary. Instead, re-position the compliance function as a facilitator of a successful and prosperous business. Show your colleagues that you're there to help them make informed and responsible decisions, guiding them through the maze of regulations and potential pitfalls.
Roar: I agree with Irmela's top tips. I would just reiterate how essential it is for your CEO to understand that their compliance officer is not just an enforcer of rules but an essential partner who is working hand in hand with the entire team. By fostering a collaborative relationship with your CEO, they can rest easy, remain focused on their strategic vision knowing the compliance officer will navigate the complexities of regulations and legalities.
What will be the biggest challenges for businesses complying with recent legislation such as the EU and German Supply chain law?
"Addressing human rights in the supply chain presents a significant challenge. Starting this journey may seem overwhelming, and questions like "Where do we start?" and "How far do we go?" are common. It's important to prioritise the most critical long-term issues and take the first steps, acknowledging that it's impossible to fix everything at once." - Irmela van der Bijl Mysen
Irmela: One of the biggest challenges is that you need the entire business onboard. The compliance officer plays a key role in educating colleagues about the business's responsibility in this regard. Whilst the EU directive also includes responsibilities to the environment and climate, most companies already seem to be enacting positive change in these areas. What tends to be overlooked is the extended responsibility to treat suppliers and business partners fairly, i.e., human rights elements covered by the “S”/”social” in “ESG”. Addressing human rights in the supply chain presents a significant challenge. Starting this journey may seem overwhelming, and questions like "Where do we start?" and "How far do we go?" are common. It's important to prioritise the most critical long-term issues and take the first steps, acknowledging that it's impossible to fix everything at once. Compliance teams alone cannot handle the legislation; procurement and supply chain teams must take a great deal of responsibility also. This often introduces a new dimension to their roles, requiring the development of strategies and their integration into existing procedures. Effectively incorporating these responsibilities into daily work and organising them efficiently will be a challenge going forward.
Roar: I think the biggest challenge is needing to remain agile. The public sector will continue to introduce legislation that needs to be managed and so a compliance officer must be adaptable.
How do you see the industry changing in the next 5 years?
Roar: As the public sector continues to focus on environmental and social issues, I believe the role of the compliance team will become more intrinsic and more prescribed. The public sector is likely to lay out what a successful compliance program looks like.
Irmela: I agree, over the next few years I believe that the compliance function will be strengthened by two factors: clearer regulatory frameworks and more hands-on management. I predict that future regulatory frameworks will establish more defined expectations regarding the components of effective compliance programs and how organisations should proactively contribute to human rights, anti-corruption and economic crime risk management.
I think we are also going to see a shift in the way board members and upper management approach compliance. With legislation requiring directors to take a more active role, I think we'll see leaders asking more questions, voicing their concerns, and following up more regularly. If more time and resources are devoted to meeting regulations head on then, the impact can be positive. As compliance becomes central in business conversation then, maybe people in C-suite roles will become motivated by the drive to do the right thing rather than the threat of a fine.
What are you reading at the moment?
Roar: Currently, I’m reading the SMA guidelines for investment firms.
Irmela: I’m reading a really interesting non-fiction book by a Norwegian journalist called Hans-Wilhelm Steinfeld. He explores the question, “When did the West and Putin become estranged from each other?” As someone who knows the language and the history, Steinfeld can provide insightful context to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.
What is your favourite food and why?
Roar: There is nothing that compares to locally sourced lobster. It’s the taste and smell of Summer.
Irmela: I love Asian food because of all the mixture of spices that create a balanced taste.
Stay up-to-date with all the latest news and interviews from GTI in our blog.