For a long time, it was presumed that individuals could not be held legally liable for compliance negligence incurred by financial institutions. Compliance negligence was perceived as an institutional liability, not a personal liability. As such, compliance professionals were typically not held legally liable for compliance negligence that occurred under their watch; the blame often shifted from individuals to their employers.
However, the assumption that individuals could not be held personally liable for compliance negligence took a sharp turn in May 2017 when Thomas Haider, a former Chief Compliance Officer at MoneyGram agreed to pay a $250,000 fine in a case brought against him by the United States AML regulator, FinCEN, for compliance oversights that happened under his watch.
The case against Haider is indeed a turning point in how personal liability is perceived within the compliance profession. The decision by the U.S. regulator to bring a case against Haider may be the beginning of a new era in the compliance profession where the compliance officer can be held personally liable for negligence in the line of duty.
While the case against Haider took place in the United States, it however has potential implications for compliance professionals everywhere, particularly in cases where USD denominated transactions are involved. In Africa, compliance officers have been sacked by their employers for negligence. Others have been called upon to testify in legal matters. But cases where a compliance officer was personally held liable in a legal case brought forth by a regulator is rare in the African context. This might however change as the compliance function becomes more complex.
Compliance professionals should be aware of personal liability challenges that come with the compliance function. The institution’s compliance manual should be in effect at all times. The compliance officer is less likely to face personal liability issues if procedures and processes are followed accordingly as stipulated in the compliance manual.