“One of the things that I have learned is that people motivate people,” says Anthony Sharett, executive vice president, chief legal and compliance officer, and corporate secretary at Meta Financial Group. He has used such observations to transform the places where he has worked over the years to be more efficient and satisfying for stakeholders and employees alike.
For Sharett, leading the legal and compliance departments for a public company has always been a career aspiration. It’s driven him to diversify his background, which includes a mix of government agency work at the Ohio Department of Commerce; serving as a partner at large, private law firms, including BakerHostetler and Bricker & Eckler; and providing in-house leadership for companies such as Nationwide and Nationwide Pet.
In 2019, his career experience reached a pinnacle when he landed his dream job by joining Meta Financial Group. The bank holding company launched in the 1950s as a community bank, but it has evolved over the decades into a publicly traded financial services technology company that moves billions of dollars each day.
Upon his arrival, Sharett was thrilled to find that the company employed more than thirty in-house legal professionals who were gifted and, like him, passionate about a mission of financial inclusion for everyone. But there was a problem.
“The legal divisions were siloed a bit,” Sharett recalls. “While the teams provided great legal counsel, the teams really did not provide legal services under any sort of a ‘one team’ approach.” As a proponent of sophisticated legal operations, he knew that to build a more efficient team, he needed to focus on people and processes. So, emphasizing a united, people-first approach, he quickly rolled up his sleeves and got to work.
Through a synthesized method that included examining the company culture, gathering data, and instituting core best practices such as building a cross-functional legal operations team, he says the once-siloed legal divisions at Meta Financial Group now fully collaborate and pool their resources effectively. “Now our talents and expertise provide more practical business solutions,” Sharett says, and that includes enhanced outside counsel relationships.
“We are culturally connected within the team and in our provision of solutions for our customers. Likewise, our team understands the importance of operating with excellence.”
To build out a more efficient and cohesive legal operations team, Sharett first did some in-depth information gathering from businesses and functional support partners to understand Meta Financial Group’s strengths as a legal team as well as determine where there were expertise and technology gaps.
Next, he helped the company gain internal alignment regarding the “why” behind having a legal operations team. “Given our complex business,” he says, “we found that it would greatly enhance how we enable solutions for our businesses, which in turn enhances our customer experience, which is really important to us at Meta.”
After that, Sharett and crew crafted the description for what a legal operations leader’s skill set should look like and tailored it to arm the specific needs at Meta Financial Group. Once they had their talent in place, he assessed where, from a legal operations maturity perspective, they would want to prioritize key opportunities for the company.
This led to the establishment of a preferred provider outside counsel program with partner law firms. Additionally, using a data-driven approach, he created new billing guidelines that were more consistent with the holding company’s law firm partners and implemented a new billing software that provided Meta Financial Group with key data to manage these outside counsel partnerships and help understand what work could be sourced in-house versus outsourced.
All this helped Sharett trim the number of partner law firms working with Meta Financial Group from a whopping fifty firms to about a dozen. “This has created tremendous efficiencies for us and also has been beneficial to our law firm partners,” he explains.
Outside counsel who made the cut at Meta speak highly of Sharett’s abilities and methods. “As an outside legal partner, I have observed firsthand how Anthony’s innovative approaches to leadership both motivate his team and create outstanding results for Meta Financial Group,” says Squire Patton Boggs Partner Aneca Lasley. “He has a knack for focusing on the big picture without losing sight of company culture.”
“You never go wrong investing in people. Using empathy as a compass for leadership is really important to me. So those are the principles that guide me as a leader at Meta.”
Furthermore, Sharett’s team has employed a cross-functional approach that involves colleagues from across the enterprise—from finance to IT to business line partners to compliance partners—to select a cloud-based contracting management partner. They also enhanced the way the board communicates and votes by instituting improved software.
Ultimately, all of these implementations have helped the company run more smoothly and efficiently, but a large part of what has enabled Sharett to innovate so broadly and deeply across the company is what he refers to as a “both hands” perspective. One hand protects the company and the other hand facilitates innovation.
“While certainly protecting the company and understanding our risk profile and ensuring that we are using sound principles and advising our business and functional support partners is important,” he explains, “we also understand that using innovative approaches actually enhances risk mitigation.”
In other words, by using key technology to mitigate risk in the areas of record retention, contract management, and training of both employees and directors, Sharett says that Meta Financial Group protects the company while also enabling growth and opportunity for business partners.
Sharett is grateful to the professionals he’s learned from along the way. “I have really been extremely fortunate that I have had mentors and sponsors along my professional journey that have invested in me,” he says. “For me, my colleagues are motivational in that we are culturally connected within the team and in our provision of solutions for our customers. Likewise, our team understands the importance of operating with excellence.”
Sharett says he isn’t done streamlining and innovating. In June 2020, Meta Financial Group announced his promotion from general counsel to chief legal and compliance officer while maintaining his roles as executive vice president and corporate secretary. Going forward, he plans to continue employing the “both hands” method by promoting the talent and efforts of his colleagues.
“You never go wrong investing in people,” he says, adding, “Using empathy as a compass for leadership is really important to me. So those are the principles that guide me as a leader at Meta.”