Paul McNulty, the former US Deputy Attorney General once famously said that "if you think compliance is expensive - try non-compliance".
With nearly $4.7 billion in fines handed out to US companies in 2020, failure to take financial compliance seriously is certainly not viewed favourably by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The role of the Compliance Officer has now developed into one of the most important positions within a financial organisation.
Ensuring that the ethical integrity of an organisation remains intact requires a diverse and defined skillset which each Compliance officer needs to constantly develop. We will briefly explore below some of the most important skills Compliance Officers need to have to ensure a strong culture within their firm.
It seems almost cliched as practically every job profile requires a candidate to possess strong communication skills. However, for the Compliance Officer, it is essential. The individual in this crucial position needs to be able to effectively communicate to all levels in the business, from front office to the CEO to the board of directors. It goes without saying that one can have all the required knowledge in the world, but if it cannot be communicated effectively to the wider business then this expertise will ultimately add little value.
The ability to interpret and clarify regulatory changes, train members of staff on how to ensure compliance within their departments and being able to field time-sensitive questions with clarity are just a few of the things the Compliance Officer needs to be able to communicate professionally and without offending any members of the business.
The Courage of Conviction
Should one be serious about developing their career within compliance, it is worth realising sooner rather than later that the Compliance Officer will at some point need to make difficult decisions that will have an impact on the business.
Making these challenging choices, which certain functions within the business may find unfavourable, requires significant strength of character. Most importantly, standing by these decisions and avoiding being influenced by internal relationships or opinions is a core priority of every Compliance Officer, particularly those with a higher level of seniority and authority. The individual's decisions and interpretation of the regulation may be challenged, and it comes down to the Compliance specialist to understand that appeasing the few at the expense of far greater complications in the future must not take place.
The Ability to Problem-Solve
Problem solving requires a host of specific attributes. Creative and analytical thinking, the ability to multitask within tight timeframes and strict attention to detail are a few of the qualities that make up the melting pot of being able to solve problems effectively. Whether the Compliance Officer is interpreting vague yet consequential forthcoming regulation, managing resistance to internal policy changes to ensure wider regulatory compliance or ensuring that a firm's risk framework is up to a suitable standard, they will usually tend to be putting out a host of proverbial fires. Quick reactions coupled with sufficient management of these problems will ensure each difficulty is handled professionally whilst minimising potential risk.
Of course, the above is only a limited set of skills the modern-day Compliance Officer needs to hold to ensure the obligations of the compliance function are met. Like any profession, skill sets are broad and take several years to truly develop. While the Compliance Officer's role within financial services can occasionally be rather stressful and pressurised, it can provide the right individual with a rewarding and certainly well-respected career.