Compliance plays a crucial role in ensuring that organizations operate in a lawful and ethical manner, and in conformance with regulations that protect customers’ interests.

Harsh Nangalia, our next pathbreaker, is Head of Compliance at Khatabook, a startup that aims to enable the SME & MSME sector with technology & financing requirements.

Harsh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about opting to pursue a career as Company Secretary driven by the desire to work at the intersection of business and law !

For students, the highly dynamic digital and technological landscape requires creative compliance professionals who can not only adapt to market conditions, but also to reforms in regulations in a quick and flexible manner.

Harsh, your background?

I was born and raised in Jaipur, Rajasthan within a Marwari household. My widowed mother brought up my three sisters and me. As a Marwari, I believe that commercial acumen comes naturally, and I grasped the challenges of life early on. I was always drawn to commerce and business studies but had an aversion to mathematics, which was ironic. Thus, I knew that I had to pursue a career that kept me away from maths while remaining close to the commerce stream. Although I passed the CA and CS foundation courses in the first attempt, I chose to pursue a full-time career as a Company Secretary.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

Back in 2003, as a commerce student, my career options were limited. I had two choices: pursue CA or CS or do BCOM & MBA. I opted for both CA and CS and managed to clear the foundation levels in the first attempt. However, I had to pick one, and I decided to pursue the Company Secretary (CS) course because I excelled in theory and found law particularly fascinating. I successfully completed my CS in 2007 alongside my from Rajasthan University.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique?

There are several key drivers that have influenced my career path as a Company Secretary. Firstly, my role as an advisor in the complex corporate sector has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the business side and the importance of being compliant with legal rules and regulations. This has been a key influencer in shaping my career.

Secondly, my uncle, who is a leading practicing Company Secretary in Jaipur, has been a significant mentor for me. I began working with him as an intern immediately after I cleared my 12th class and gained valuable insights into the complex world of corporate law at an early stage in my career.

Thirdly, significant events have played a role in shaping my career. Pure Company Secretary advisory roles did not excite me, and I found myself drawn to the Compliance side due to the immense work happening due to ever-changing regulations by SEBI, RBI, and IRDA. This led me to pursue a Compliance role instead of a pure CS role.

Finally, a turning point in my career came when I moved to the USA in 2010 for a six-month secondment. This exposure to a completely different set of laws and working on them from India made me realize the importance of understanding business and its surrounding regulations. This understanding has been instrumental in helping businesses execute effective business strategies.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

My career path as a Company Secretary started when I began working with my uncle, who was a leading practicing Company Secretary in Jaipur, as an intern immediately after completing my 12th class. During this internship, I gained a fair understanding of corporate laws and the challenges faced by the corporate sector. This understanding was valuable when I wrote my CS exams, as I had already developed a good grasp of the subject matter.

After completing my CS course, I joined Edelweiss as my first job, where I was tasked with ensuring compliance with complex SEBI regulations while ensuring that compliance did not become a hindrance to business growth.

Later, I joined Nomura, where I worked on getting an NBFC (Non-Banking Financial Companies) license in line with RBI rules and regulations, as well as managing overall compliance standards. It was during my time at Nomura that I developed a passion for compliance issues, and I came to understand the value of the Compliance department as an independent function.

In 2015, I joined Siemens Financial Services as Head of Compliance, where my role was to ensure that all business activities were conducted in a compliant manner in line with regulatory requirements. During my time at Siemens, I gained a deeper understanding of the scope of the compliance role, which included regulatory compliances, internal investigations, employee policies and adherence, assurances to the Board, and monitoring frauds and risk areas.

While at Siemens, I was recognized for my work during multiple events and was nominated from Siemens for Economic Times Young Achiever Awards in 2017. Subsequently, I was sent to do a master’s course at IIM Bangalore in 2019 as the only compliance professional ever.

Throughout my career, I have always believed that the role of a compliance professional is to enable a business to grow in a rightful manner and to provide advice that aligns with overall organizational and regulatory standards.

