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Blake Nielsen

General Counsel & VP of Operations
Enfusion, LLC

What is your specific role, and what does this entail?

I currently serve as general counsel and vice president of operations with corporate secretarial duties. My role is far-reaching and carries many responsibilities, including general legal matters and strategy, corporate record maintenance and board governance, human resources, drafting and implementing company policy and procedures, vendor management, insurance and risk management, contract negotiations, and cybersecurity, business continuity and privacy management. 

How is the legal team structured locally and globally? 

I am currently the only in-house attorney at Enfusion. We have seen significant year-over-year growth the past three years, so we will likely expand our internal team in the near future. For now, I rely on cross-training support staff and close relationships with outside counsel and ancillary service providers, especially in foreign jurisdictions. We have ongoing relationships with a large international US based firm, a regional US firm, and firms and ancillary service providers in each foreign jurisdiction we have a location: London, Dublin and Hong Kong. 

What are the key challenges and opportunities facing your legal team at the moment? 

Growth and international expansion always present unique challenges; however, the greatest challenges currently come from US regulatory uncertainty and the fundamental regulatory changes we are seeing globally. Two international changes that immediately come to mind are the EU’s Markets in International Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Fortunately, our founders had great foresight and designed our software in a way that we can be nimble in the face of the ever-changing financial services industry. 

As much as regulatory and legal changes create challenges, they also create opportunities. Now more than ever, in-house attorneys (in general, not just at Enfusion) have an opportunity to provide value as a business partner. The regulatory and legal environment is currently very complex with a great deal of insecurity. Asset managers, large financial institutions and service providers are all working to prepare for a world and requirements that are not yet clear. Added to the insecurity, the consequences of being wrong, such as large fines and reputational harm, are great. Enfusion’s leaders recognise what is at stake and have pulled me in to a large role in our day-to-day operations, providing legal and business input and advice. 

Similarly, we are a high-growth company. With that comes frequent and rapid change. Some firms might limit legal professionals’ participation, but we welcome and encourage our employees to add value where possible. This means I and supporting staff can effect real change in the organisation in ways that would not be possible or welcomed in many organisations. 

Are there unique challenges for your legal team in dealing with multiple jurisdictions or cross-border business? Do you have an international panel?

In the United States alone, we see different requirements and obligations across states. The differences are amplified when you pull in our international jurisdictions. We are a small company with around 100 employees globally. To simplify things and keep employee morale high, we try wherever possible to implement common lowest-denominator policies, benefits and practices, but it is not always possible. Because I am the sole in-house attorney, it is not feasible for me to know every nuanced law across all jurisdictions, which is where our outside relationships come into play. We have built strong relationships that help us manoeuvre through the challenges presented by working in multiple jurisdictions and doing cross-border business.  As an aside, we have also found that just as it is important to have outside support worldwide to deal with jurisdictional differences, it is also important to contract with law firms that are committed to diversity. Diverse firms help us understand cultural differences we come across in cross-border business.  

How significant are legal issues in your company’s international strategy? 

Legal issues play a limited role in our international strategy. Certainly, we are mindful of legal issues, which are a factor in deciding where to open and where not to open a location, but our international strategy has always been focused on where we believe there is a need for our software and where we can establish ourselves to provide a better product and better support for our clients. As an example, with locations in Chicago, New York, London, Dublin and Hong Kong, we can provide follow-the-sun support to our clients.

When would you typically enlist external counsel rather than doing the work in-house? 

I try to minimise outside spend where possible, but as previously mentioned, we rely on outside counsel to help us manoeuvre through jurisdictional variances. Likewise, there are times it makes sense for us to turn outside, such as for litigation, sensitive internal investigations and corporate development. Although at times it is prudent to turn outside, when we do, I generally remain involved, even picking up some of the work to manage cost and time.  

How do you instruct external counsel domestically and internationally?

Generally, I like to remain involved when working with outside counsel. I hire counsel I have great faith in and defer to their expertise, but recognise I can provide unique value knowing and understanding our business inside and out. By remaining involved and building a strong relationship, we are able to maximise efficiency and minimise waste.

