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SAP Compliance Officer, Suve Banerjee

May 21, 2021

SAP Compliance Officer, Suve Banerjee, discusses compliance as an alternative career option for in-house lawyers and the ins and outs of being an ethics lawyer in a global software company.

Some people may not be familiar with SAP in their professional life. So, for their benefit please give us an overview of the company…

I’m a Compliance Officer at SAP which is a global software company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange and headquartered in Germany. It is a market leader in end-to-end enterprise application software, database, analytics, intelligent technologies, and experience management. With 200 million users worldwide, SAP enables businesses of all sizes and in all industries to operate profitably, adapt continuously, and realize strategic goals. I am a compliance officer for EMEA North for our Cloud lines of business and also support our global compliance training team.

What made you choose to work at SAP?

At the time I was looking to change roles, I was working in London (at JP Morgan) but living in York. I’d been doing that for 18 months, and although it was manageable, it wasn’t sustainable longer term. I was looking for a role that would allow me to travel internationally, but to be based remotely (at home) otherwise. This was in 2018 when working virtually, in Compliance, was still very rare. A friend and former colleague had moved to SAP in Canada earlier that year and recommended the role to me. Having used SAP products (Ariba and Concur) as a Compliance Officer for a number of years, it was a well known organisation and I hoped it would be a great fit – and I am delighted it has worked out.

And what originally attracted you to working as a compliance officer?

Like most compliance lawyers I know, I fell into it. I trained at DAC Beachcroft which is a great firm. However, having started my training contract in 2008, at the height of the financial crash, the number of newly-qualified jobs available was much lower than expected. So a role came up to support the Partner responsible for Practice Governance & Risk and his deputy, covering the firm’s in-house and compliance needs. It was a risk (I’d only ever considered being a fee-earner at the time) but necessity inspired me to consider it – and I ended up loving it. And not having to time record my life in 6 minute units was a great selling point too!

Why is SAP a good place to work and what have been the high points so far?

I work in a brilliant team. Our 120 strong team of Compliance Officers globally are a pleasure to engage with, supported by open-minded and transparent leadership. I am also lucky to work with great colleagues in the business, who are themselves mindful of and proactively engaged with compliance expectations.

I was very lucky that in my very first week in SAP I was able to meet the entirety of the Global team at our Headquarters in Walldorf for a Compliance Summit. That week will long live in the memory – being welcomed by my new colleagues as a long lost pal meant that I was immersed into the team from the outset, while fostering and developing relationships and friendships.

How does being a compliance officer differ from being an in-house lawyer?

There are similar skills to being an in-house lawyer – we both want to be the approachable expert who understands and cares about the challenges faced by the business. For a company to be trusted by its customers can take years, but one negative headline can cause that trust to be lost overnight. A Compliance Officer is there to ensure that (among other things) customers trust the company to do business the right way. But as a Compliance Officer I also focus on the human element and I have to be trusted too. Will someone trust me enough to open up about wrong-doing they’ve seen? Will a team leader trust me to engage their team in a compliance training session when they are pressed for time and have their own KPIs to hit? How can I sensitively explain to good people that they may inadvertently make a bad decision? Compliance often has a reputation of being “the people that say no”. If I’m doing my job correctly, I should be saying “yes” wherever possible, but with mitigating steps in place to manage and control the risks. So I wouldn’t say that being a Compliance Officer is necessarily different from being an in-house lawyer, it’s better to describe it as a very specialised in-house lawyer working in a different function.

Compliance functions in different companies vary – they might cover data protection, anti-money laundering, sanctions, internal investigations, intellectual property matters. I would describe my role as being that of an Ethics Lawyer – protecting a business and its employees from decisions that could cause an employee’s interests to conflict with the business’ interests. It involves understanding the relevant laws and regulations, understanding the business and its risks, but also understanding people’s drives and motivations.

Why might now a good time to consider moving into compliance from an in-house lawyer’s perspective?

Because it’s a massively growing area. Industries that are regulated, such as banks or law firms, need Compliance Officers. Businesses that are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, for example, need Compliance Officers, especially in pharmaceuticals and software/technology . And because there are very few dedicated compliance qualifications, most companies looking for compliance expertise are happy to consider lawyers from in-house or private practice who have touched on compliance matters and are open-minded to a different perspective.

What opportunities for growth have come your way?

For most of my compliance career I have been business-facing, responsible for a region, or a part of the business. Recently I’ve been given further opportunities to work on global compliance training projects, which has allowed me to experience new, non-legal skills such as filming, video-editing and use of learning platforms. Most lawyers I know spend their lives surrounded by other lawyers – as a Compliance Officer I’m learning every day from my colleagues from other walks of life – accountants, developers, even a former police detective.

