It was in a California hire car when Eoin O’Shea had his lightbulb moment. The high-flying barrister-turned-banker had flown in to join his family for a holiday and was chewing over an increasingly frustrating problem he was having at Credit Suisse.
Namely, how to cope with the leylandii-fast spread of compliance issues at his bank in a post-financial crisis era of limited time and money.
“I was just thinking: this is driving me crazy. I have to solve this problem. I had more and more work coming in, more and more regulatory expectations, less and less budget. The frustration of trying to build a business within this process was just horrendous.
“Then the idea suddenly came. I thought: hang on a minute. There’s a way I can do this.”
The solution was to set up in business on his own as a specialist compliance gun for hire. If he could use his skills and contacts to build up a global team of compliance experts, he could help not only Credit Suisse, but other big banks in the same position, facing big compliance issues but without the money or expertise to handle them properly.
That was three years ago. Now, that business, Temple Grange Partners, is up and running, thanks in part to seed capital from City entrepreneur Michael Spencer.
O’Shea is raising a second round of funding and expects billings to hit £5 million this financial year from its offices in London, New York and Hong Kong. He will soon have a staff of more than 50. His hunch, that there were many other bank executives feeling just what he was feeling at Credit Suisse, was
So here’s what happens. The bank does something wrong — takes on a bad client, sells the wrong product. The problem comes to management’s attention, and the bank has to go through every branch around the world to see if they’ve got the same issue.
A regulatory reprimand or censure may be coming down the tracks, so the bank now has to carry out a full review of how it happened, why it happened, how to stop it happening again. All at a time when it has barely enough staff since the 2007 crash just to keep ticking over on the day job.
Doing the work in-house is unpalatable because of the lack of available bodies, so most hire a Big Four accountant. Problem is, they’re expensive (all those luxury offices to fund in Canary Wharf and the West End) and tend to send you staff with no practitioner experience, he says. They end up learning on the job, on your dollar.
Temple Grange, he says, offers you the Big Four benefits of having management of the process taken off your hands, but puts in expert compliance wonks who know what they’re doing from day one.
O’Shea says he has the contacts and expertise to get the right people and win business because of his unusual career.
Since arriving in London 32 years ago as a lawyer at Citigroup, he’s been Credit Suisse First Boston’s Hong Kong head of legal, chief operating officer and then chief executive before latterly becoming global head of compliance for the whole Credit Suisse group, based in New York.
When he was looking for funders, Spencer, who’d had a few compliance scrapes in his career at the moneybroker Icap, “got it in two minutes flat” and invested.
Private equity firms demanded more meetings before making up their minds, as is usual. But rather than complain about the rigmarole, O’Shea says he gleaned good insights from the repeated grillings by their hotshot analysts.
“You should just think of it as excellent, free advice from some of the brightest minds out there in building businesses,” he says.
However, none foresaw his biggest problem: getting big banks to put small firms like his on their list of contractors. “Getting a master service agreement with a big bank isn’t a few weeks, It’s like, 18, 20, 24 months! I had no grasp of that. It was my humbling experience number one.”
Luckily, smaller contracts offered him more than enough work to be getting on with, and now the big deals are coming through.
Like it or not, and most bankers don’t, compliance is the fastest-growing area of the City these days. O’Shea is in prime position to benefit.