Career Stories

Why It’s Important to Approach Your Career Path With an Open Mind, According to This Bank Compliance Officer

Inside Scotiabank's New York City office
Inside Scotiabank's New York City office.
| Courtesy of Scotiabank

Paola Ronquillo always knew she wanted to work in finance, specifically in banking. “Banks—and the structure that comes with them—have always made sense to me,” she says.

Ronquillo also had a passion for foreign language and culture, and was able to merge her two interests early on in her career. “I leveraged a foreign language undergraduate degree in German to start working in banking and eventually started working in foreign banks, first in credit and then in compliance,” she says.

In 2018, she joined Scotiabank as the Chief Compliance Officer in the U.S., where she is responsible for overseeing requirements that the bank has to follow in order to do business safely.

Here, she shares her favorite part about working in compliance, what she looks for in candidates at ScotiaBank U.S., and how she’s overcome the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry.

What led to your job at Scotiabank, and how did you know it would be a good fit?

I did some advisory work for Scotiabank in 2018. I enjoyed working with the individuals I met through that assignment and what I experienced of Scotiabank’s culture as a consultant. I found the culture to be polite and respectful, working with people who wanted to do the right thing—which was not always the experience I had as a consultant at other firms.

When I learned about the opportunity to join the U.S. compliance leadership team—and about the leadership’s proactive approach to succession planning—I was excited to apply. Scotia actively encourages senior leaders to have a bench of talent to minimize disruption of the program and staff. It impressed me that senior leadership were thinking about and actively planning for the future in this way.

What are you responsible for in your role?

Overseeing Scotiabank U.S. compliance with all relevant requirements. These can be “hard” requirements such as U.S. laws, rules, and regulations (LRRs) that come from U.S. regulators or non-U.S. regulators (where due to where a business or risk is located, the U.S. would need to comply) or “soft” requirements such as regulatory guidance, industry expectations, or practices that would require an institution of our size, business model, or risk profile to comply. Identifying and managing local conduct risk is also part of my purview.

As part of the senior leadership team, I contribute to establishing a culture of compliance for the U.S. bank as well as contributing to the overall oversight of the bank to ensure it is operating in a safe and sound manner.

What is your favorite part about working in compliance?

I like that compliance is structured and logical. I also like the consultative side of compliance that allows me to provide advice to leaders to help them do business in a safe way that protects the bank.

What does it take to succeed in this aspect of the banking industry?

Patience and a desire to educate. Compliance officers are best poised to tell the bank what they need to comply with in terms of LRRs. The best compliance officers help colleagues across the bank (whether in the front office, head office, etc.) understand why we need to comply with U.S. requirements as well as the implications of their actions. I tell everyone I hire that they need to be comfortable socializing what we do and why we do it so we can bring people outside of our function “along on the journey” of complying with a rule, versus just saying yes or no when they ask if they can do something.

What do you look for in candidates who want to work in compliance?

I look for candidates who are structured and organized but not rigid. I also look for strong critical thinkers who may or may not have worked in banking their entire careers, depending on the level of seniority or specialty needed for a role. There are many ways to problem solve and not all candidates necessarily need to have had only one type of background to be successful compliance officers. Finally, I look for people who are as approachable as they are knowledgeable. Good compliance officers have people come talk to them when they are unsure if they are complying with an LLR. For that to happen, it is best to have a demeanor where people want to come to you with their problems.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in a predominantly male-led industry, and how have you overcome them?

As a woman in business—especially a woman of color—I have faced many challenges. One challenge is being heard, where I say something that is later said by a man and I don’t always get credit for that thought or idea. Another challenge is that women who speak their minds in business can sometimes be perceived adversely. As I have become increasingly more senior, another challenge is having my male bosses consulted on items under my purview.

I have addressed these challenges by trying to find a balance in how I communicate so that I am heard as I intend. I have also needed to become more patient in bringing people (men or otherwise) along on the journey of dealing with women in business—especially in positions of power. Finally, for all of these challenges, it has been helpful to have men at all levels advocate and support me and other women so our ideas are heard and our positions of authority are respected.

What have been the keys to your success as you’ve worked your way up to a leadership role?

I would say there are two keys to my career fulfillment and to my success.

The first is being open-minded. I have considered different opportunities that I may not have envisioned for myself or that did not fit in a standard path. This has generally led to fulfilling professional experiences. I did not necessarily envision a career in compliance or roles as a bank examiner or in business advisory services. However, those paths have been satisfying and have led to me being in the right place at the right time, allowing me to learn and grow at certain points in my career.

Second, being supportive of people. I believe in karma and goodwill. I believe that if you look out for and support people—and if you are collaborative with your peers and go out of your way to help others—things will work out for you.

What advice would you give to others early in their careers?

Learn how to market yourself early in your career. Learn how to show people—from school admissions officers to potential employers—what choices you have made along your path, and why and how it all fits together.