Who’s been the biggest influence in your career and what is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

There are five people who have really shaped my career and I’m grateful to all of them. Liz Duff took a chance on me and gave me my first proper job as a lecturer straight after Bar School (when I was barely older than my students…). Kathy Farmer and Tony Cherry at DAC Beachcroft persevered to iron out my immature and naïve traits when they could easily have just left me to make mistakes, and Andy Howard at Asda taught me how to be a lawyer without having to come across like a lawyer (which is vital when working in-house). And finally, my wife Ellie has provided the support needed – it certainly wasn’t easy for her to raise our son single-handedly while I was away in London midweek for nearly two years.

In terms of career advice, Tony Cherry at DAC Beachcroft said this to me – “If you’re looking to move in-house, move to an industry you’re interested in”. I only realised the value of his advice when I didn’t follow it – moving to JP Morgan gave me great experience, but I had limited interest in financial services. Thankfully, and as my family will attest given how much I bore them about technology, working in the software industry is right up my street.

What advice would you give to someone looking to specialise as a compliance officer or compliance lawyer?

Try it.

If you’re working in-house at present, see who covers Compliance and talk to them about it. Or feel free to contact me on LinkedIn. If you’re thinking about making a move to do this permanently, but you’re worried about not liking it, you’ll still gain skills from it that will make you more useful if you later decide to move back to a regular in-house legal role.

In terms of skills, you should enjoy building and developing relationships, have a good attention to detail and an ability to focus and work independently. Being able to think creatively and come up with new solutions are key to appropriately mitigate risks. And finally, you must be able to at least tolerate spreadsheets!

What did you do before you were a lawyer? 

When I finished Bar School, I realised that I was a very reluctant public speaker. So when the rest of my cohort started pupillage or paralegal roles, I decided to try teaching law, and secured a role at the University of Westminster. When you’re asked to speak to 150 law students about property law at 9am on a Monday morning, there’s nowhere to hide, and so I had no choice but to overcome my inhibitions. I spent three fantastic years there, and I’m proud to be able to give something back to them as I now sit on their Employability Advisory Board.

If you weren’t a compliance officer, and you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you most like to do?

I’m assuming this is a real job, but in TV, films and adverts there’s often music playing as a key character is introduced, or walks into a scene. I’ve always wanted to be able to choose that music and sync that up with what’s on the screen!

What do you get up to outside work?

Right now, this is largely driven by my son – keeping him entertained within the limitations of home is certainly challenging. But we have discovered a shared delight in creating 25 metre-long race tracks for his toy cars around the house (which is a terrible tripping hazard so not being able to have visitors is a benefit)

Coming from Wigan and being of Indian heritage, I’m dismayed to say that before last year I had never cooked a pie, or a proper home-made curry. I’ve spent the various lockdowns practising how to right that wrong – when things get back to normal I’ll treat you to a chicken curry pie!

What’s the most illuminating book you’ve read in the last year?

A friend recommended “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. As an introvert, it’s helped me to harness what I originally perceived as professional weaknesses and use them positively – it’s genuinely been eye-opening, and has made me much more comfortable in the working environment

Do you have any hidden talents? 

From 10 metres away I can shoot through the hole in the middle of a polo mint without breaking it (I represent Yorkshire in national competitions at Air-Rifle). 

You’ve said you love technology, but do you have a favourite gadget?

My smartphone – I’m genuinely baffled by how much technology is embedded into something so small. If I think back to what my phone could do 10 years ago, and then 20 years ago and compare it to now – it’s fascinating.

Where do you like to travel?

I love Rome. Being able to walk around and happen upon an amazing structure or sculpture around the next corner is something I’ve not felt anywhere else. And it wouldn’t be the same without a gelato in hand!

Favourite car? 

I’d have to say my current one – we bought a 2 seater convertible Chrysler Crossfire, a month before we found out my wife was pregnant with our son. It’s a highly impractical car for a family of three, but it’s been a joy to drive (and I just have to choose my favourite family member at the time).

Who would you most like to get stuck in a lift with?

A lift mechanic, or failing that, Sanjeev Bhaskar. He’s a Liverpool FC fan like me, and created my favourite TV show when I was growing up (Goodness Gracious Me) – so I’d use the time productively to pick his brain.

And finally, everyone’s had an embarrassing moment in their legal career. What’s yours?

Like most trainee solicitors, it was drummed into me to be as helpful as possible. So (in the days before instant messaging) I once emailed a partner saying “you look busy, can I lend a hand”? Except I typed “busty” instead. 😱

The start of that legal journey will definitely take some beating Suve! Great to catch up with you. 🙌🏻

Florit Legal
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