I’ll start with a statistic. In the last 2 years 46% of organisations based in the Middle East have reported at least one instance of fraud or corruption1. Sounds bad doesn’t it, and it more than likely reinforces your preconceived ideas of the region. That is until I give you another one. In that same period, 56% of UK organisations experienced fraud, with almost 40% reporting that they believed that they had lost business due to a competitor or competitors paying bribes1
The UK, US, most of Europe and parts of Asia are seen as the poster boys when it comes to compliance, with other regions – and for the interests of this article I am going to concentrate on the Gulf states – seen as having a problem, or at least lagging behind.
Up until the financial crisis of 2007/2008 that was certainly the case, and you wouldn’t be speaking out of turn if you said that prior to then there was practically no compliance in the region. Things change though. Things have to. Businesses, especially those with any ambition of operating in a multinational or global market, had to start behaving and operating in line with the new financial measures that were sweeping the corporate landscape.
In a world that loves acronyms, KYC and AML were suddenly the two most commonly heard, but they weren’t just on the lips of the lawyers or CFO’s, they were emblazoned on an organisation’s marketing material and on their website. Compliance is probably never going to be sexy, but as the world rushed to show just how compliant they could be, it was probably the nearest to sexy it was, or is, ever going to be.
So what has this got to do with recruiting legal professionals for the Middle East? A lot. The region offers excellent opportunities for those wanting to work in legal compliance, in two ways. The last area to really embrace, adopt and champion compliance has been the Gulf, and it is there that the greatest opportunities lie. Many organisations have implemented rigorous and very successful compliance frameworks, motivated not just by market forces but also by the all-seeing eyes of the FATF which has worked hard in the area, pointing out each state’s loopholes and shortcomings in an attempt – successful in the main – at making them as watertight as any business can be. Such organisations offer the chance for someone to come in and work in a dynamic environment that is focussed on taking an already established infrastructure and making it better.
There are also opportunities for ambitious and hungry individuals to join a firm where very little exists in the way of compliance, with the aim of implementing and setting up one that works for the region, for the global market, for now and for the future. Those opportunities are rare in regions that have been wrestling with compliance issues for decades, where it is a case of tweaking as opposed to building, dismantling not creating. The Gulf Region really does offer unique opportunities for someone to prove their worth and make a reputation and CV that will set them apart from the vast majority of their contemporaries.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain sit in the top 10 of the world’s best business improvers. It is a region that has the eyes of the world on it, and one that doesn’t just have the desire to make radical changes at a corporate level, but also the political will and crucially the financial muscle to achieve it. We would love to hear from anyone wanting to learn more about the opportunities the region has to offer, or to discuss how you can take your career in legal compliance forward.
1 PWC 2020 Economic Crime and Fraud Survey