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Stand out and succeed: Leadership tips for Risk & Compliance - Kathryn Person

Stand out and succeed: Leadership tips for Risk & Compliance - Kathryn Person
Submitted by Sayoojya on

As part of our ongoing commitment to our specialist communities, we interview accomplished leaders on a monthly basis to bring you insights on their career progression and advice that will help you progress your career further.


Kathryn Person is an experienced risk, compliance and governance professional with strong technical knowledge and broad experience across enterprise, operational, financial risk management, compliance and governance. She has over 25 years experience in financial services including superannuation audit and consulting, risk and compliance roles in superannuation and investments, Company Secretariat and regulatory experience at APRA. She has held senior risk and compliance roles at CFS, BT Financial Group/Westpac, Macquarie, State Super and ING/OnePath. She has worked in professional services with Deloitte and KPMG, as well as a frontline supervision role at APRA.

Kathryn has a Bachelor of Financial Administration from the University of New England, a Graduate Certificate of Financial Planning from the Securities Institute of Australia and has also completed the Company Directors course at the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Kathryn is also a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (Australia & New Zealand).

1. What factors do you think have been critical to the success you have achieved in your career?

In my profession, being in risk and compliance in financial services, the key factor to my success has been building a strong base of technical knowledge. Having that strong technical knowledge and being a subject matter expert, particularly in superannuation, insurance and investments has helped my career move from role to role.

Another factor critical to success is to be really clear on where you want to go in your career and what you need to do to prepare yourself for the next step. For me, it felt like it took me a long time to work out what I wanted to do. I started out in audit and professional services. I worked hard and did the hard yards but I knew it was not what I really wanted to do.

I made a number of strategic moves into roles that gave me different perspectives and experiences, such as consulting, technical services, line 1 and line 2 risk and compliance roles. I worked in small entities, government organisations and large international public companies. It was through making these strategic moves I eventually found my niche, what I was really passionate about - being risk and compliance.

2. What's the most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career and how did it help you?

It was in my first role, straight from university, my first boss that I had was a really good mentor. He gave me lots of advice and support, but the one that stood out the most was when I had been offered a role in a smaller chartered accounting firm. I remember walking into his office and announcing that I was resigning and that I was leaving for a 2nd tier Chartered Accounting firm. His response was “no, I will not let you do that”.

His advice was simple. He said I needed to believe in myself and understand that I had developed skills and knowledge that many people in financial services did not have. He said not to settle for a 2nd tier firm but to pursue a role in a Big 4 firm, as this would help drive my career and success. I eventually secured a role in a Big 4 firm and was the best career move I could make.

3. What's the most challenging situation you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

I think many people working in second line risk and compliance roles in financial services would agree that there have been many challenging situations. There is a constant challenge to provide that independent risk advice to a Board or business representatives and know how to balance that with the commercial aspects of running a business.

Historically, the line 2 function is seen as a hurdle to be overcome and a detractor from innovation. I realised a long time ago that I needed to change the perception of the risk and compliance function and to educate the detractors that we are here to encourage innovation through ensuring that it is done in a compliant way and that all the risks have been identified. I always try to put myself in other’s shoes and understand exactly what they are thinking and what their drivers are – What are they trying to achieve? Why? What does success mean?

As an independent risk function, our role is to review and challenge, therefore understanding exactly what someone is trying to deliver and why they want to do something is extremely important. Then, the next most important aspect is that I always try to have ideas and solutions for whatever they are trying to deliver that ensures it is done in a compliant and low risk way. I consider how I can help them with the knowledge that I have to make sure that we can deliver on their objectives, but not to the point that we end up with another Royal Commission.

4. If you were starting your career now, what would you do differently?

I wouldn't have necessarily done anything differently. I'm quite happy with how my career has developed over time and I appreciate all the different roles, organisations and experiences I have gained over this time. I only would have liked to have worked out what I really wanted to do a bit earlier in my career, but it is not until you have all these experiences that you really know what suits your personality type. We all go to university but don’t necessarily want to follow the path of the degree we study.

I also think that if I could go back and start again, I would seek more guidance from sponsors. My first boss was definitely a supporter and sponsor for my career, but after that I feel like that kind of support was lacking for me in my career. So, one piece of advice is making sure that you've got someone who sponsors you and really puts a good word in for you and helps support you in your career.