Portrait of Stefanie Held
Woman with the right feel for compliance
The new face of compliance at ERGO: As the Chief Compliance Officer, Stefanie Held does not rely exclusively on controls. Cooperation and understanding are equally important in anchoring the idea of compliance firmly in the company's culture.
Stefanie Held is certainly not one to beat about the bush. She is well aware that she has an important job to do at ERGO – and also that she is being closely scrutinised. Her task is to make the insurance group so transparent that violations of company rules and regulations will become a thing of the past. Stefanie Held fits the bill perfectly as Chief Compliance Officer (CCO).
At ERGO since January 2012, she has been instrumental in building up the group's compliance organisation in an independent department. Compliance had previously existed within the Legal Department. But as part of the lessons learned from last year's blatant breach of company rules, ERGO took the decision to set up an independent Compliance unit headed by a highly qualified specialist. Held has an exclusive and direct reporting line from this unit to the Chairman of the Board of Management.
A lawyer, she is very much at home in the financial sector. In her last position, she built up the compliance organisation for bankers HSBC Trinkaus & Burkhardt, where she was responsible for compliance, money-laundering and fraud prevention. Then she received a call from a headhunter, followed by a couple of interviews. "Suddenly I was hooked. I could see that ERGO was on the right path. And I wanted to be involved. It is important for me to work in a company that I regard as good," said the 39-year-old.
"There has to be some serious rethinking"
One of the first items on the agenda of the new Compliance boss was to take stock of the situation. A whole battery of rules and regulations already exists. They have to be reviewed, bundled together and made uniform. Then they have to be presented in such a way that employees can inform themselves at any time whether an action is in conformity with the rules or not. Ultimately, it is about making sure the regulations are complied with. Held does not view herself as some sort of omnipresent "guard dog" that strikes fear into everyone's heart. She prefers to focus on cooperation and understanding. "People have to get it into their heads that following the rules is essential. It can't be done by pressing a button. You also need to use a lot of tact," she said.
Compliance means abiding by the rules, especially in companies. Normally you would expect this as a matter of course. However, Held can only speculate as to why there is the need to have specific departments for Compliance nowadays compared to the past. Perhaps values simply get left behind in an increasingly fast-moving world. On the other hand, society is less tolerant of violations. "There is no longer any such thing as a trivial offence," says Held. Essentially, compliance is a very simple matter. "Everyone using their own common sense knows what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable for the company and what is not." Held would like employees to ask themselves where compliance starts and where it stops. "It's not hard to do. You just have to be honest with yourself."
Held wants to treat everyone in the same way. She would investigate misdemeanours by Board members just as she would any other misdemeanours. Otherwise her work would be worthless, for she knows no one would take her seriously. "We will never achieve a change in the culture if employees think that their bosses are free to do what they want." Held wants to be a role model in her team. There will be a four-eyes principle, so that one colleague will always review the work of another. That prevents taking a blinkered view in the company and makes transparency a matter of course.
Modest and pragmatic
The secretariat in Held's office in Düsseldorf's ERGO Tower is still unoccupied. The adjoining rooms are also closed. So far she only has one colleague. Wearing a dark suit, Held sits behind her desk but does not create the impression of being lost. Having an assistant because of her position is something she can do without. Such external appearances are unimportant to this woman who enjoys sport and outdoor activities. The rooms will be occupied in good time. But careful thought has to go into building up her team. She hand-picks staff based on the qualities she considers vital to the compliance tasks involved. Currently, she is negotiating with an employee from the sales organisation. "For us it is very important to have people with hands-on experience of sales and marketing," she says. She clearly has no problem in finding people. Her open and dynamic style is appealing to others. It is obvious that she likes her job, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Five or six people will probably be needed for the first phase of the work, and later perhaps more. "The size of the department depends on the nature and amount of work," says Held.
She would consider herself successful if in two or three years' time the idea of compliance were to be viewed as totally self-evident by ERGO's office and field staff. For compliance is a corporate topic and not one confined to specific classes or areas of business. Held is optimistic about achieving this goal: "I am good at selling people ideas I myself believe in." But Held is also a realist with both feet firmly on the ground, and therefore admits: "If people have sufficient criminal energy to bend the rules, I will not be able to stop them. What I can do, however, is make it considerably more difficult for them."