How did you get your first break? 

During a mandatory 15-day residential training program in Mumbai, Edelweiss was among the companies that came for campus recruitment. Fortunately, I was one of the selected candidates from the campus, out of 50 other applicants.

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: The compliance profession is fraught with challenges as it requires balancing the expectations of the business for growth with the need to ensure compliance with regulatory laws. It can be difficult to communicate the value of compliance to management and to ensure that all actions taken are ethical and appropriate.

Challenge 2: Keeping up with the constantly changing regulatory landscape is a major challenge for compliance professionals. As regulators adapt to market conditions, reforms in regulations must also be quick and flexible.

Challenge 3: Compliance professionals often act as advisors and counselors to management, but at times they must take a tough stance on certain issues. A strong value system for the Compliance function is crucial, and it must be ingrained in the organization so that all employees understand and value compliance.

Where do you work now? 

I have recently started as a Senior Director & Head of Compliance for Khatabook (KB). KB is a 4 year old startup where we are trying to enable the SME & MSME sector with technology & financing requirements.

What problems do you solve? 

My role as Senior Director & Head of Compliance at Khatabook involves ensuring that our business, which revolves around payments and financing, is in full compliance with the heavily regulated requirements set forth by the RBI. Our policy standards are of the highest quality to ensure that our services are provided in a lawful and compliant manner, in accordance with the current regulatory landscape.

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills? 

Staying up-to-date with regulatory changes such as those from RBI and SEBI and translating them into actionable items that can be effectively implemented in a real-world environment is essential.

What’s a typical day like? 

On a typical day, my first task is to check the websites of the regulators like RBI and SEBI to see if there are any new updates or notifications that could impact our business at Khatabook. As a startup, we are always exploring new business ideas and products, and ensuring compliance with the regulatory landscape is critical. Hence, a significant portion of my day is spent on compliance advisory work, which involves collaborating with different teams within the company to ensure that our products and services are in compliance with the regulations. Additionally, I may also have meetings with other senior leaders to discuss any ongoing compliance issues or to provide guidance on regulatory matters. Overall, my day is focused on ensuring that we are meeting our compliance obligations while also enabling the growth of the business.

What is it you love about this job? 

What I find most exciting about my job is the opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the business and align the goals of management and the organization. It is truly satisfying to ensure that we are not only in compliance with regulatory requirements but also that we are operating in a way that supports the growth and success of the business. I also enjoy the challenge of staying up-to-date with the ever-changing regulatory landscape and finding ways to implement new regulations while still enabling our business to thrive.

How does your work benefit society? 

As a Compliance professional, our role is crucial in ensuring that our organization operates in a lawful and ethical manner, in compliance with regulations that protect customers’ interests. By upholding such standards, we contribute to a fair and transparent market environment, which in turn benefits society as a whole. Additionally, by promoting compliance culture, we help foster a responsible business environment that promotes trust and confidence in financial systems.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

One of the most memorable experiences in my career was back in 2010 when I was given the responsibility to understand foreign laws related to securities business in the US, despite my limited experience. My task was to ensure that the work related to these laws was outsourced to India. This experience challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and taught me to be confident in tackling unfamiliar territory. It was a significant learning experience that I will always remember.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My advice to students would be to remain open-minded and never limit your learning opportunities. Be willing to share your ideas, regardless of whether they are perceived as good or bad, as this will help you gain insights from different perspectives. In my profession, compliance professionals are often viewed as roadblocks to business growth, but I encourage you to strive to be an enabler. Aim to establish yourself as a trusted advisor to your colleagues, so that they seek your guidance on compliance matters voluntarily.

Future Plans?

I recently transitioned from traditional investment banking and financing firms to the dynamic digital and technological landscape last year. There is a lot to learn and adapt to, especially when it comes to providing compliance advisory in emerging areas. My future plans include continuing to pursue my compliance practice and becoming a trusted advisory professional for management teams across various businesses.