What are the E&C priorities for companies in the Middle East?

What you'll learn on this podcast episode

In the nearly 10 years of running our annual program effectiveness research, LRN has had the good fortune to discuss trends in E&C with leaders from across the world. The Middle East is one such region. How do business practices differ in this region compared to other parts of the world? Who are the like-minded professionals that E&C leaders can connect with in the Middle East? In this episode of LRN’s Principled Podcast, host Amy Hanan is joined by Elvis Angyiembe, the co-founder of the Middle East and Africa Compliance Association (MEACA). Listen in as they discuss Elvis’s experience working in the Middle East for various multinational companies, what led him to start MEACA, and what the E&C priorities are for companies in the Middle East. 

Are you an E&C professional based in the Middle East? Take this 10-minute survey and share your experiences for LRN’s 2024 E&C Program Effectiveness research. Results will be published in February.

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Guest: Elvis Angyiembe

Elvis Angyiembe – Grayscale

Elvis Angyiembe is co-founder and co-chair of the Middle East and Africa Compliance Association (MEACA). He has significant experience working for multinational companies helping them manage significant legal and compliance matters. He has supported three companies under deferred prosecution agreements with the US Department of Justice. He has lived in Cameroon, Germany, US, South Africa, and currently in Dubai. He holds a Juris Doctorate (JD) from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, Texas and a bachelor's degree in criminology from the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. 

Host: Amy Hanan

Amy Hanan – Grayscale

Amy Hanan is the chief marketing officer at LRN. A B2B digital marketing leader, Amy has a nearly 20-year track record in product, brand, lifecycle, and demand-generation marketing as well as corporate communications for media, professional services, and technology companies. One of her central areas of expertise is executing tech-enabled marketing initiatives for growth. Before joining LRN, Amy was the chief digital officer at Baretz+Brunelle, a marketing and communications agency serving the legal and financial services industries. Her previous experience includes Reorg Research, ALM Media and The Associated Press. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northern Arizona University. 


Principled Podcast transcription

Intro: Welcome to the Principled Podcast brought to you by LRN. The Principled Podcast brings together the collective wisdom on ethics, business and compliance, transformative stories of leadership and inspiring workplace culture. Listen in to discover valuable strategies from our community of business leaders and workplace change makers.

Amy Hanan: As LRN expands globally, we have the good fortune of meeting leaders in ethics and compliance in new places around the world. The Middle East is one such region where we have expanded recently, largely due to a recent merger of the compliance learning business unit from Thomson Reuters. How do business practices differ in this region? Who are the like-minded professionals that E&C leaders can connect with in the Middle East? 

Hello, and welcome to another episode of LRN's Principled Podcast. I'm your host, Amy Hanan, chief marketing officer for LRN. And today, I'm joined by Elvis Angyiembe, co-founder and co-chair of the Middle East & Africa Compliance Association. He is also the global head integrity regulatory affairs and data privacy for ABB's electrification business area. We're going to be talking about his experience working in the Middle East for various multinational companies. What led him to start MEACA? And what the E&C priorities are for our companies in the Middle East? Elvis is a real expert in this area. He holds a JD from Thurgood Marshall School of Law and has worked in the E&C region for nearly a decade. Elvis, thanks for coming on the Principled Podcast. 

Elvis Angyiembe: Thank you, Amy. It's my pleasure. 

Amy Hanan: So, I understand that you've been living and working in the Middle East region for the past nine years. Can you describe a little bit about what brought you to the region and how your professional career has evolved over that time? 

Elvis Angyiembe: Sure. I started my legal career in Houston in oil and gas. Then very early on I was sent on an expat assignment to South Africa. And in 2016, because of the downturn in oil prices, the company I was working for was forced to shut down a lot of the offices there and they combined their Sub-Saharan African business with a Middle East business, which was based in Dubai. So that's how I moved to Dubai. 

Interestingly, Amy, even when I was in law school, I'd always dreamed about working in Dubai. So in reality, working in Dubai now is a dream come true for me. Over the past nine years in Dubai, I've worked for three multinationals and my roles in this company started at a regional level, just supporting Middle East risk, but now that has morphed into more global. While based in Dubai, I'm now able to help companies manage legal and compliance risk, not just in the Middle East, but also across the world. 

Amy Hanan: Yeah, Elvis, it's so interesting to me that you mentioned this is a dream come true for you. I don't know how many professionals get to say that about where they are in their current role or where they happen to live. So it's so nice to hear. Since you've been in Dubai, how has your experience in the ethics and compliance function changed? 

Elvis Angyiembe: Sure. I think that the E&C functions are becoming more and more important. Companies are taking the risk more seriously and they're willing to invest more money into the E&C programs. And hopefully E&C functions are no longer being seen as a department of bonus prevention, but ones that are essential for doing business in a sustainable way. And as you know as well, misconduct is becoming more sophisticated and also very difficult to detect. 

And another element of evolution that I'm seeing is that improper payments are taking different forms now from before. Think about cryptocurrency, so gone are those days where the all forms of improper payments with suitcases full of money, and now it's becoming more sophisticated where people can make payments through cryptocurrency and other Bitcoin related payment systems. 

