Editor’s note: In January, Wells Fargo welcomed Mike Roemer as its new chief compliance officer. Roemer is a 27-year financial services veteran who most recently served as the head of compliance at Barclays. In his role at Wells Fargo, Roemer is tasked with ensuring that the company complies with all applicable laws and regulations. His hiring is part of Wells Fargo’s efforts to develop an industry-leading compliance function.
In this Q&A, Roemer discusses his new role, how he is leading the charge to strengthen the compliance function at Wells Fargo, and more.
Why did you join Wells Fargo?
When I looked at this role, I saw an incredible opportunity to help make a difference at an iconic bank. Rebuilding trust in Wells Fargo and its compliance function is vital for our customers, team members, regulators, and shareholders. It’s a challenge, but it’s one that energizes me. I’m excited to help make a difference for the compliance function, my colleagues, and Wells Fargo.
What is compliance, and why is it important?
Compliance organizations for financial institutions are responsible for ensuring the company follows all applicable laws, rules, and regulations in the places where it does business. We work closely with each business group, providing guidance and oversight to make sure we effectively manage compliance risk across the company.
Since I joined the company, part of my message to our teams is that compliance goes beyond simply understanding laws and regulations or checking a box to show that we followed the right process. Every day at Wells Fargo, we must reaffirm our commitment to excellence by ensuring that, in every action we take, our focus is always on doing what’s right for our customers.
My job is to help team members understand the importance of compliance in their roles and make sure they have the knowledge, resources, and tools to be successful. This, in turn, enables us to help our customers succeed financially.
What are your top priorities right now, and what are the opportunities in compliance?
My No. 1 priority is to help execute the Compliance Implementation Plan, which the company developed in 2017. The plan is designed to transform the compliance function into a competitive advantage for our company, and we’re already on our way to implementing many of the plan’s recommendations.
My second priority is to be a champion for compliance and my colleagues. I want to make Wells Fargo Compliance a source of talent and expertise the entire company benefits from. Since I’ve joined the company, we’ve moved team members from groups supporting business oversight, testing and validation, and financial crimes risk management together into one organization. Shifting from a federated operating model, with compliance roles located across the company, to a more integrated one gives us a fantastic opportunity to move forward with one clear vision and a unified approach to compliance risk management.
With our new model, we have many opportunities to use best practices across the entire company in a seamless and efficient way. We have many great examples of compliance excellence across Wells Fargo today. Our aim is to shine a light on those examples and find the best way to implement them uniformly across the company.
How will strengthening compliance help Wells Fargo build a better bank?
Compliance, like the whole company, is focused on rebuilding trust. In Wells Fargo Compliance, that includes our customers, team members, shareholders, and, of course, regulators. A strong and independent compliance function will have a positive impact on how our customers view Wells Fargo and how we view ourselves.
At the core of everything we do, we must not only ask if it is legal — we must also ask if it’s the right thing to do for our customers. Restoring confidence is everyone’s job, and every team member plays an important role in that journey.
What previous work experiences will you draw from in your new role?
My prior experience has included leading and managing a great deal of transformation and change. My most recent role was to transform compliance at Barclays, a large financial institution based in London. That firm operated in many different countries around the world, including the U.S. It had a federated operating model that evolved into a more global, integrated firm; there were many similarities to what we’re doing at Wells Fargo right now.
“At the core of everything we do, we must not only ask if it is legal — we must also ask if it’s the right thing to do for our customers.”
A long time ago, I learned to focus on what I can control and not worry about things I cannot. Transformational change improves that skill and allows you to see the possibilities. It teaches the power of “we” and “the team,” and I’m excited about exploring these opportunities as we come together as one Compliance organization.
What is one thing people may be surprised to know about you?
The music I listen to. My phone is full of many different types of music: country, classical, bagpipes, classic rock, rap — you name it, it’s on there. Music is a big part of who I am. It helps me to relax, and I also use it at work to help reinforce my messages.
I may choose to play a song at a meeting because the lyrics support a theme that I want my team to remember, and sometimes I use music to energize a group. I’ve also been known to turn up the volume when I really want the music to stand out.