The WFE's Women Leaders 2024 – Smaragda Rigakou, General Counsel, Head of Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Division at Athens Exchange Group

By: Smaragda Rigakou, General Counsel, Head of Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Division, Athens Exchange Group Mar 2024

Name: Smaragda Rigakou
Organisation: Athens Exchange Group
Job TitleGeneral Counsel, Head of Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Division


1. Brief job description

Smaragda Rigakou is one of the ATHEX Group’s success stories. ATHEX Group consists of three distinct companies: Hellenic Exchanges Athens Stock Exchange SA (ATHEX), the operator of the Greek capital market, Hellenic Central Securities Depository (ATHEXCSD), the only authorised central securities depository (CSD) in Greece, and Athens Exchange Clearing House (ATHEXClear), the relevant central counterparty (CCP).

Smaragda joined the group as a Legal Counsel in October 2018, and in September 2019, she became Chief Compliance Officer of the group’s subsidiary, ATHEXCSD. In June 2021, she took over as Head of the Compliance Unit of the whole of ATHEX Group.

Following her distinguished performance in the role of Head of the Compliance Unit, Smaragda was entrusted with putting together the new, unified Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Division of ATHEX Group and took its lead as General Counsel and Head of the Group. After many years of the segmentation of legal services, and following Smaragda’s initiative, the Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Division was established under her lead as an independent organisational unit to serve the group companies as well as the board of directors. At a very important time for the ATHEX Group, with markets following the new management’s steps, she engaged fully in making the newfound division part of the group’s recent history.

As part of her duties, Smaragda participates in the ATHEX Strategic Planning Committee and Executive Committee, but also as a legal professional with a rich background in capital markets, she actively sits as a member of the Stock Markets Steering Committee. As such, she represents ATHEX and attends the decision-making processes that affect the Greek capital market and the instruments listed and traded in the Athens Stock Exchange, including the approval of the new IPOs and listings, the adoption of all regulatory texts and the operation of the regulated market and the MTF of ATHEX in general. She also holds the position of president in the group’s Policy Committee. Importantly, she contributes as the General Counsel to management as well as to the boards of all the group companies.

Smaragda manages the group’s legal affairs, running a team of 13 experienced lawyers, compliance officers and paralegals. She oversees all corporate law, corporate governance, and compliance matters. She is responsible for drafting the regulations and regulatory decisions on trading, clearing, settlement and depository services at the Hellenic Capital Market.

Alongside the aforementioned responsibilities, she serves as the group’s representative in the Advisory Committee of the Hellenic Capital Market and plays a key role in the Athens Stock Exchange Association of Listed Companies Steering Committee. Furthermore, she takes part in the national legislative committees and in international forums (ECSDA, EACH, FESE, etc.) focused on European market infrastructure reform.

Furthermore, Smaragda serves as the Vice President of the Board of Directors of Athens Exchange Group Occupational Insurance Fund. She is also a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at the ATHEX Group, and an ESG expert.

2. Short biography

Smaragda holds an MSc in in Banking and Finance from the University of Piraeus, Banking & Financial Management Department. Prior to that, she qualified with an LLM, majoring in European Law, from the University of Athens, School of Law, and an LLB degree from the same establishment.

Smaragda is a Supreme Court lawyer and has been a member of the Athens Bar Association since 2010. She is the General Counsel and Head of the Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Division of ATHEX Group. Prior to this position, she served progressively as Legal Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer and Head of the Compliance Unit. Before entering ATHEX Group, she worked as a senior associate in the Banking, Finance & Capital Markets Department of POTAMITISVEKRIS law firm (Chambers Greece Law Firm of the Year 2012, 2014, 2020, 2021, 2023), working closely to the managing partners and as an associate in the Banking and Finance Department of Rokas Law Firm (Chambers ranking in Europe 2023).

Actively contributing to market reformation, she establishes channels of communication with the Ministry of Finance, the Hellenic Capital Market and other supervisory authorities. Taking action to modernise the rules of the Greek capital market, she leverages the country’s strengthened development path resulting from upgraded creditworthiness. In this context, just recently (November 2023), she ensured that legislative changes were promoted to the Ministry of Finance, including the reduction of transaction tax, capital accumulation tax and incentives for new imports. Additionally, her active participation in the legislative committee for the DLT Pilot Regime focused on developing the Distributed Ledger Technology market in Greece, with application to the management of crypto assets (October 2023).

The responsibility of formulating the body of regulatory texts on behalf of the group, underlying and regulating the entire structure of the Greek capital market, lies largely with her. She and her team played a vital role in reforming conditions for listing, suspension and delisting, as well as transparency obligations of listed companies. This was achieved through material amendments to the Regulations of the Athens Stock Exchange, involving the rationalisation of certain rules and the elimination of anachronistic provisions and practices. A crucial role was also played in reforming trading and post-trading services, rules to protect against market risks and comply with relevant regulations and directives. The new framework is expected to come into effect in the first semester of 2024.

Actively seeking the formation of new products and services, she routinely provides solid business-oriented solutions with appropriate legal structuring, contributing to ATHEX Group’s operational development.

Apart from her roles within the Group, she has been appointed by ATHEX as a member of the board of directors of EnEx Clearing House S.A., the clearing house for the energy markets in Greece and a member of Energy Exchange Group, and as a member of its Strategic and Audit Committee.

