CCO Spotlight: Kate Surala, The Analyst

For this installment of our CCO Spotlight series, ComplySci’s President, Amy Kadomatsu, interviewed Kate Surala, Chief Compliance Officer and Partner at The Analyst.

Kate Surala, CCO and Partner

Kate is the Chief Compliance Officer (SMF 16 and SMF17) and Partner (SMF 27) at The Analyst with a strong understanding of the FCA and SEC regulatory requirements that affect financial institutions. Kate has helped The Analyst to double in terms of revenue and staff in two years by overseeing all operations, leading legal and compliance team as well as advising on the strategic development of the business. Her ancillary responsibilities cover a wide range of day-to-day management, including finance, client contract negotiations, HR, and other diverse business operations. As recognition of her achievements to date, Kate was awarded the Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 in 2019.

The Renaissance Woman

Tell us a little bit about The Analyst:

Kate: The Analyst is an investment equity research firm that was founded 10 years ago with the goal of helping clients make the right investments. We aim to identify longs that can double and shorts that can halve, and we advise different investment funds. My role is to be the Chief Compliance Officer and a Partner (which happened just last year!)

What did your journey look like on your way to Chief Compliance Officer?

Kate: I worked for a regulated firm in Luxembourg quite early on in compliance and legal. The company that I was working for at the time was being investigated for KYC breaches and I was helping the team that was processing internal compliance investigations. That’s where I really started my interest in compliance and I was able to learn how to mitigate and manage risk when things go wrong and how to respond effectively.

After that, I was accepted to start my 2nd master’s degree in law and finance at Oxford, which I completed in a year. Then I landed my current position and at 24 I was able to step into my role as CCO and money laundering reporting officer. I was really inspired by the business and the future prospective and fast-moving environment. I would say usually it takes several years to grow into a senior positiong of the sort, but I was focused on compliance and documenting every process we created, and that really helped me prepare. Most importantly, I understood when to ask questions and when to call for help in order to handle different situations.

What skills did you find most valuable in taking on extended roles?

Kate: I live by the saying “your life starts at the end of your comfort zone”. I’ve always looked for different business in my career as an option to learn and expand my understanding of different areas. I was always the kind of person who would raise their hand to work on different projects and share ideas. It’s something that I have used during university and in my personal life. Overall it’s important to be open to new ways of learning to help you grow in different areas that you would not expect. At least that’s been my experience so far.

“Life starts at the end of your comfort zone”

What helps to drive compliance at The Analyst?

Kate: Compliance needs to be part of the culture in the company. I interact with colleagues who come and ask so many questions and it’s incredible how eager they are to learn about new policies and how it applies, rather than waiting for me to identify their mistakes and criticize what went wrong. It’s important to transform the culture of the company and make compliance a key objective. That should be discussed at the board level whether you’re a large or small organization like the Analyst. It’s important to constantly be taking compliance into consideration in the decision making process when new projects or budgets are allocated for the further growth.

What would you recommend to CCO’s looking to transform their strategy from reactive to being more strategic and proactive?

Kate: I’ve built a very rich compliance network over the past 3-4 years in London and in the US and that has helped me get ahead of incoming regulations and strategy. My team is also qualified in SCRUM project management which has been instrumental.

For companies both big and small it is key to understand time management and project management so you can anticipate what’s coming and what steps you can take to make the company compliant. It’s also important to ensure that you have sufficient information to communicate to the team.

How have things changed in compliance?

Kate: We have introduced an online system with ComplySci and it has transformed the paper based system we had in place. Especially now, as we all face COVID-19 and our teams are working remotely, I can’t imagine how we’d process different requests. I would be spending hours on request phone calls and documentation alone. A digital transformation is key and continued learning from your network and attending different forums for best practices across the industry is essential. I know ComplySci is also organizing different ways to utilize the platform, so it’s really about being proactive and creative and answering  “How can we still be compliant but also make things more digitally accessible and do so efficiently”.

For instance I love the certification function in ComplySci. We onboarded a year and 5 months ago and before we had the automatic certification function I was literally sending emails and chasing individuals trying to track it all down. This automatic reminder from the certification alone is saving me so much time and stress. I’m a big supporter of any digital tools and innovation that can help organizations thrive and for us ComplySci is one of those.

