Compliance Should Be Fun

That’s the ethos that ATB Financial’s Brian Pynn brings to his compliance department, combining humour and humanity while educating the company’s advisers

Photo by Alexandra Pynn

What comes to mind when hearing “corporate compliance department”? Fun might not be first on the list, but fun is exactly what Brian Pynn wants his colleagues to remember when it comes to his department. As the chief compliance officer for ATB Securities Inc., a subsidiary of the Alberta-based ATB Financial, Pynn aspires to make his role fun not only for himself, but also for his advisors. “I’ve tried to make a difference in my firm to break that mould of ‘Any time I’m hearing from compliance, it’s probably because I’m in trouble,’” says Pynn.

Care Bears

An avid motorcyclist, Brian Pynn has been working on a way to incorporate an ATB motorcycle ride for “Teddy for a Toonie,” a charitable project in which ATB sells teddy bears to raise money for local children’s hospitals

Pynn’s goal of making the compliance department more approachable didn’t come about through one initiative, but many: from funny Christmas cards that change the words of classic Christmas carols to a compliance message, to coming out in a full motorcycle outfit—complete with leather and chaps—for a gag when he served as emcee for ATB’s Annual Advisor Conference. “You try to blow people’s minds,” says Pynn. “You try to break the mould of what they think a standard chief compliance officer would be and show them you’ve got a sense of personality and humour.”

Pynn uses this same sense of humour when educating his advisors on new compliance policies. “Education is a huge focus of mine, and I think you can educate your advisors while having fun at the same time,” says Pynn. “My team dressed up for one video where they pretended to be shady stock promoters and money launderers. We had one where we introduced an important piece of new regulation as the characters of Seinfeld.”*

He recognizes that most people will delete a video before opening it if they think a compliance video is going to be boring, but Pynn says his approach to his job is a win for both him and the company. “It’s not just for me to have fun at work, but to make sure the advisers, who we’re trying to get the message to, are also having fun and are engaged with the message.”

Despite all the fun he has at work, Pynn is sure to stress the very serious nature of his job. “I would never try to downplay the importance of the role of a compliance and risk management officer,” says Pynn. “We play a crucial role in the reputation and regulatory success of our firms, and our clients count on us to be monitoring their best interests, and that’s always first and foremost in my mind.”

With the importance of his role in mind, Pynn is also clear that it’s possible to fulfill the role without taking himself, or the position, too seriously. In fact, he’s found that being a little silly now and then can have a positive impact on how he does his job. Because of his approach, Pynn and his team have built a great relationship with their advisers, which allows them to be more effective.

“It’s huge to have a compliance department that’s viewed as a partner versus an adversary,” says Pynn. “For starters, our advisers will almost always come to us for permission first, rather than forgiveness later.”

The chief compliance officer has a special appreciation for this proactive culture, as he’s seen the results of compliance departments in which there is no partnership, and the advisers sometimes take it upon themselves to initiate a new product or get into a business relationship with a client that might not be within the firm’s mandate.

In Pynn’s experience, those advisers assume their compliance department will just say no, so there’s no point in asking. He says the end result of that spells trouble for everyone involved.

Pynn has worked hard to prevent that kind of environment by fostering a “yes” culture in his department. “Even if the immediate answer isn’t ‘yes,’ we’ll find a way to get to a ‘yes’ or a ‘maybe’ with a few tweaks in the business plan,” says Pynn. “By doing that, we really increase the buy-in to our overall compliance culture.”

This approach fits perfectly with ATB’s overall business model, whose mission statement includes commandments like “Think ‘yes’ first,” “Do the right thing,” and “Trust and expect the same from others.”

The main focus for Pynn has been fostering great relationships with his advisers, but he also makes sure to extend that attitude to the company’s partners, as well as its regulators. “We’re a very low-risk firm as a result of the relationship management we employ,” says Pynn. “We have a keen relationship with our regulators because they know we do a great job and we work closely with our advisers.”

Continuing the Conversation with . . .

Rick Bettencourt, Nine West Canada:
“I totally agree. A happier work environment leads to enhanced productivity. A little fun along the way fosters a healthier team and allows for new and creative ideas to flow.”

“The fun approach to learning may not always be accepted by team members who are naturally introverts. What approach did you take to have all members collaborate?”

Pynn: “It took a while to earn respect and buy-in. My team had been led by a conservative regime and was afraid to step outside of their comfort zone. By leading by example, the group gradually warmed up to the idea of letting their hair down. For introverts who simply can’t find a way to be a ham on camera, we include them by asking for ideas when creating scripts, making them part of the background fun, or inserting their photos onto movie posters. It makes things inclusive, and the entire team now embraces the idea of making compliance fun.”