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British accents? We've got 'em (kinda). [Guest post from Christian Hunt of Human Risk]

September 12, 2019 6:04:00 AM CDT / by Ricardo Pellafone

So last month, I recommended this ex-in-house guy's blog to our Newsletter subscribers (not a subscriber, you monster? Get on it!).

And the response? You guys dug him, and you asked for more.

It's not hard to see why: if you follow us, it's because you're interested in figuring out how to handle the human risk in compliance—the part that you can't eradicate through hard or soft controls like locks, software, and goodies. That's what we focus on in our design tools, job aids, manager kits, and materials (get 'em here).

And like, his company is called Human Risk. So, yeah.

We wanted to make sure that everyone had a chance to nibble on the smorgasbord of compliance content that Christian has to offer. So we reached out to him to see if he'd be willing to write a post for you guys.

He graciously agreed, 'cause he's a gentleman. And likely wears a cravat and top hat. And has a dog that wears the same thing but also chooses to wear a monocle because "it makes him look more distinguished" even though he has perfect eyesight. (His dog's a character.) He's British, so make whatever assumptions you like about what that means.

Which leads nicely into his post. Take it away, Christian ...


First off a warning; I’m British. So please make sure you read this blog in a quintessentially British accent. Choose your own, but please avoid one of those stereotypical movie villains. Or just click here to have me read it for you. Not only will focussing on the accent make it more memorable, but you’ll understand why I use words like “terrific” and “brilliant” and spell words like “behaviour” with a “u”. No, I don’t know why we do that either…

I mention my nationality partly for entertainment reasons, but also because I think it helps illustrate an interesting point. Now that I’ve told you to read this in a British accent, you’re thinking about this blog differently than you would have done if I hadn’t. Even if you’re a fellow Brit.

Why does this matter you might ask? The answer lies in Behavioural Science (there’s that “u”!) which is the field I specialise in. What I’ve done in referring to my nationality and asking you to pay attention to the accent, is framed the way you look at the blog.

Imagine I’d started by admitting that I’m a recovering Compliance Officer and Regulator. Which I am by the way. Most of you would still be paying attention, but you’d be doing it in a different context.

Now imagine you’re not a typical Broadcat blog reader, but an average employee of the Firm you work for. I might just about manage to hold your attention with my British intro. But I’m unlikely to do so using the C-word. That’s C for Compliance by the way!

Let’s face it; we’ve been saddled with one of the worst pieces of branding in history.  Even adding the word Officer makes it worse. So, we need to think really hard about how we position what we do.

In my previous lives, I’ve tested the impact of the C-word on people’s responsiveness. Spoiler alert: it’s not good! Put the word “Compliance” in an email subject line, and it dramatically reduces people’s propensity to open the message, regardless of what other words are used.

Framing, how we present things and ourselves, has a significant impact on how we are perceived by the people we engage with. 

This isn’t just a case of what words we use. It’s how we market ourselves in our interactions with the people we’re trying to influence. Sometimes Compliance needs to live up to the stereotype and be highly visible and interventionist. Yet sometimes there’s a need to adopt a Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak and go about our business quietly and effectively.

When I was at the regulator, it was tempting to try to assess our effectiveness by how much we were intervening. It is easy to count fines, warning letters and licence removals. It’s harder to measure things you haven’t done. It is perfectly valid to argue that a well-regulated sector should need less rather than more intervention. You can make the same arguments about Compliance.  

I think there’s a balance to be struck. For every Adele, we need a Mick Jagger. For every Harry Potter, we need a Hermione Grainger. And so on.  

Compliance is largely the business of influencing human decision-making. To do this effectively requires us to think about how we are perceived. We need to frame our interactions in a manner that engages our target audience.  When we get it right, it’s terrifically powerful.  When we don’t, we reinforce every negative stereotype they’ve ever had of us.

We haven’t asked for this role, but it’s the one we’ve been given.  But we can’t achieve “compliance” on our own; we need to engage the target audience so that they are equally responsible for it.  We won’t manage that if we just tell them what to do; it requires their engagement.

It’s why I’m a big fan of what Broadcat are helping to deliver: Compliance that doesn’t feel like Compliance. Because this job is hard enough without having to front dull training or comms that reinforce the pre-existing stereotypes people have of us.

Which brings me back to being British. Sometimes it's a huge advantage, but other times it really isn’t. I’ve travelled enough and met enough people to know that it impacts how my message is received. But I do know one thing: it’s a far better conversation starter than saying I’m a Compliance Officer.


Hey: Ricardo here again. I spend a large amount of time working on framing issues, which means I really love the post Christian wrote (and read!).

So let me close this post with a simple, personal example of framing: the name "Broadcat." Because no joke, the most common question I get about Broadcat, by far, is why it is called "Broadcat." 

And the answer is "framing." I wanted to frame what we were doing, from the start, as something different and future-looking and worth building a brand about.

For example, if I had called the company Compliance Communications Inc. or whatever, I'd be: (1) framing what we were doing as a commodity, because I'd be basically naming the company for search engine optimization; and (2) signaling that the company was probably being built for sale to a larger player ASAP, because I wouldn't be investing in even the potential for brand equity.

Building a company that sells a commodity and seeks to be acquired by private equity at a premium in the short-term isn't a bad thing; it's a 100% legit move. It's just not what I wanted to do. 

I wanted to build something different, that moved the field forward, and I needed the name to immediately frame that up, so as soon as you heard it you'd know it was categorically different. 

Now you know!

And if you want more British-isms and behavio(u)ral science taken seriously—but made accessible? Go follow Christian here! I do.

(And you should engage him to speak to your team to get them smarter on this stuff, too; I've met him in person, he's massively personable, and you'll be happy you brought him on.)

And if you want even more compliance design goodness?  Join Compliance Design Club. Get info—and get on our special Design Club mailing list at this link.

Ricardo Pellafone

Written by

Ricardo Pellafone

Ricardo used to be in-house compliance, leading investigations for a sovereign wealth company in Abu Dhabi and a Fortune 500 tech company in California. He has degrees in psychology and law.