Errol explains the substantial change in global markets investment banking legal work from transaction execution to regulatory advisory and how his legal qualifications helped his career progress.

Q: How is your US legal qualification relevant to your role as Head of Compliance and Legal Counsel at Noble Group?

Being qualified in multiple jurisdictions has definitely given me an edge in handling cross-border work and the growing amount of compliance, anti-bribery to KYC, from AML to sanction procedures as well as leading the financial institutions. For example, the US has blacklisted ABC Company. Is that a problem? Just because Arizona State has blacklisted that company and will no longer allow any transactions with that company doesn’t mean that that’s really sanctioned from a US constitutional law perspective. If someone says the US State sanction, I look at my constitutional law notes and say is there really such a thing? Do the states have the power to issue sanctions? No, they don’t. Because, in the constitution, it’s the federal government that deals with foreign relations, not the states. That kind of understanding is helpful to my daily work. What I’m saying is that understanding US law and regulations is very helpful in understanding the significance of a particular sanction against an individual. I guess my point is – do you need to be a US lawyer to work in-house? The answer is no, you don’t. Do you need a New York Bar qualification to work as a global head of compliance? No, you don’t. Does it help? Yes, it does. Would I recommend it? Yes, I recommend it.

Q: What do you see is the substantial change of work in sell-side banks?

There is certainly a substantial change of work in sell-side banks. As a Director of Barclays and Credit Suisse AG, with the commoditization of derivatives, this has transformed the legal work of the sell-side banks. There is also an increasing amount of compliance work.

Q: Where do you see Noble Group heading in the future? Where do the opportunities lie?

Europe buys LNG from Russia, through the Russian pipeline. Russia is always a big player in the LNG market. That, again, brings us back to sanctions. We’ve got ships with US$40 million of natural gas spreading throughout the world. The same thing with thermal coal. We even do rare earth as well as special ores – tin, tungsten, all these materials. Everyone wants the move to a cleaner ecosystem. But Asia is still very much dependent on coal. To be honest, you can’t really run a steel refinery without coal. And China’s strength is still in refining and smelting. China is trying to move up the value chain, but its primary strength has always been steel, refining, smelting, etc. I think China was the big buyer of commodities for a good long time. Asia would still be dependent on thermal coal. I think, certainly, we’ve seen more interesting special ores or rare earths like lithium, because you need lithium for renewable energy. If you have a Tesla, it’s all lithium batteries. Your mobile phone is all lithium batteries. There are new types of commodities being traded as new technology requires better and better batteries. Before people can move to renewables, you need an efficient method of storing energy.

Q: What do you think are the important elements for a successful legal counsel? What do you see as the growing area for an in-house lawyer?

The key issue for any general counsel is that they have to cover every single issue that comes to the door, whether it’s litigation, whether that’s a new business, whatever, or just a normal transaction. Whether he deals with that by hiring someone to do it or sending out an external offer, then that’s up to him. Or, he deals with it personally.

If you’re the one doing the suing, you need to work out where your tactics are. Is litigation the best approach or do I have any mortgages or collateral that I can seize for leverage? As a general counsel, you still have to think about the broader commercial strategy. For example, if you are a legal counsel of a listed company, whether you would need to make a stock exchange announcement. The litigation law firm that’s handling the litigation, they’re not going to tell you about whether or not you need to do a stock exchange announcement. Therefore, having a thorough understanding of the business aspects of the company is very important.

The growing area in-house is, I think, clearly regulation. I think we’re seeing regulation become a bigger impact for many businesses and being aware of the international aspects of law and regulation I believe is essential.

Errol Bong

Errol Bong certainly knows the meaning of hard work and he has pushed hard to get qualified as a practicing lawyer in New York, England & Wales, Hong Kong, New South Wales, and Washington State. It was particularly taxing studying the New York Bar while working full time as a director in the General Counsel Division at Credit Suisse. However, he explains that it is extremely important to manage individual work-life balance. He is currently the Head of Compliance & Legal Counsel at Noble Group. Having worked at Magic Circle law firms and top tier investment banks, he has observed the changes in sell-side banks and the role of legal counsel.