Happy December everyone! In today’s Meet the Team post, we are happy to introduce Fred Fedynyshyn, our Chief Legal and Compliance Officer.
Who are you?
I am Fred, BitPesa’s Chief Legal and Compliance Officer.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Bowdoin College, a small liberal arts college in Maine in the U.S.A., as an undergraduate. I then got my law degree at Harvard Law School.
What team are you on?
I head up our legal and compliance teams. On the legal side, I manage our relationships with outside lawyers in eight different countries, review contracts and commercial agreements, and offer general advice to the company. On the compliance side, I lead implementation of our Anti-Money Laundering (AML), Counter Terrorist Financing (CTF), and Know Your Customer (KYC) policies. We have these policies to ensure that people are not using our services to launder money or to fund terrorism, and so that we know that our customers are who they say they are when they sign up. We manually review the info provided by every customer who signs up, and we use a third party company to automatically check the info against lists put out by governments around the world.
We train every new employee on these procedures, and we hold an annual training for the whole team every year. Many countries in which we operate require that we have these policies—for example, before the company received its license from the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority, we had to submit them for the U.K. government’s review—but we apply them everywhere because they help us do our part to keep people from trying to break the law or commit acts of terrorism.
How did you become part of BitPesa?
I moved to Kenya and joined the team in June. At the time, I was working in the Washington, D.C. office of Hogan Lovells, a global law firm, doing anti-money laundering, anti-bribery, anti-kickback, financial crimes, and cybersecurity work. Before that, I was a lawyer at the U.S. National Security Agency, where I worked on counterterrorism issues. I was introduced to Elizabeth, our C.E.O., and she told me about BitPesa. I thought that BitPesa was doing really interesting work and I was impressed by how seriously she and everyone at the company took legal issues, so I thought it would be a great fit for me.
What does a typical day at the office look like for you?
My day normally starts before and ends well after I am in the office, because we do business in time zones throughout the world. When I first get into the office, and then throughout the day, I review the information submitted by our new customers to make sure that it is complete and accurate. Like I mentioned, we have both an automated check and a human check, and the human check often is me. I then tackle any questions that have come up over night before moving on to my tasks for the day. Some days, I am preparing documents to present to a government regulator. Other days, I work on our commercial partnerships with banks or telecommunications companies. And other days still, I am researching issues relating to new markets. We have a lot going on here, so no one day is like any other.
What tools do you use on a daily basis? Favourites?
Slack, Gmail, WhatsApp, and Skype—I need to be in constant communication with folks both in the office and around the world. I also will give props to our tech team for making the behind-the-scenes parts of our website, which I use for compliance work, really easy to use.
What sites do you spend most of your time on?
I spend a lot of time reading the latest on laws and regulations relating to businesses that use bitcoin technology. The rules are constantly evolving, and every time any country’s government issues a new statement, other countries take notice. Further, as more and more countries are issuing formal regulations and creating licensing regimes, we are incorporating these rules into our business, because we seek to do business with partners and customers around the world. As a global company, we have to be compliant with every rule all the time, so we constantly are evaluating our policies and procedures to ensure that every regulator is happy to see us doing business in its country and with its citizens. It takes a lot of effort to stay on top of the legal and regulatory environment, but because it is so interesting, it barely seems like work.
What is the next skill set you would like to learn or expand upon?
Given how many countries we are in, I am constantly learning about new parts of the law. For example, as we look to expand into more and more countries, I am learning about how to incorporate a company in these countries. American law schools do not teach you about Ugandan corporate and tax law, so I have to learn a lot on the job and through our local lawyers.
Also, I am trying (though not nearly hard enough) to improve my Kiswahili and my French. Mostly, I can order food—ndengu, githeri, ugali, sukuma, and nyama choma in the one case, and charcuterie, coq au vin, croque monsieur, and bouillabaisse in the other. My goal is to be able to travel anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa and not starve to death. Anything beyond that is extra.
What’s your least favourite thing about Nairobi?
I would say the driving, but as a native of Boston, which is infamous in the U.S. for its terrible drivers, I see Nairobi traffic as nothing more than a new challenge (one that I get to tackle from the left side of the road).
What is the last movie you watched?
I saw “Bridge of Spies” the other weekend. I enjoyed it except for the law-related scenes, which they got all wrong. If a movie has a courtroom scene in it, you do not want to watch it with me because I will point out every error.
What book are you reading?
I just started “SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.” I love reading really dense history books because whenever I want to learn something new, I want to dive in head first and immerse myself in the information. For example, before I moved to Kenya, I read “Kenya: A History Since Independence,” which was a bit heavy on 1970’s agricultural policy but which also taught me a lot about Kenyan history.
I love the Kenyan coast. Sun, gorgeous beaches, dhow rides, and seafood caught that morning—what’s not to love?
What’s your favourite part of working at BitPesa?
Our team is incredible. Everybody is so smart and driven, but more importantly, everyone gets how important it is that we do things the right way and stay on the right side of the law. From my time at a law firm, I know that not every company takes legal and regulatory compliance seriously, and it is great to work at a place where everyone understands that these rules make us a stronger and more successful company.
What goes on in your life outside of BitPesa?
Apart from hanging out in Nairobi, I try to explore as much of Kenya and East Africa as I can on the weekends. I can drive literally 45 minutes from my house and pet a baby elephant or feed a giraffe, and I can fly 45 minutes from Nairobi and swim in the Indian Ocean. You just can’t beat that.
What is your favourite place to hangout in Nairobi?
Karura Forest is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. You have no idea that you are in the middle of a city. It is just trees, fresh air, waterfalls, butterflies, and peace.
Where do you want to be in 15 years?
If you asked me this question 1 year ago, I never would have guessed Kenya would have been part of the next 15 years, so I don’t think I am in any position to guess where I might end up.
Tell us something fun about you!
I am a lawyer. We are not allowed to be fun. That is the first thing they teach you in law school.