Another trend of evolution that I see as well is relating to data. So when people engage in some misconduct, and in order for you to prove that, you need to find some evidence, you need to find some data. What we know now is that having access to data is also becoming more difficult. Think about WhatsApp, think about WeChat, think about other media of communication, and these are very common nowadays where business leaders are running businesses on these platforms. How do you get access to that data? Right? It's very difficult. So I would say E&C functions have evolved to catch up with these challenges and they're becoming more data-driven and they must continue to evolve because if not, they'd not be able to keep up the times. 

Amy Hanan: And you had mentioned very briefly that you have experience working in the US of course, you mentioned Houston, South Africa as well, before making your way to Dubai, have you noticed that the management of E&C programs differ in the Middle East region compared to others? 

Elvis Angyiembe: Well, maybe fundamentally, E&C risk is uniform across the board. No matter what regions or which country you're based in, I think it's uniform. I say that because human beings are human beings, right? No matter where they are, bad actors are bad actors regardless of which regions they are in. So in that respect, the risk is really the same across regions. So there shouldn't really be any extreme differences in E&C programs. Look, you cannot have a code of conduct for every region that you operate in, or you cannot have a code of conduct for every country that you operate in. So in my mind, the main differences across regions is really in the culture. So in certain culture, certain things are more prevalent and more acceptable. 

The Middle East, for example, has a unique culture which has been formed over time, and people are used to certain habits that may have become normal. Some of these habits may not be in line with the expectation of regulators. So the key for me, I think in the Middle East is to get people to see why, even though something may be common practice culturally, if it is improper behavior, then the fact that it's common, doesn't make it right. So I would say one of the biggest differences that I see from working in various regions in the world, like you mentioned in the US and Africa and Asia and anywhere else, is just the culture. And as you know, the success of an E&C program depends on the culture. 

Amy Hanan: But I'm sure there must be some trends or dynamics that are unique to the Middle East region. 

Elvis Angyiembe: Sure, absolutely. Again, I've been here for nine years and I have seen the E&C evolution and I've seen the changes that are happening in the region. I would say the countries are finally catching up to the global transparency trend. We see this because they're passing laws that are similar to US laws, to UK laws as you relate to bribery and corruption as you relate to data privacy, money laundering and other areas, that is happening. I think part of it is organic, is organic because they're just catching up, but also because of recommendations that are coming from, for example, lending institutions. If you're going to get money from us, you need to show us that you're going to use this money properly and then it's going to be transparent. So the countries in the regions, they're now are evolving dynamically and becoming more transparent. They're asking a lot more questions about beneficial ownership of companies, the source of money. 

I think gone are those days where in some of these countries you could just easily move money around, you could just easily create a company. I think a lot more questions are being asked nowadays to show that the region is catching up to make sure that the stereotype about being difficult or impossible to do business compliant in a region like this, I think it's possible because the region is catching up. 

I say as well that from my experience, it could been nine years here, when I came in, I'm seeing a lot more compliance professionals compared to just a couple of years ago. And we're seeing that even in state-owned entities, so it's becoming very important. And nothing really talks my heartstrings more than having to talk ethics with somebody in a state-owned entity to see that we are in this together, right? We are trying to avoid risk as it relates to dealing with them. They're also trying to avoid risk as they're dealing with their business. 

A couple of things that I mean unique right now, ESG is a big topic now in the region. Anti-money laundering is also very big topic. And just from a trade compliance perspective, given where the Middle East is located being almost in the middle of the world, the risk of diversion and sanctions control is also very, very unique in the region. So some of those things are what I'm seeing and the dynamics and trends happening in the region right now. 

Amy Hanan: And you had mentioned just a couple of minutes ago data a couple of times and how access to data is one of the elements that have really been changing how E&C programs are managed. How is the focus on data analytics and the insights compliance leaders can glean from that data helping to evolve E&C program management and just to help measure the overall effectiveness? 

Elvis Angyiembe: Amy, you probably heard about, they say now in the profession that data is the new oil, and I believe that. I think data is the new oil, and right now it's all about data. And I think data will continue to reign. And data is important in this region because one of the challenges that we've been facing is having access to data, especially when you're conducting due diligence, for example, to be able to verify the ownership of a company and be able to draw a conclusion whether there's risk there or not. So data has been a challenge because there's no sophisticated data sources, unlike in other parts of the world, like in the US for example, where you can just run a search in a core database or in other corporate databases to be able to validate what you're looking for. Hopefully that is changing now. Hopefully that is changing now. 

With regards to artificial intelligence, the region is putting itself at the forefront of the AI revolution. I just walked by a building today in Dubai, the Center for Artificial Intelligence and a lot of the countries in the Middle East are doing the same thing. They're very, very active in the area of AI and they're setting up tools to really harness the benefits of AI. And once that happens, naturally E&C programs are going to benefit from that. So that way then we can see how we can use AI to mitigate compliance risk. It is already happening, I'm sure. Some companies are already doing that, but since this is relatively new to most people, I think the true benefits of what AI can do to help us mitigate compliance risk is still to be seen. We just have to wait and see. 