What are the key elements in making a decision about which external counsel to hire?

When selecting outside counsel I look for a number of qualities: (i) expertise – first and foremost, it is important that the firm has expertise in the subject matter; (ii) industry knowledge – supplementing subject matter expertise, it is important that the firm understand our industry and nuanced or ancillary issues that may arise or that must be considered; (iii) compatibility – efficiency is key to a small high growth company, thus it is vital we work well together; (iv) sound cybersecurity practices – we are entrusting our counsel with sensitive information about our business and expect our outside counsel to have sound cyber practices in place; (v) commitment to diversity – we have a global offering with diverse clients and employees and as such, we see great value in outside counsel that recognises and incorporates diversity and cultural awareness into its strategy; and (vi) invested – we are a small company, but we are growing at a great rate with high expectations for the future. I look for outside counsel that values us and sees us as an opportunity for a long fruitful relationship, rather than overlooking us simply because we are smaller than many of their clients. 

What are your best and worst experiences in hiring external counsel?

I have been lucky to work with many great outside firms. My best experiences have come when firms are sincerely interested in building a relationship with us and take the time to learn our business, our desired outcome or tolerances, and the unique obstacles we face. You would be surprised how many firms present cookie-cutter proposals that are not cognisant of our business, or that present work that was not given much thought. In that regard, my worst experiences have come when firms see us as nothing more than billable hours. There are not many things more frustrating than having to go back to counsel multiple times pointing out typos or having to constantly reiterate material points that are forgotten or overlooked. One might immediately think such experiences must be limited to discount rate firms, but these are experiences I have had with counsel billing at rates closer to $1,000 an hour than $500. Likewise, the experience is much better when the firm communicates well and is responsive. It drives me crazy when firms take the approach they will respond when they have something to report. If there is no update, it is fine; just tell me. Don’t disappear and leave me guessing. 

What makes a great in-house counsel?

A great in-house counsel needs to have skills and expertise beyond that of a traditional lawyer. I like to say my legal knowledge is a differentiating skill, not a defining skill. To provide value, I need to understand our business and industry just as well as any of my business-side colleagues. Informing the C-suite that we can’t do something provides little value. Instead, I must be able to say we can’t do X, but let’s think about doing Y. I cannot provide the Y option if I don’t have knowledge beyond the law. Further, a great in-house counsel needs to be able to grow and adapt. The business world is ever changing. I don’t have the luxury of specialising and focusing on one area of the law. I need to stay up to date with changes so I can advise my company and make sure we are going down a sustainable and scalable path. Current trends in cybersecurity elicit what it takes to be great in-house counsel. Traditionally many lawyers have been far from tech-savvy, but today you not only have to understand new technologies, you must understand new technologies and cybersecurity to a degree that you can ensure your company is minimising waste and following best practices, and sensitive information is not at risk.   

Are there any recent regulatory changes or cases in the sector that have caught your attention?

The two big regulatory changes that jump out at me are MiFID II and GDPR. We are headquartered in the US, but have employees and clients in Europe. Luckily our system is designed so we can adjust quickly, and the pain should be less than many are going to experience. If executed properly (which we expect to do), we hope to turn new regulatory requirements into opportunities. 

How do you see your industry developing over the next few years?

In recent years, we have seen cost pressures on asset managers increase and a growing acceptance of new technologies. This has led asset managers to turn to third-party software providers that can quickly implement comprehensive solutions, rather than developing and maintaining proprietary software systems. Likewise, when turning to third-party providers, we see asset managers shifting from locally hosted systems to fully hosted, which generally benefits such managers through lower costs, more flexibility, increased redundancy, and quicker support times. Cost pressures and increased competition have also encouraged managers to seek wholistic solutions over piecing together multiple software solutions. We expect these trends to continue, with greater dependence on and higher expectations for software providers such as Enfusion. 

Enfusion, LLC

  • HQ Location: Chicago, IL, United States
  • Industry/sector: financial services
  • Year of foundation: 2006
  • Company reach: 4 countries
  • Visit website

All statements and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual and not the organisation.

Published June 2017

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