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​​How Do You Become a Compliance Officer?

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How Do You Become a Compliance Officer?

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The compliance industry has seen many changes over the years. In the early days of financial compliance, the function was more of an afterthought than an actual, regulated department. Back then, whoever put their hand up at the back of the room became the compliance officer. ​

But then, regulatory oversight and enforcement saw a massive increase, meaning firms were getting fined more and more for not properly addressing compliance. What used to be a designated role without true meaning became a proper profession, requiring specific experience, skills and education. ​

How can you therefore become a Compliance Officer in today's world? From fields of study to desirable skills, discover below what it takes to properly take on the role. 

What Experience Is Needed to Become a Compliance Officer?​

​Becoming a compliance officer seems out of reach for many, but technically anyone can be a compliance officer. In practice, compliance officers traditionally come from legal or finance backgrounds with associated degrees. It is increasingly competitive to get into this sector as it is seen as an attractive career, but they can still hail from diverse backgrounds and regulatory departments are increasingly seeking complimentary technology and data skills.​

In the United States, compliance officers are usually lawyers, whereas the culture in the UK is more of a broad church. ​

Some of the best junior candidates in the UK are now coming from graduate compliance programs at large institutions, where they can undertake rotations in different departments, similar to trainee solicitor schemes. If a compliance officer wishes to hold a Senior Managers Certification Regime (SMCR) role at a financial firm, then more rigorous tests are applied to judge their capabilities. ​

Below is a graph made by the ICA as a result of a survey of Chief Compliance Officers in 2019, asking how they came to be a Compliance Officer:

 Compliance Association Survey

According to Chief Compliance Officers - 2019 International Compliance Association Survey 

What Education Is Needed to Become a Compliance Manager?

Other methods of reskilling into the role are by undertaking courses by recognized specialist compliance education providers, like the International Compliance Association (ICA), Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) or the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS). 

The courses offered by these organizations are quite accessible and affordable. It helps to have background knowledge of law or finance, but it is not necessary. 

What Skills Are Needed to Become a Compliance Officer?

Being a compliance officer can be a demanding job and it can be tough to keep on top of regulatory/legal change. The ability to stay on top of things and to manage people well are hallmarks of a good compliance officer. They need to be there for the front office staff, but also for the C-suite, especially when operating as a Chief Compliance Officer, General Counsel or Chief Operating Officer.​

Required Skills

  • Broader Business Acumen (Product & Technology Knowledge)

  • Interpersonal Skills & Communication 

  • Problem Solving 

  • Attention to Detail Niche 

  • Candidates & Subject Matter Experts ​


  • High Ethical Standards & Integrity 

  • A Strong Constitution (Backbone)

  • Strategically Minded 

  • Analytical 

  • Adaptable 

Below is a graph of what skills come in most handy on a daily basis for Chief Compliance Officers: 

Compliance Association Survey Skills

According to Chief Compliance Officers - 2019 International Compliance Association Survey

As time moves on, skill sets will change; but the general emotional requirement to have a strong ‘backbone’ to challenge peers and figures of authority seems likely to stay. ​

If you are thinking about moving into the Compliance sector and need help with finding your next career move, Rutherford will gladly support you in your journey. From our Free CV Format for Legal and Compliance specialists to our Consultants’ extensive knowledge of the recruitment industry within the space, we are here to assist you no matter what your needs are.


Jackson Baker is the Director at Rutherford, the executive legal and compliance recruitment specialists. 

Contact us for confidential search, send us an email to or see our latest vacancies. 


About Rutherford 

Rutherford is a boutique search firm that specializes in legal, financial crime and compliance recruitment within the financial services and legal sector, with London and New York being the main focus. We use our carefully curated relationships, networks and market knowledge to find the best fit for the clients in hand. We work with a wide range of clients, spanning from advisors, corporate and commercial banks, brokers, exchanges, MTFs and financial tech, through to global investment managers, hedge funds, private equity firms and investment banks. 

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