So data is very, very important. I think compliance programs now are using data to be able to show what risks are more significant to them. They're using data to show to the business what value they're adding. Again, AI I think is going to really help there. And like we say in French, [foreign language 00:11:22] 

Amy Hanan: I'd like to shift the conversation just a little bit because I think it's important that we talk about the Middle East & Africa Compliance Association. I know that you're one of the association, but could you share a little bit of how it all came together, how the association came to be and what that origin story is? 

Elvis Angyiembe: Absolutely. I think I mentioned in the beginning that I started my career in Houston in oil and gas. And while working in Houston, I'd always been part of the professional associations. I was a member of the Houston Bar Association, of the Texas Bar Association, and I had leadership positions in those associations. I saw the benefit because it gave us opportunity to network and to learn from fellow professionals. When I moved to Dubai, I didn't see a lot of opportunities for that. In fact, there probably wasn't really a registered association for compliance professionals. So I decided to create MEACA, which is the Middle East & Africa Compliance Association. 

I joined forces with some of the partners in the group and we went through a lot of challenges, but we made it happen. So MEACA is a fully registered non-for-profit in the Dubai International Financial Center. And right now, we're able to partner with industry groups, receive sponsorships, charge membership fees, though we are not doing that yet, but that's really the story for MEACA, where I came and I saw that there was a gap and I tried to fill it and I'm very happy that we made it happen. 

Amy Hanan: I'm sure you have a pretty diverse member base already that are bringing in all kinds of different perspectives. What kind of unique challenges do you see some of your MEACA members being faced with in the region? 

Elvis Angyiembe: Sure. I think the fact that there was really no opportunity for people to get together, no real association. So we just had professionals in different parts of the country or the region. But now, and the challenge is really you're facing an issue and there's probably a fellow professional that has faced that issue before and maybe at a networking event or one of these webinars that we organize, you can learn from it. Maybe there's really no opportunities for benchmarking. We have opportunities where we can get in the room and say, "Look, I'm seeing this challenge, what are you seeing? Let's talk through it together as professionals." 

I think that was the biggest challenge, thinking about the fact that, again, compliance relatively new in the region. It is evolving now, but professionals in E&C having opportunities to get together and exchange notes wasn't really there. Now I think MEACA is a great platform for E&C professionals to network, have conversations around the topics that are challenging for us because we are part of the same profession and we all face the same risk. And through MEACA, I think we may also have the unique opportunity to be able to influence the development of the profession in the region. And even most importantly, for me, it's an opportunity to pay it forward to aspiring E&C professionals, that's what I would like to do. As part of MEACA, we are running mentorship activities with students at universities to expose them to the profession and help guide them. 

Amy Hanan: It sounds like you're really tackling so many different types of needs for your members and being spread across the Middle East and Africa for your members. I'm curious, how do you do all this? How do you manage such a diverse membership base that's spread out across many, many miles? 

Elvis Angyiembe: Well, I think we've been very lucky, maybe because people recognize that we are helping to fill the gap, that we are having people reach out to us from various parts of the region. I'll tell you, we are getting a lot of attention and people are reaching out to us from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kenya and other places and said, "We see that you've created this, let's see how we can partner. So our main vehicle or functioning right now is to working with partners that really have things set up so that we can work together. 

I think about LRN, we did a seminar together here in Dubai and we get interest from a lot of other partners to see how we can work together. So I think right now, that's how we are working and as we continue to grow, maybe within be able to stand alone on ourselves and be able to do these things, but the partnerships are very key. Look, I believe that it's all about partnerships because we are all in this together. We cannot do this alone. And wherever there's an opportunity for us to join forces and do something together, we are very ready. So I would say if there are any organizations out there listening and they would like to do something with MEACA, please reach out. 

Amy Hanan: Yes, and I can attest to the event that we co-host together back in May this year. It was a terrific event and had a really compelling, practical conversation around data and analytics there as well. It was so fascinating to hear from everybody that attended that event. So thank you for helping to put that together. 

Elvis Angyiembe: No, thank you. Thank you so much. 

Amy Hanan: So yes, people should definitely reach out to you or to other organizers within MEACA, but are there any other ways that some of our listeners could get involved, or just more generally, what are some future plans for MEACA? 

Elvis Angyiembe: So future plans, we are in the process of organizing a couple of events here in Dubai. We are partnering now to do a conference in Saudi Arabia, and we also have plans to organize a big anti-corruption conference in Kenya in February next year. Just stay tuned and see what we have to offer. 

Amy Hanan: Well, Elvis, I know that we can continue to talk about the Middle East region, E&C trends and the future of MEACA for many more minutes, but I think we're almost out of time today. I'd like to thank you for joining me on this episode of the Principled Podcast. 

Elvis Angyiembe: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. 

Amy Hanan: Yes. So my name is Amy Hanan and I want to thank all of you for listening to this episode of the Principled Podcast by LRN. 

Outro:  We hope you enjoyed this episode. The Principled Podcast is brought to you by LRN. At LRN, our mission is to inspire principle performance in global organizations by helping them foster winning ethical cultures, rooted in sustainable values. Please visit us at LRN.com to learn more. And if you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And don't forget to leave us a review.


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