“How can we still be compliant but also make things more digitally accessible..”

What trends in the industry are you interested in at the moment?

Kate: I’m very interested in the way that regulators have responded in different ways and countries to COVID-19. From my perspective there was alot of initiative from the FCA to give senior managers and employees more responsibility as a part of the SM&CR process. I’m interested to see if they will continue in that direction going forward and continue giving the responsibility to the firms to regulate and certify staff, or if they will decide it’s not working very well and start regulating similarly to the last financial crisis. Usually after some kind of disaster, I have seen a lot of regulation being introduced and I’m curious to see what they will decide post COVID-19.

Life Beyond Compliance

What inspired you to pursue a writing career?

Kate: I was at one of ComplySci’s events in London, at a museum where they were portraying women and their history. At the time I wasn’t that clear on women empowerment but I always thought that there should be more women in leadership positions. In August of last year, my friend Sarah Wagner and I started looking for books or guides that outlined how ambitious women can thrive in different industries and how they can reach their full potential. I read book after book and couldn’t find any option that could be topical or applicable to young ambitious women. So we decided we should write one.

It’s absolutely outside of my comfort zone and I’ve been to so many different events and career seminars that I had amassed a series of notebooks full of notes. I just thought it would be so beneficial to put this all together with our lessons learned and some leadership perspective from others in the industry, and create a publication. Our book is aimed at ambitious young women that leave university and enter their first workplace. We’ll be calling it “Unleash Today: The Greatest Graduation Gift for the Next Generation of Young Ambitious Women”.

As millennials under 30, we think it’s important to share those fresh stories, lessons learned and ideas on how to unleash your full potential while still being yourself. We have about 12 people working on this and 30 guest experts contributing with their stories and we’re going to be self-publishing, since ironically it was determined by the publishing sector that we were too young and not well known to be published. We will publish Unleash Today in autumn of this year.

What would you say is your guilty pleasure?

Kate: I love mindfulness and meditation. It’s not even a guilty pleasure but rather something that has really helped me focus and even sleep better at night. It’s a new trend and people are no longer perceived as hippies who are meditating in the middle of the field during yoga practice, for doing it. I practice mindfulness sessions on a daily basis in the morning when I wake up and it helps me put things in perspective. Listening to Tamara Levitt from the calm app has transformed my life and how I can put things aside as needed. I highly recommend it every now and then to help you see things from a better perspective.

Actually my other guilty pleasure is SALSA DANCING! I like to unleash with dancing and I especially love listening to Latin music and though I can’t do too much of that the moment, I’m still following an instructor on TV.

What is your super power?

Kate: I don’t feel I have a superpower but I wish I had one. I would say that years back it was seen as a disadvantage to have women stepping into senior management roles, and advancing in companies was seen as a step back. Now that the environment has changed, and especially in a male-dominated industry like the financial sector, women bring something different to the table. They see things from a different perspective and the diversity brings about better results. There’s a lot of research that confirms that diverse groups are more successful and have better strategic decision making. Being one of the few females at our firm, and being from the Czech Republic originally which has an entirely different culture, allows me to bring a new perspective to the firm.

What advice would you give to others?

Kate:

  1. The 4 D’s: Do, Delegate, Delay or Defer. You can apply this principle to almost any decision making process.
  2. Focus on the first decision before you take on the next one.
  3. Document everything especially if you are dealing with complex situations that are composed of different elements and follow ups. As a CCO, regulators are always looking to understand the logic behind your decisions.
  4. Ask Questions and get second opinions. Be open to learning new things and reaching out whenever you need to.

Editorial Note: At ComplySci, we understand the tremendous value compliance professionals can gain from networking and learning directly from their peers. For the CCO Spotlight blog series, we are sitting down for candid conversations with Chief Compliance Officers from some of the firms we work with. This blog series will share those CCOs’ thoughts, ideas, and best practices for compliance programs with our readers. The views expressed in this blog post are the CCO’s own views and do not necessary reflect the views of their firms.