For Refinitiv’s Phil Cotter, jump from distilling information to divining fincrime risk, protecting the vulnerable, the ‘highlight of my career’

The Skinny:

  • For Phil Cotter, the choice to jump into the fincrime compliance field boiled down to career advice he got more than 20 years ago: forget titles and salaries. Ask yourself what will you be doing everyday? Who will you be helping and how?
  • Cotter, now Group Head of Customer & Third-Party Risk Solutions, Data & Analytics at Refinitiv, a London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) business, not only believes he made the right decision some seven years ago, he calls it the “highlight of my career.”
  • Refinitiv, though it might seem a newer name in the fincrime compliance data, analytics and technology space, is actually a multi-billion-dollar company with tens of thousands of employees, commanding a long, rich history in the field. 

By Brian Monroe
bmonroe@acfcs.org
August 21, 2021 

For Phil Cotter, the choice to jump into the fincrime compliance field boiled down to career advice he got more than 20 years ago: forget titles and salaries. Ask yourself what will you be doing every day? Who will you be helping and how?

Then go a step further, breaking down the potential position into things you enjoy doing and things you don’t. If it largely contains the things that you enjoy doing, then you are likely to be successful simply because if you enjoy something, you are “likely to do it well.”

Cotter, now Group Head of Customer & Third-Party Risk Solutions, Data & Analytics at Refinitiv, a London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) business, not only believes he made the right decision some seven years ago, he calls it the “highlight of my career.”

Why?

“Because I real feel that we are contributing to the greater good through the work we all do,” he said. “I love working with people who are passionate about what they do, and you feel you are making a positive contribution to society.”

Prior to joining Refinitiv – then Thomson Reuters – Cotter was previously Managing Director of Experian’s Credit Services business in the UK, ran his own consulting business and served as a non-executive director on the board of Bisnode AB, a pan-European information services provider based in Sweden.

He also holds several advisory positions including University of Nottingham Business School, where he is an Honorary Professor.

Refinitiv, though it might seem a newer name in the fincrime compliance data, analytics and technology space, is actually a multi-billion-dollar company with tens of thousands of employees, commanding a long, rich history in the field.

The company is an American-British global provider of financial market data and infrastructure.

Refinitiv was founded in 2018 when Thomson Reuters sold a majority stake in its Financial & Risk (F&R) unit to private equity firm Blackstone Group LP in a deal which valued the total F&R business at about $20 billion, according to media reports.  

This business was formed into Refinitiv, with the firm’s predecessors including Thomson Financial.

Refinitiv became part of LSEG in January of this year after the $27-billion-dollar sale from Blackstone Group LP, which held a 55 percent stake and Thomson Reuters, which owned 45 percent.

Refinitiv is also the parent of the venerable World-Check, now more than 20 years old, a widely relied upon database helping organizations to comply with mandatory KYC, anti-money laundering, countering the financing of terrorism, anti-bribery and corruption, and associated legislation.

The focus to create a company that can help a broad array of financial services firms strengthen fincrime programs and better manage resources to improve results follows top industry watchdog groups and countries shifting the focus from technical compliance with laws and regulations to effectiveness.

The goal in this new regime: not just managing AML analysts and dispositioning transactional alerts but elevating compliance efforts to more efficiently discern and create intelligence valuable to law enforcement that could be the foundation of cases or take ongoing investigations further.

“Often the focus is on compliance, which of course is important, but, in my view, the critical point is the role we all play in helping to protect society,” Cotter said.

That has spurred Refinitiv to craft stronger public-private partnerships, eventually becoming co-founders of the Global Coalition to Fight Financial Crime along with Europol and the World Economic Forum, a powerful pathway to promote improved dialogue with regulators, policy makers and governments.

Many people think financial crime is a “victimless crime” or a “few banks losing some money,” however, he said, “we know that money laundering is the result of serious crimes that often prey on the more vulnerable in society.”

Cotter was kind enough to share some of his insight in our latest ACFCS Member Spotlight:

Who inspires you?

My family and the people I work with. They give me energy every day.

What is one thing - industry-related or not - that you learned in the past month?

How good it is to be able to meet friends and family again after the pandemic lockdown.

What is something about you that not many people know?

I studied to be a dentist. To the relief of the general population, I didn’t go into practice.

What do you do in your current role

I’m the Group Head of LSEG’s Customer & Third-Party Risk business, responsible for leading the business globally and supporting our customers in meeting their financial crime obligations and helping them to manage risk in customer and third-party relationships effectively.

