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How Danske responded to Estonia money laundering scandal, including doubling Compliance team – Deutsche veteran Vollot on leading the change

Philippe Vollot tackles financial crime

Philippe Vollot, CCO of Dankse bank

By Elizabeth Hearst

The number of compliance staff working at Danske Bank has more than doubled in two years, Chief Compliance Officer Philippe Vollot has said. 

The recruitment drive has come in the wake of the Danske Estonia money laundering scandal. Vollot described how the number of skilled staff has “ballooned” from 200 in 2018 to 500 by the end of 2020. He added that the decision to spend big on skilled talent “started like a rocket” after the fall-out of the bank’s anti-money laundering scandal. 

Vollot joined the troubled financial institution in November 2018 and described how the bank lacked the necessary sanctions, anti-money laundering and terrorist financing compliance expertise prior. He explained in an interview with Global Investigations Review: “The department was not big or skilled enough basically… We went on a massive recruitment process. You need people who know what they are talking about, people with technical skills, who know about sanctions, fraud, bribery and transaction monitoring and who are experts in compliance systems.”

The Danske Bank money laundering scandal broke in 2017, after it emerged that over €200 Billion in suspicious transactions had flowed through the Estonian branch of the bank over a nine-year period. These illicit funds mostly originated from Russia, Estonia and Latvia, and the scandal shook the banking sector to its core. 

Following these revelations, other high profile banks including Swedbank and Norway’s DNB have been embroiled in similar controversies, and global banks are keen to ramp up their compliance to ensure it doesn’t happen to them.

Describing the events, Vollot said it was a “painful wake-up call” for Danske Bank. He added that “this matter was of course a massive blow to the bank and even to society at large in Denmark”.

After he joined the bank, it was clear that its mission was to bring “the next level of expertise” to the financial institution. He added: “I was approached even before the confidential report was published, and the message I got was: we want to get better at this, we want to have a strong corporate culture, we want to have a robust control environment set up in this bank”. 

Keen to get its reputation back on track, the bank hired numerous high profile individuals who were experts in their fields including former heads of financial crime at HSBC, Morgan Stanley and BNP Paribas. Vollot said: “I was obsessed with bringing in a team of people with expertise”.

Determined to regain customer confidence, Vollot updated the bank’s policies in line with its regulatory obligations and rolled out increased training initiatives for all staff. Danske has implemented new policies in relation to “Know Your Customer” (KYC) and sanction regimes and commissioned an on-site financial crime training programme in all of the bank’s branches. 

Vollot brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his role, following his 15 years working for Deutsche Bank as global head of anti-financial crime, but he is adamant there is still more to do. He believes that implementing a strong compliance regime across all levels of the bank is of “paramount importance” and added: “The moment every employee is aware that it’s their duty to prevent bad actors from misusing Danske Bank and abusing the financial system, then, in conjunction with your systems, controls and policies, you reach compliance maturity.”

Vollot is determined to make his mark on the bank and to ensure that something of this magnitude never happens again, he said: “Ultimately you want to ensure that as a bank you do the right business with the right clients in the right way”.

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