In the Spotlight: Larissa Vaughan

TSB’s GC and GM of Regulatory Affairs Larissa Vaughan shares what she’s learned on her career journey so far, what she loves about working in the financial services space, and how to design your job for the life you want.

Could you share a bit about your career journey? How did you start, and what have been some of the highlights along the way?

I went to law school at Victoria University of Wellington, then did a law clerkship in private practice at Kensington Swan, which is now Dentons.

The first role I had was at BNZ who were setting up an in-house team at the time. I really loved it, loved financial services, loved the closer connection with the internal customer and feeling more closely connected, and having that visibility of the bigger picture in terms of where the legal advice sat.

I spent some time in the UK and worked for a bank and then a fund manager there. The thing I found in the UK though was it was more specialist, and although that was good I really enjoyed the variety of roles in New Zealand. You tend to be more generalist here and I really enjoy that aspect of practising in New Zealand.

I spent 10 years at ANZ, which was a great large bank experience with some fantastic people leaders and interesting work such as the acquisition of the National Bank. Then I joined the FMA post-GFC when the FMA was being set up. I’d been an Associate GC at ANZ and managed a lot of regulatory proceedings there including credit card interchange and tax litigation.

I got the role as the inaugural litigation manager at the FMA and set up their Litigation team there. It was great getting that team set up and working alongside the investigation team and the Crown Prosecutors on the finance company cases such as Lombard, Bridgecorp and Hanover. Towards the end I was also involved in the investigations into the David Ross ponzi case. Having worked on the other side of the fence, seeing it from the regulator’s perspective was really interesting.

I then moved to Kiwibank. They had bought Gareth Morgan Investments which then became Kiwi Wealth. I was supporting them in terms of funds management legal advice, company secretariat and a whole mix of things. A highlight was getting the first robo-advice exemption for Kiwi Wealth. I also worked on the Kiwibank share sale, when NZ Post sold its shares across to ACC and NZ Super and the associated separation arrangements.

I wanted to try my hand doing a non-legal role for a bit, so I moved into the insurance business at Kiwibank, and then ended up being the CEO of their insurance company Kiwi Insurance for about three years.

It gave me confidence and validated that legal skills are really quite transferable, and I really liked being part of those operations and running my own business. Kiwi Group Holdings sold that business and I went to TSB as GM of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel about three years ago, when they were reforming their legal and regulatory space.

What interests you most about the financial space?

You don’t grow up thinking you’re going to be a banking lawyer – there aren’t many of those on TV or online! But I enjoyed the complexity of it, the variety of it, and then you generally have a retail customer at the end as well. And just being on the inside of some of those big well-run businesses – it’s fascinating how all those moving parts fit together.

A lot of people see the front facing part of the bank and don’t realise how much sits behind that – from the treasury and product management to credit management and risk and all of those IT systems and people which actually whir away in the background to make the bank function effectively.

What do you love about your job as GM of Regulatory Affairs and GC at TSB, and what is unique and great about working there?

There are a few unique things about TSB. The standout one is it is owned by the Toi Foundation, which is a philanthropic trust. They’ve got quite a sophisticated investment model and they then return those funds to the community. That’s really unique.

TSB is also obviously New Zealand owned and its great size to function in. I’ve worked for some larger organisations here and overseas and it can be sometimes a bit tricky to wrap your arms around the business.

As a primarily retail bank we’re also thinking about how we make this better for our customers, and how we also perform effectively and efficiently and in a compliant way for all of our stakeholders.

Can you tell us a little about your team at TSB? How have you gone about building it, how many team members are there, what makes it tick?

We’ve got about 20 people in the team and the scope of the team has grown over time. It’s got legal, reg and governance, a CoSec function and some project work, and internal audit as well.

When I started there were two lawyers. There was some legacy work that the role had inherited, so we had to really quite deliberately reshape and re-resource the team. The team is between Wellington, New Plymouth and Auckland so there’s also a challenge in making sure you stay connected when you’re spread like that. But we’ve been able to get some really excellent lawyers.

There is a lot of regulatory work involved in banking – it’s an ever-changing environment. So we’ve got people who are dedicated to dealing with the incoming traffic from that, making sure we’re assessing it appropriately for the bank and projects get set up to respond to it. There’s also a huge amount of BAU legal work, with product and customer legal and conduct requirements, commercial pieces such as procurement and property then banking specific disclosures and transactions.

There are a lot of moving parts, which is where the variety and the interest comes from. I don’t think you’re ever ‘done’. There are people at the end of it too.

In what capacity have you engaged with SHIFT at TSB?

We’ve frequently used SHIFT, and what I really love about the model is there is a crew of really excellent, capable lawyers who are really experienced – particularly in that financial services space. They generally have been in-house at a bank or a similar financial institution and they can come in and as well as being excellent lawyers, they’re familiar with navigating those organisations and the questions you should be asking.

You can kind of helicopter them in and they can come in and hit the ground running and work alongside my team and our business people. We’ve had people from three months to a year and I very much consider them part of our broader team.

What advice do you have for those looking to embark on a similar career path?

I don’t think there’s one path or one thing you have to specialise in. I would encourage people to be curious and follow their nose. Don’t just look for upward linear development, but look sideways and look diagonally. As lawyers, we’re really good at understanding complex things and can distil them down into what’s really important, and we’re generally quite strong at written and verbal communications – those are all really great transferable business skillsets.

So back yourself, be brave. Try out different things.

It doesn’t have to be a formal role, it could be a secondment or project. It’s amazing how many of the skills are transferable and how what you can learn on a side project can end up being useful and relevant elsewhere.

Also sometimes in those early days with young children it can seem a struggle, and I feel there’s always pressure to progress. If that suits you right now that’s great, but there are also times when it’s fine to tread water. If you’ve got other things going on in your life – whether that’s children, or other commitments and passions – that’s fine too. Recognise the stage that you’re at and do that well. Design the job for the life you want.