Since 2014, lecturing on market freedoms for Erasmus students of European Law at the University of Athens, School of Law, has been a significant and distinctly rewarding part of her career. Since 2016, she has also been a lecturer for an e-learning course on Anti-Money Laundering Framework at the University of Piraeus, Banking & Financial Management Department. Smaragda has also been active in published texts since 2011, authoring and co-authoring several books, such as “State Aid Law” (co-author, Nomiki Bibliothiki, Athens, 2020), “Banking Regulation Greece” (contributor, Global Legal Group, London, 2015-2017), “TEU and TFEU Commentary” (co-author, Nomiki Bibliothiki, Athens, 2012), and “State aid law in the financial crisis” (Author, Nomiki Bibliothiki, Athens, 2011).

Smaragda is passionate about promoting women’s empowerment and advancing gender equality, emphasising the balance between professional and personal life. As the group’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, she has made active contributions to obtaining the equality mark within the framework of the group's participation in the SHARE project, also managing to explore the world of the Arts.

3. What were your professional highlights and challenges in 2023?

I have been included in the Legal 500's GC Powerlist - Greece and Cyprus, for two consecutive years (2022-2023). I led the Compliance Unit to receive the Gold Award for “Best Compliance Team – Banking & Financial Sector” in the Compliance Awards 2023, organised by the Association of Compliance Officers, as well as the Platinum Award topping nominees across all sectors.

I played a major part in reforming the conditions for admission, suspension and delisting, and the transparency obligations of listed companies with the upcoming amendment of the Athens Stock Exchange Regulation by amending the regulations and the corresponding regulatory decisions on trade clearing and central depository operations titles. Our key considerations in this included striking a balance between the market’s need for rationalisation of the rules and the elimination of anachronistic provisions and practices, as well as the reformation of the trading rules and post-trade services as a shield from market risks. Along the way we strived to comply with the Settlement Discipline Regulation, the Shareholders' Rights Directive and the Recovery and Resolution Regulation.

In addition, I assumed a pivotal role in dealing with legal constraints arising during some of the latest listings and IPOs (Dimand, BLUE KEDROS, DOTFOST, Trade Estates, NBG privatisation), providing strict and clear directions to the group's business units and advising the Hellenic Capital Market Commission. Finally, the division contributes decisively to the formation of the new Voluntary Market for CO2 Emissions Offsetting Credits that the Group seeks to operate.

4. Tell us about a few of your key achievements?

As a member of the Legislative Drafting Committees of the Hellenic Ministry of Economy and Finance since 2015 I contributed to the drafting of bills regarding the transposition of the following legal frameworks:

Distribute Ledger Technology Regulation (DLTR)

Shareholder Rights Directive II (SRD II)

Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II)

Undertakings for Collective Investment in Transferable Securities Directive (UCITS V)

Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (AIFMD)

Equity-based crowd funding

As a senior associate in the Banking & Finance Department of one of the most prestigious and awarded law firms in Greece, I dealt with advising on:

Piraeus Bank S.A. during its 2015 recapitalisation and on its share capital increase in 2014

Alpha Bank on the sale of a selected portfolio of non-performing unsecured retail loans

Hellenic Financial Stability Fund on the banking resolution regime

Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd on the tender offer for Eurobank Properties REIC and the acquisition of Eurobank Ergasias SA shares and on the acquisition of Greek and Romanian Eurolife Insurance Companies

Hellenic Fund and Asset Management Association (account manager)

Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund on the concession agreement of Athens International Airport

5. Who and what inspires you to achieve your professional success?

I draw inspiration from visionary leaders such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, mentors who guided me, such as my first manager, Alkistis Christofilou, and an ongoing pursuit of personal growth, all while carrying the influence and inspiration of strong women – my mother, Asteropi ,and grandmother, Smaragda – whose resilience shaped my journey.

Being a woman in our times is a continuous challenge. My journey was more or less similar to that of many a Millennial woman in a male-driven world. Following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s course instilled in me the belief that anything is possible. Having Alkistis as a mentor gave me the resources and the resilience to persist and not give up in trying to make my dreams come true. My mother, a single parent, and my grandmother, have always been my role models as well as my anchor. When in doubt, their take on life helped me time and time again to not give up.

6. How have you overcome setbacks, and what have you learned from adversity?

In navigating challenges, I’ve tackled setbacks by learning from difficult experiences, adjusting my strategy, and persevering. Of course, taking time to recompose, when necessary, enables me to think out of the box and come up with innovative solutions. My advice to other people faced with obstacles is to try not to be discouraged, but to seek valuable insights from them. Those experiences can be repurposed under a positive or at least a different outlook. Seeking support from one’s trusted circle or network can surprise you on the outcome. After all, if you put setbacks in perspective, you can reframe them as excellent opportunities to refine strategies.

7. What advice do you have for other women who aspire to be in leadership positions?

The role of women is in a current state of change. We gain some influence while society becomes increasingly aware of the injustices against women, socially and economically. So, of course, this is not a time to give up.

However, leadership is not about gender, but about impact. And you can make an impact on all people, regardless of gender. All you need is to embrace your strengths, acknowledge your mistakes and the things that need change. One can break barriers by being true to themselves, building a supportive network, and respecting others. Sometimes it can get tough, not to mention unfair. But things are improving ever faster compared to five years ago, and we all aspire to make them even better. Leadership is about inspiring others to follow in your footsteps. In that journey do not forget where you started from and always remember: Your unique voice is your greatest asset; let it resonate confidently.


The views, thoughts and opinions contained in this Focus article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the WFE’s policy position on the issue, or the WFE’s views or opinions.