Managing risk when your company has a high tolerance for risky business

“Even though as a firm we have a high tolerance for risk, the one place we don’t is compliance,” – Dan Danilov, Blackbird Ventures.

Celebrating success is the way forward when creating any good company culture. Sales teams ringing deal bells, values awards for exceptional work, team lunches and ‘thanks’ channels are all a part of an inclusive, modern workplace. 

But how do you celebrate something as mundane and compulsory as compliance?

The backbones of any successful company are made up not only of those performing exceptionally well and outside their job descriptions, but of those who are working to build the skeleton upon which others can exceed expectations. 

Compliance is a necessity. Regulations protect us from crime, and ensure companies are adhering to legal requirements, especially when dealing with personal and sensitive information such as for AML requirements. But that’s not to say it isn’t a burden – so creating a culture where compliance is completed and celebrated regularly is no easy feat. 

Yet Venture Capital Firm Blackbird are doing just that, with their top down approach to promoting compliance and fostering a culture where small compliance wins are recognised.

“We obviously want to celebrate great investments and other successes in our team, but equally we want to celebrate things that are lesser known and understood and appreciated. Being compliant with every element – AML and CTF being only two of them – takes a lot of effort and time and something that’s underneath the surface. I think the partners and leaders at Blackbird do a good job of promoting that when we do it really well – showcasing it to the team just as other parts of the team would celebrate their wins.”

We chat to Blackbird Operations Manager, Dan Danilov, about what it’s like to work within a culture of compliance. 

The importance of promoting compliance wins

Despite the mundane nature of it, Blackbird employees are all pretty knowledgeable of AML compliance – there is interactive training every year for the whole team so that everyone is up to date.

“It’s always been a big focus, and something we need to be careful about as a whole team,” says Dan. “It’s mainly been Alex, our COO, who has been the driver ever since I joined, of how important AML is, and ensuring we all know the potential consequences of breaches and non-compliance. With Alex championing it, we are constantly being reinforced why we need to be compliant. So whilst the annual training is good, it’s more of a refresher for us to be aware of certain risks and keep it front of mind.  

“It helps having training sessions that are interactive and with relevant content for us as a firm. In my opinion, having a generic online module isn’t the most effective form of training. It’s great if you can get someone to speak about issues that are specific to a VC firm or funds manager, or adding an interactive element.” 

Dan says Blackbird has learnt just how important it is to promote (not just enforce) a compliance culture within the team, especially from the leaders within a company.

“If they’re not showing everyone else that being compliant and taking it seriously is important, then everyone else is far less likely to take it seriously. The culture that the senior leadership team has instilled is so important in fostering this culture of compliance.

If we go through an audit and we get a clean bill of health – having that massive tick of approval from a third party and auditors is the best measure of how well we’re doing and how well the processes are holding up with how fast we’ve been growing. Those are the best ways to celebrate the compliance wins.” 

Dan says because of the culture, not a lot keeps him up at night these days.

“We’ve set up a lot of processes pretty robustly and put checks in place. We’ve matured as a team and organisation as well so that we don’t need to be kept up at night by anything. We’re now in a pretty good place where we don’t need to constantly stress about something going wrong.”

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