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Less Snakes, More Ladders

A recent compliance experience reminded me of the board game ‘Snakes & Ladders’. You know the one, where you roll a dice and move your piece a corresponding number of squares across a board, trying to get to 100. If you land on a snake, you slide down it, if you land on a ladder, you climb up it.


Often when I share compliance stories, they’re about processes that are ‘compliancey’ in nature but aren’t called that. This one is 100% pure compliance. Sadly, though, it involved snakes, not ladders!

My company Human Risk needs an 🇦🇺 Australian Dollar account & my bank, Starling doesn’t yet offer them. A colleague recommended Wise, so a week ago, I opened an account with them, paid the annual fee and provided the information they asked for.

I was told that verification would take 2-3 days. So, I waited. And I waited. A week later, a mysterious email arrived, telling me that the annual fee was being reversed, but without any explanation. Reversed, that is, not refunded.

To understand why I contacted Wise customer services. It turns out that it wasn’t because I’d failed to pass verification — always, of course, a risk! — but rather because they hadn’t managed to get round to doing it. The way to get the process started again, I was told, was for me to make the payment again and then they’d look at it.

Not exactly what you call great customer service. Particularly as I’m a new client. It’s bad enough that taking forever to do something that you’ve told me should be relatively quick. In S&L terms, you’ve put me on a snake and then asked me to trust that the next time the dice is rolled, I’ll land on a ladder.

As a former Financial Services regulator, I completely understand why Wise need to have verification processes in place to vet customers before they allow them to transact. But when your customer proposition is “The no-hassle international business account”, then having a compliance process that feels like the opposite is not a great way to start a business relationship.



Aside from wanting to vent in public — boy that feels good! — there’s an incredibly important lesson here. Compliance is often seen as a necessary evil, something customers and employees have to suffer because [insert negative comment about regulators]. But in fact, it’s a business choice. You can choose to invest in the processes and resources to deliver seamless ‘ladder-like’ compliance, or you can pretend it has to be a world of rolling the dice and potentially landing on snakes. But it really doesn’t.

Because here’s the real risk. If your entire business is focused on delivering customer service, except when it comes to compliance processes, then you’re sending a signal that compliance is not part of your ordinary course of business. It’s a snake in a world of ladders. Which probably means that my frustrations at a crappy onboarding process will be the least of your problems.

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