Fordham Law alumnus Alex Brennan ‘03 talked to current Fordham Law students about his career in financial crime compliance during a November 9 talk sponsored by the Corporate Law Center.
Currently the managing director and lead consultant of AJB Compliance Solutions, a consultancy he founded, Brennan explained how earning an LL.M. degree at Fordham led to his specialization in the field of financial crime compliance.
Since first studying about the Sarbanes Oxley Act with Fordham Professor Carl Felsenfeld, Brennan has gone on to master an ever-increasing body of law and regulations. His talk covered his round-the-clock work as a money-laundering reporting officer (“You don’t get much sleep.”), his navigation of regulations in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, and his work with some of the financial sector’s preeminent institutions.
“I started working within the legal and compliance departments for companies such as State Street, AIG, and then went on to J.P. Morgan and Bank of New York,” said Brennan. “The compliance culture was in its infancy then and is growing all the time, which has led to financial crime functions being carved away from the traditional compliance department.”
Brennan called on this experience in giving an overview of the growing financial crimes field.
“When we look at current examples of financial crime, what is probably causing the most controversy and concern is the area of sanctions programs,” he said. “The fines that the Office of Foreign Assets Control has imposed reach to companies outside the United States. U.S. dollar transactions, traded anywhere in the world, are required to go through U.S. clearing banks, and that’s enough of a touch point to then look at the business, the details of the payments, which could ultimately lead to an investigation.”
Brennan stated that regulatory fines can reach into the billions, citing as example the $1.45 billion fine imposed on Brennan’s current client Commerzbank AG, scarcely a year before he began to work with the company.
“Compliance is not a profit-generating part of a business,” said Brennan, “but when we look at the current fines and what companies stand to lose, such as share prices and reputational esteem, that’s usually when the board of directors and senior management wake up and do something about their financial crime programs.”
According to Brennan, a legal degree provides an ideal background for those interested in the financial crimes field.
“The education behind you, that of a lawyer, is probably the strongest education you can have for a career within financial crime. The mentality you’re taught in law school allows you to look at things in a different way. It’s not linear; you’re looking at all the potential options and outcomes.”
Brennan also cited the Fordham alumni network as a valuable resource for students interested in working in financial crimes compliance. As the current president of the European chapter of the Fordham Law Alumni Association, Brennan encourages current students to reach out to past graduates when pursuing work in or outside of the financial crimes field.
“The Fordham network is fantastic,” Brennan said. “Use that network, target companies, and let them know you’re interested in getting into the financial crime side of the business which may be within the in-house legal team or the compliance function. One of the reasons I come back to Fordham is that I want to develop that link between the School and the industry.”