Risk and reward: We speak to our Outstanding Leader in Compliance, Nicola Matthias

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As anyone who submits industry award submissions will know, actually winning a category is no easy feat. The credit space is also rife with competition. Fintechs, startups and incumbents are constantly innovating to deliver the best service for their customers, ensuring that when it comes to the annual award ceremonies, there is always an array of worthy finalists.

That’s why when our Director of Risk and Compliance Nicola Matthias won the award for Outstanding Leader in Compliance at the Leadership Awards 2023, we were thrilled that her work had been recognised outside of our business.

The past 12 months hasn’t been an easy ride for Compliance departments within financial services. Consumer Duty has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds this year, and Nicola has been instrumental in not only getting Aro ready for the update, but supporting our lenders and partners too.

We spoke to her about her recent award win, and how she has turned a department that can sometimes be seen as a commercial blocker into one of Aro’s biggest assets.

How does it feel to be voted Outstanding Leader in Compliance at the Leadership Awards 2023?

“In a nutshell I was absolutely thrilled! When I saw the calibre of other finalists for this and other Leadership Awards, I was very pleased to be considered as part of the group. Like many other people, there are times where I suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ so I feel very grateful to work somewhere like Aro where the leadership team knows the value in recognising staff where they believe it’s earned. Of course to then go on to win is the icing on the cake.” 

How did you get into Risk and Compliance and what do you enjoy most about it?

“I have worked for many financial services, from banks to debt management and then in many different departments, from collections, to credit underwriting and customer service, and have seen the negative impact that poor risk and compliance management can have but I’ve also been lucky enough to work with good risk and compliance teams. I’ve seen the benefits to all business areas from improvements in culture, reputation, and commercial value, as well as the relationships that are built with the regulators that make all our lives easier. 

“Many years ago, I was involved in a project to acquire a smaller firm. That firm needed guidance in how they managed their regulatory risks and on building a strong control framework. I loved the work and could see the benefit to both the acquiring firm, the smaller business and of course to the customer and I realised that was where I could add value. I strongly believe in doing the right thing, in fairness and balance in all aspects of life and I think good compliance and risk management can bring this to any business.”

You’ve been instrumental in getting Aro ready for the Consumer Duty update this July – what were the biggest challenges you faced?

“I’m very lucky that I work in an environment where most people have a thirst to know what’s coming and how Aro will adapt, however, the biggest challenge has been the huge scope of the Consumer Duty regulations; it literally needs to be embedded into every aspect of the business.

“When everyone is so busy growing the business, it is sometimes a challenge for people to see the benefits of additional or new regulations. The positive is that once people realise we are already doing the majority of what needs to be embedded, it just needs finessing and put into appropriate MI or documentation, then most have been keen to learn and pitch in. Also, as with all regulations, it’s not just a Compliance activity – but that’s become my mantra, I may get another tattoo!”

If any financial services businesses are worried about the Consumer Duty deadline in July, what are the key things they need to think about to be ready for the update?

“Know your products or services! It’s as simple as that, why are you doing what you do every day, in what way are they offering value to a consumer and which consumers are you aiming for. Once you get the foundations right the rest will follow.”

How do you balance commercial objectives with Risk and Compliance initiatives?

“Often Risk and Compliance teams are seen as a hindrance or a blocker to growing a profitable business, however it’s important that the team is a business enabler. That’s why at Aro we’ve worked hard to ensure that the Risk and Compliance function is a trusted business partner and are involved in decision making and strategic planning. This means the team is able to help build a service or a product that meets the requirements of the regulators as well as the needs of a growing business.”

You’ve made a big impact at Aro since you joined, what have been your highlights or biggest achievements?

“That’s a really great thing to hear, thank you. I can’t believe that it’s only 18 months since I joined Aro, time flies when you’re having fun and when you are so busy. There have been so many highlights, the award being one of them. A huge highlight of Aro is the people. When I first met our Chief Growth Officer, Andy Fisher, and our Chief Finance Officer, Neill Skinner, they both said that the people were the firm’s greatest resource, but then doesn’t everyone say that when you’re interviewing?

“However, at Aro that really is true. From day one everyone made me feel welcome and were really keen to understand how I could help their teams or help to meet their objectives. They were also really patient in talking me through the business model, the processes and the strategy which has helped me to assist in balancing the commercial objectives with compliance requirements.

“The sheer number of new partners and lenders that we’ve onboarded since 2022 has also been a highlight, each of them has been through our improved due diligence process which means we can give assurance across the board that each of them meet the high standards that Aro holds itself, it’s partners and lenders to.

“As I’ve already said, I do suffer from imposter syndrome and a great personal achievement was being part of the Credit Connect Think Tank panel on measuring affordability and the role data has to play. This was only possible because of the support from our CEO, Emma Steeley, and other members of the Exec Committee.”

All our lenders and partners are safe in the knowledge that they are partnered with a business that has robust due diligence and compliance policies. If you’d like to join our lending panel or become an embedded finance partner, get in touch with us today.

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