When you think of a stereotypical compliance person, you think of a guy wearing sensible work clothes who works with a carefully measured gait and has a nervous, awkward smile that he only flashes while asking if you sent the inventory report before COB yesterday. He has a reedy, unconfident voice and he seems to have magic teleportation powers because he is always wherever he needs to be right on time – never too early, and never late.
Basically you think of this guy:
But when you meet Mobolaji Bammeke – Mo as he prefers to be called – this mental image of what compliance people are seemingly obligated to look like completely falls apart. Mo is barely two months into his new role as Global Chief Compliance Officer at Flutterwave, and he has made a big impression already – for all the expected reasons and then some.
He is an athletically built, fresh faced 30-something who does not fit any of the prim-and-proper, round-eyeglasses-and-sandwich-for-lunch boxes. He talks in a fast-paced, confident voice befitting of a sales leader and when he tells you his story, you get the picture of a man who is just so unlikely – for all the right reasons – to be a compliance professional.
Ever heard of a sports jock who works in corporate compliance? That would be Mo. A sports jock who made a career move within the corporate world after suffering an injury? That’s Mo. An individual with an intercontinental work portfolio who has an incredible origin story in Nigeria? Again, Mo. A husband and father with a settled role in London with JPMorgan, who traded the comfort of Canary Wharf for a startup in Lagos, Nigeria? Guess who?
Insurance, Football, J.P. Morgan and a Life-Changing Injury
They typical career path in stories like this goes: “Boy from Africa goes to school in England, boy graduates and gets a job at a big firm, boy works for a few years and decides to return to Africa, boy takes up career-defining role with huge responsibility at big multinational on the continent, boy lives happily ever after, the end.” Mo’s career path however, is unlike anything most people around him would be familiar with.
Mo was born in a small town in Osun State, southwestern Nigeria, and he grew up in the chaotic city of Lagos surrounded by cousins and uncles. His dad used to travel a lot, and Mo wanted to be an insurance manager like him. He also wanted to be a footballer. So naturally he instead studied Economics at the University of Abuja, followed by a Masters in Economics and Accounting at the University of Bristol. After graduating and making his way into the UK financial industry via a short stint at Deutsche Bank, Mo settled into a career at JPMorgan in 2012, rising in the next seven years to become EMEA Risk Manager.
If the story sounds nice and prosaic so far, fear not. The twists are yet to come.
Unlike the archetypal African returnee protagonist, Mo freely admits that he was not actively looking to come back to Nigeria or Africa – and why would he? He had a comfortable job, a lovely wife from Manchester, one child and an entire life in one of the world’s most prosperous cities. It would take something extraordinary to make him want to move away from all this to the frontier market that is Africa.
What changed the situation is more left field than even he seems to realise as he relates the story:
“So I had a nasty [football] injury. I had to have three knee surgeries. I think that’s where I really started to think about my future plans and what I wanted to do. GB and I had mutual friends who introduced us, and we just got talking that way. I had read about Flutterwave in the paper and on TechCrunch, and the successes they’d had, and I thought ‘What can we do?’”
If getting a career epiphany in the process of recovering from a football injury while working at JPMorgan sounds unlikely, the prospect of leaving one of the world’s largest banks in Europe’s financial capital and moving across the Atlantic to take a role at a relatively small fintech startup in Lagos would have seemed positively crazy to his friends and family. Laughing, he says:
“All of them thought it was crazy. Oh yeah. Well except for my wife really, she was more like, ‘Tell me about this firm. What do they do?’ She was more practical. My wife had never been to Nigeria before, so she didn’t even know what I was talking about really. Every other person thought it was crazy to leave JPMorgan and join [Flutterwave].”
Leaving the comprehensively regulated environment of London behind and jumping into the African financial arena did not turn out to be the challenge you might imagine for Mo. This is because while others see the confusing, often poorly-defined African regulatory environment as a challenge to work around, he says the lack of structure and defined processes is actually an opportunity to create world class compliance models from the ground up.
Working on a Blank (African) Slate
Mo started at Flutterwave in November and in his time there, he says he has already noted that compliance in Nigeria is seen as a roadblock. This hardly comes as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the typically ad-hoc, on-the-fly way of doing things in Nigeria and across Africa. But, according to Mo, this presents a unique opportunity to demonstrate the usefulness of compliance as a tool for growing businesses the right way.
Listening to him talk, you get the distinct impression that he sees himself as the corporate equivalent of a suave, continental European football manager with new ideas, formations and philosophies to impart to a blank or stolid African ecosystem. He expects it to be a lot more than the stuffy, compulsory work department nobody likes, because according to him, Flutterwave is trying to hack the African market and connect it to the global economy in a way that even JPMorgan never quite managed to.
Of course, Mo is a lot more than just a smooth-talking compliance manager with an interesting backstory. He also brings real experience in building compliance frameworks to the role. In his final five years at JPMorgan, he worked alongside teams from the US, UK and Europe to build such structures from the ground up. This has given him excellent insights into understanding how to grow a business in a fledgling regulatory environment.
He acknowledges that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the ‘African market,’ a mirage that many often make the mistake of believing, but he is also convinced that Flutterwave can bring Africa closer to the world, while building a global financial services company – a global company in Africa, as against simply an ‘African’ company – he insists.
Despite all of this, Mo concedes that his big switch from Canary Wharf to Lagos is still a high risk move. Perhaps subconsciously channeling his inner football centre forward within the terminology of a seasoned risk manager though, he sums the experience up like this:
“Everything we do in life, you know, you have to take risks. I have to weigh the risk and the
opportunity. Life is a gamble. Sometimes you have to put yourself in the deep end. Sometimes that is the only way to succeed or be able to make a difference in this world.”