Seye Kosoko, head of legal and company secretary at Standard Chartered Nigeria speaks to Who’s Who Legal about the legal marketplace in Lagos.
Standard Chartered is a British multinational banking and financial services company which operates a network of over 1,700 branches and outlets across more than 70 countries. It is a universal bank with operations in consumer, corporate and institutional banking and treasury services. Though based in London, the bank does not conduct retail banking in the UK, and a considerable proportion of its profits come from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
The bank has a strong African presence, and opened a Nigerian office in 1999 where it now employs 841 staff. As one of the most prominent banking institutions in the jurisdiction, Standard Chartered Nigeria offers services in a range of areas including corporate finance, personal banking, financial markets and transactional banking.
Seye Kosoko joined Standard Chartered in 2012 as head of legal and company secretary. He brings considerable experience to the role, having previously acted as managing partner at Henley, Crankshaw Solicitors for eight years. Who’s Who Legal spoke with him about his role and day-to-day duties, the bank’s interaction with lawyers in the sector and the effect of foreign investment on the Nigerian legal market.
Tell us about your role as head of legal and company secretary at Standard Chartered Nigeria.
As head of legal and company secretary at Standard Chartered Nigeria, I have overall responsibility for the management of the legal affairs and corporate governance of the Standard Chartered entities and businesses in Nigeria.
Describe a typical day.
A typical day begins at about 8am and ends anywhere between 7pm and 10pm. The work is very interesting and cuts across different areas of the law as they affect the bank’s business and customers. My work ranges from drafting and review of routine agreements, SME lending review, mortgages and litigation management to the more exotic corporate and project financing drafting and documentation review, facility structuring meetings, dealing with regulators or directors and company secretarial. Of course, because of the international nature of the bank’s business, one minute you are in a conference call with London, the next you are trying to catch Singapore, Dubai, Nairobi or Chennai before their respective closes of business. Also, you may have to start the day by 6am or work through the night. In short, no two days are the same.
How big is the legal & compliance department at the Lagos branch?
The legal department is separate from the compliance department in Standard Chartered Nigeria, due to local regulatory requirements. We have a team of three lawyers in the country legal department, and three other lawyers supporting the retail and wholesale businesses of the bank.
Has your team been working on any special projects recently? Which law firms did you hire?
Working on various special projects is virtually routine, and we generally deal with the firms on our panel – which comprises some of the leading law firms in Nigeria.
Tell us a little more about your participation in top-level management decision making.
As a member of the executive committee, I am actively involved in top-level decision-making in relation to the achievement of the bank’s strategic imperatives. This requires more than just legal knowledge and company secretarial advisory work. The role of the general counsel has grown beyond the limited and narrow confines of legal and regulatory to include business and strategic advice and general management.
Amid increasing foreign investment in Nigeria, particularly in relation to infrastructure and energy projects, a number of companies and international firms have been looking to enter the Nigerian market in recent years. Is this reflected by increased competition in the legal marketplace? Is there a lot of choice for in-house lawyers such as yourself?
Yes, the legal marketplace here is extremely competitive, and more so recently for the reasons you mention. I believe that there are increasing opportunities and choice for in-house lawyers, with various sectors of the Nigerian economy opening up such as telecoms, power and energy, oil and gas, infrastructure development, agriculture, real estate and tourism, financial advisory and mining. With these developments, which are likely to keep growing over the coming years, there is a need for good and tested in-house counsel to assist in driving these growth areas.
What is the greatest challenge – legal, practical or political – facing the banking industry in Nigeria?
Short-term thinking versus long-term thinking: namely, the challenge of building a business in the context of an increasingly limited appreciation of long-term commercial satisfaction. This reflects a larger and more fundamental societal issue, which affects every sphere of life in the nation. Linked to this is an increasing dearth of capacity – there is less diligence and application to develop professional competence or an understanding of the businesses we serve.
What criteria do you use when deciding which external counsel to hire in relation to a banking legal matter?
We use various criteria, including expertise in the area of the banking matter, costs and service delivery among others. Over the years, the market generally gets to know each firm’s strengths and one can then play to those strengths in order to achieve the best possible outcome.
What do you consider to be your most important role as Head of Legal and company secretary?
I am a trusted adviser and partner to the business. It is important that I use my ability to provide pragmatic business solutions while balancing legal and regulatory requirements.
Please describe the process that led to your selection as head of legal at the organisation.
There was a process to identify prospective candidates by an international recruitment firm, followed by interviews of shortlisted candidates. There were several rounds of interviews: individual and panel interviews involving both local and group stakeholders, external counsel, the CEO and the board.
Having previously acted as managing partner at a private practice firm, what would you say are the main differences between private practice and in-house work in terms of the competencies required to excel in each role?
The main difference lies in the fact that the in-house counsel requires a deeper understanding of the business, its applicable internal policies and processes, and more importantly, the need to recognise the significance of the soft and other issues that underpin relationships with colleagues in the business support functions. The in-house counsel must develop strong collaborative and interpersonal skills to succeed. He must be willing to appreciate where his non-legal colleagues are coming from and how best to serve them.
However, both in-house and private practice firm lawyers must have an understanding that the key goal is to achieve the strategic imperatives of the business, beyond merely providing technical legal solutions. There is no point in achieving a legal victory which results in a business disaster! Companies need lawyers who understand that legal issues are really business issues.