Legal and compliance issues can often be viewed an impediment to getting business done, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

April 18, 2024 | Dubai, UAE

Chris Brennan is a partner in Dentons’ Dubai office and leads the compliance and investigations team in the Middle East. Chris has more than 20 years’ experience in helping clients to solve regulatory problems and manage difficult interactions with regulators and law enforcement.

His practice is focused on financial markets where he acts for both institutions and individuals. He is experienced in all aspects of regulatory enforcement and interventions in both retail and wholesale markets. Chris also regularly advises listed entities on issues related to inside information and market disclosures.

Chris advises clients on the management of both internal and external investigations of alleged misconduct. He also advises on customer and counterparty disputes where there is a regulatory angle to the dispute. Chris also uses his experience as a former criminal barrister to assist clients facing criminal investigation or prosecution.

WT: Could you provide a brief overview of your career trajectory and what motivated you to specialise in Compliance, Regulatory, and Investigations?
I began my career as a criminal barrister in 1996. I then joined the legal team at a large UK asset manager where they had been a significant regulatory issue – a fund manager lost GBP 400 million of client money. This gave me first exposure to regulatory investigations. I then joined the enforcement team at the UK financial services regulator. The rest is history.

WT: What do you see as the most significant developments shaping the compliance, regulatory, and investigations space within the Middle East right now?
My experience to date is that the Middle East is seeking to put itself on an equal footing with other major financial centres when it comes to regulatory compliance. I see many businesses looking to review and enhance their compliance controls as a business imperative. The obvious areas are anti-money laundering which has been a key focus for several years. However, we also see firms working hard to improve their controls in relation to bribery, fraud and other misconduct issues. The improvement in compliance controls naturally leads to more issues being identified which require investigation and resolution. 

WT: Where do you find the greatest challenges and complexities for organizations in the region when it comes to ensuring compliance with evolving regulations?
As with most jurisdictions, the challenge is keeping pace with change and ensuring that systems and controls are reviewed. There is significant risk taking a “once and done approach”. Controls needs to evolve with the changes in the regulatory landscape and the commercial dynamics of the organisation.

WT: How do you see technology, such as AI and data analytics, transforming the way law firms approach compliance and investigations in the coming years?
Technology has already had a huge impact on the way law firm conduct investigations. I remember a time when we would manually review every potentially relevant document. We now use technology to reduce the amount of manual review. In some cases, we will review as little as 10% of the potentially relevant items. The continuing advances in machine learning mean the amount of manual review will reduce further over time. Technology also has an important role in monitoring compliance issues, particularly in identifying AML and fraud issues. Again, this use of technology is only likely to increase over time.

WT: What are the ethical considerations associated with emerging technologies in your field? How do you ensure these are balanced with innovation?
The ethical concerns around AI have been well-rehearsed. Not least of these is the opportunities it presents for fraudsters. There is no doubt that AI will present real challenges as its use continues to grow and may well need to be the subject of some form of regulation in due course.

WT: Your role involves collaboration with regulators, internal stakeholders, auditors, forensic experts, government bodies and external clients. How do you build strong relationships with these diverse groups, and how do these relationships contribute to better outcomes?
You need to build trust and confidence in any relationship The key here is demonstrating your ability and integrity. This is particularly so with regulators where there will always be an inherent degree of mistrust of legal representatives. This is not helped by lawyers who approach regulators with ‘all guns blazing’. That is rarely, if ever, a sensible approach. The best outcome for clients is likely to be achieved through reasonable and constructive challenge. For example, we have built a good working relationship with the enforcement teams at the DFSA and FSRA.

WT: How do you facilitate conversations between legal teams and business lines to ensure that both regulatory compliance and commercial goals can be achieved?
It is now widely accepted that compliance is far cheaper than non-compliance in the long run. Most business lines therefore welcome input from their legal and compliance colleagues. This can be made more effective where the legal and compliance functions present solutions, not just problems. Legal and compliance issues can often be viewed an impediment to getting business done, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
In an evolving environment, how do you attract, retain and develop the right talent to maintain cutting-edge expertise in the Middle Eastern compliance, regulatory, and investigations space? Unlike London or New York, there is a much smaller pool of expertise in the region. This makes it all the more important that we retain and develop our teams. Since arriving in the UAE, I have been focussed on building the best team in the region. We have hired some new people, but I have also been focussed on developing the expertise across our Disputes team. We now have 5 or 6 associates who can help with compliance and investigations. 

About Dentons
Across over 80 countries, Dentons helps you grow, protect, operate and finance your organization by providing uniquely global and deeply local legal solutions. Polycentric, purpose-driven and committed to inclusion, diversity, equity and sustainability, we focus on what matters most to you.

Disclaimer: The content of the above information is exclusive to The Wealth Today and should not be reproduced without acknowledging the source. The above content presents the view of the interviewee and The Wealth Today can not be held responsible for the content.

0 Tweet
0 Share
Related Posts