Meet an ICA member: James Leake

Written by #MeetAnICAMember on Tuesday October 9, 2018

I’m James Leake, the Global Head of Financial Crime Risk Screening for AML, counter terrorist financing, PEPs and adverse media at HSBC based in London. I work in the financial crime risk division with my teams providing oversight and challenge as the risk stewards for screening across all four lines of business and countries HSBC operates in.


I have been a member of the ICA for three years following the completion of the ICA Diploma in AML and Diploma in Governance, Risk and Compliance. I have also completed the ICA Certificate in Managing Sanctions Risk and am now undertaking the ICA Professional Postgraduate Diploma in Financial Crime Compliance.  


I have worked in compliance roles for the last twelve years in all three lines of defence, specifically, in the first and second line for commercial banking covering credit and operational Risk including fraud and financial crime. I spent four years working in Group Internal Audit for Lloyds Banking Group leading audit and assurance work in risk and compliance. A lot has changed for compliance professionals over the years; the regulatory landscape has continued to evolve with greater levels of focus on operational risk including financial crime and customer treatment along with unprecedented times in the financial markets and in global politics.  



My career started in relationship management in Retail Banking at Lloyds before I moved to work in commercial, managing a portfolio of wholesale clients. I always enjoyed helping customers develop their businesses and supporting them with finance and risk management solutions to grow these businesses profitably and safely. Career progression in relationship management roles was well mapped out and colleagues around me had often worked in the environment for many years.


However, I felt a little unfulfilled at work and knew I wanted to do something different. I remember back in 2006 arranging a meeting with a career coach to explore my options. It was a great meeting and it opened by mind up to other areas to consider and I am thankful today for the introduction to the world of compliance. Within a matter of weeks, I had started my first role working in operational risk which at that time was focused on building up the operational risk control framework for the commercial bank as part of the bank’s application for an advanced management approach to operational risk capital.


The transition in ways of thinking and working was tough but I worked for a very supportive senior management team that encouraged and invested in me. I realised I had found an area that was challenging but enormously rewarding. I have had 5–6 roles in compliance since and been privileged to work for and have work for me some of the most talented people in the industry.  


I can honestly say I love my current role. In particular, working with colleagues across the globe learning about different cultures and local laws and regulations, and their application. My working day often starts by talking with our Asia business and then following the sun through to the Middle East, Europe, and North and South America. The role provides me with challenges that bring out my best: managing multiple work streams, maintaining an effective control framework cross-border whilst continually seeking new ways of working to ensure compliance remains relevant and efficient.  

There are many important attributes for a career in compliance – the critical ones for me include having a thorough understanding of the business you are overseeing, and being able to influence and communicate effectively with all levels across the organisation. Another must is having a restless curiosity.   

My advice to fledgling compliance professionals is: 


  1. Don’t fear asking the ‘silly’ questions. Nobody starts on day one with all the answers. Often asking such questions uncovers issues and areas for attention in the design and operation of controls that may not have been discovered. 
  2. Build a network of key stakeholders. Consider those internally and externally that you will need to interact with to be effective in the day job – those you will need to tell the compliance story to and those that can help you in personal and professional development to be the best you can. 
  3. Take the opportunity to work in the various areas of compliance, across the lines of defence and in different business lines and countries where you can. This will give you invaluable insight and experience to continually develop and add value in any role you undertake.  

The best life advice I can offer is to think more about the day after tomorrow. It's easy in the compliance world to focus on the issues of the past and what is on the plate today. Of course, these are important but we must find the time to think ahead and adapt now.


Technology is advancing rapidly in compliance which is changing the way we work and the role of compliance professionals. Don’t fear it, understand it and work through how you can leverage it. Artificial intelligence for example is automating some traditional aspects of our work previously performed by humans. Don’t see this as a threat and instead think about the new roles you can play in leading technology development and the oversight needed to ensure its effectiveness. Machines for the ordinary, people for the extraordinary! 




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