What does your career trajectory in financial crime look like?

I came to financial crime late in my career, having started in the consumer credit sector before moving to Experian in the mid 1990’s. I joined Thomson Reuters in 2014 as Managing Director of Risk, which at that time was a business providing a broad range of services across GRC, AML & Regulatory Compliance.

When Refinitiv was created by the acquisition of the Financial & Risk business from Thomson Reuters by Blackstone, I made a strategic decision to concentrate on financial crime and related services such as due diligence, fraud prevention and digital identity to support our customers.

This continues to be our focus now we are part of the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG).

I’ve always had a keen interest in how data and analytics can be used to manage risk, be that credit, fraud, or financial crime related risks.

We use data and analytics to help our customers get a better understanding of where risks lie in their customer and third-party relationships. Vitally important when you are fighting financial crime as so many risks are hidden.

Becoming part of the community that is helping to fight financial crime is the highlight of my career because I real feel that we are contributing to the greater good through the work we all do.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

“If you don’t leave your desk at 5:30pm, why would anybody want your job?” Advice I got from my boss early in my career and something that has reminded me throughout it to try to maintain a healthy work life balance.

I can’t claim to finish at 5:30 p.m. every day, but I do try to ensure that I switch off once I’ve finished for the day.

What is the worst advice you have ever received?

It may be because of my long career associated with risk management, that I haven’t acted on poor advice. I tend to seek out more than one opinion if I’m unsure myself about the way forward.

What would you say are the most important attributes for someone in your position to succeed?

As a leader, the most important aspect of my job is remaining connected with my people and our customers so that I can understand how I can best help them to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

It is also important that I create an environment within my team, where people are clear about their roles and responsibilities and feel empowered to be able to do the job to the best of their abilities and know that I’m available when they need me.

For me, there is nothing more rewarding than leading successful teams and seeing individuals develop and grow.

How has (compliance, investigations, etc.) changed and evolved during your career?

Not having worked in compliance myself, I can’t speak to how my customers’ roles have evolved in detail.

However, what I do see in the market and hear when I talk to customers is the challenges they face in complying with increasingly complex regulations, new threats posed to their organizations by criminals and the impact of developments such as digitization of business processes.

Recent surveys we have conducted illustrate how many of them are struggling to keep pace with the changes.

What do you see as the key financial crime challenges in your role or in the sector overall?

One of the areas we have focused on at Refinitiv is explaining to regulators, policy makers, and other stakeholders in the financial crime community, why fighting financial crime is important and the role we play in helping to do that.

Often the focus is on compliance, which of course is important, but, in my view, the critical point is the role we all play in helping to protect society.

Many people think financial crime is a “victimless crime” or a “few banks losing some money,” however, we know that money laundering is the result of serious crimes that often prey on the more vulnerable in society.

It is for this reason we became co-founders of the Global Coalition to Fight Financial Crime along with Europol and the World Economic Forum to help promote awareness of the impacts of financial crime and to promote improved dialogue with regulators, policy makers and governments.

What motivated you to become a financial crime compliance professional?

When I was considering joining Thomson Reuters, I was excited by the role but honestly knew very little about financial crime and money laundering.

As I said earlier, having this role is probably the highlight of my career. I love working with people who are passionate about what they do, and you feel you are making a positive contribution to society.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Knowing that what we do makes a difference for our customers.

Is there anything that surprised you about your current role?

There aren’t many dull days!

Why did you join ACFCS or get CFCS-certified?

Collaboration is key in fighting financial crime and ACFCS with its collaborative approach and purpose to build a stronger financial crime community provides these opportunities.

How did you get your first job in the field and what advice would you give other job seekers to help land their first position.

Always difficult landing your first role in any industry. But I’d share some advice I got early in my career.

When considering a new role, put aside the title and the salary for a moment and look at the content of the job, what is it you are likely to do every day. Break this down into things you enjoy doing and things you don’t.

If it largely contains the things that you enjoy doing, then you are likely to be successful simply because if we enjoy something, we are likely to do it well. Try it, I think you will find it works.

For professionals with 5-10 years of experience, what advice would give to help them rise in their careers to the next level?

Along with the previous advice I would add two things.

Firstly, have a clear view of where you want to be in your career in 3-5 years’ time. It is difficult to plot a course without a North Star.

Secondly, remember that very few careers progress upwards like a ladder. Consider lateral moves, into areas that will help give you new experiences and allow you to develop new skills and open opportunities for you in the future.

I made several lateral moves into areas such as sales, technology and operations, all of which help me in the role I do today.