• Sun. May 26th, 2024

How to Get a Job in Compliance


May 16, 2024 #compliance, #job

Younger workers are growing up in the age of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and an embattled but still potent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The introduction of new and updated rules, regulations, and laws in the financial services, healthcare, telecommunication, and other sectors has created an increase in the need for qualified and ethical individuals. Experienced regulators and risk/compliance professionals have seen increasing pay and new job opportunities.

In terms of importance and financial impact, chief compliance officers rank among chief financial officers (CFOs) and chief executive officers (CEOs) on some executive staffs, since a proper compliance environment keeps Uncle Sam at bay and represents a noticeable advantage over less-prepared competitors.

This is increasingly true in finance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2023 the top-paying industries for compliance jobs included information services, aerospace manufacturing, and computer manufacturing.

Key Takeaways

  • Compliance jobs are found in the financial services, healthcare, and telecommunications sectors.
  • Compliance officers need knowledge of ethical practices in their industries.
  • Degrees in engineering, law, and chemistry as well as economics, finance, and management, can lead to a career in compliance.

Job Description

Compliance officer or manager positions are available in a myriad of industries, but their duties and responsibilities are similar across sectors.

The primary duty of a compliance officer is to ensure a company is being run legally and ethically and is complying with all applicable industry regulations. This job duty begins with an in-depth knowledge of current regulations and ethical standards in a particular industry.

Compliance officers must understand how to interpret these regulations and how they fit into the business operations of their companies.

A Base Understanding of Ethics and Standards

In addition to understanding legal regulations, compliance officers must also have a sound knowledge of ethical practices and standards in their industries. Although there are norms in most sectors, in practice ethics are often left up to the interpretation of a compliance officer or manager.

The need for ethics interpretation makes it crucial for compliance officers to understand the underlying values of a company so that they can establish and implement standard procedures. An ongoing review of a company’s ethical standards is a necessary part of any compliance officer’s job.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the occupation will grow by 5% through 2032.

Compliance and Ethical Procedures

Compliance officers share information regarding compliant behavior and ethical procedures with management, employees, and C-suite executives. In industries where regulatory burdens are high, compliance officers spend a substantial portion of their time developing, improving, and distributing compliance programs to company employees.

An Example of Compliance Officers at Work

For example, compliance officers in the financial services industry focus their attention on anti-money laundering initiatives, including ongoing training and education programs that detail how employees can remain compliant with overarching regulation.

Similarly, a compliance officer who is working at a health care facility may devote a substantial amount of time to creating and disseminating training programs that focus on disclosure and privacy laws for protecting the facility’s patients.

Compliance and Risk Management

Compliance officers are responsible for reviewing current and potential risks a business enterprise faces. The information regarding business- or industry-specific risks is passed along to high-level executives to establish internal controls to minimize exposure.

A compliance officer must continually review the risks that face the organization along with the procedures that are in place to reduce that risk so that the company is well-positioned to manage it effectively.

Skills and Qualifications

Generally speaking, compliance workers need analytical, investigative, and decision-making skills. For obvious reasons, it’s best if the officer has some experience working in the industry.

No two compliance officers face the same challenges, and the nature of the job is such that every officer becomes a perpetual student: Regulatory changes take place consistently.

Degrees in engineering, law, and chemistry–along with economics, finance, and management–are great assets on a compliance resume.

Those in the financial sector might also need to carry securities licenses; professional certifications in a relevant field are also valuable.

$43,790 to $123,710

The salary range for compliance officer occupations as of May 2023.

Salary Ranges

According to BLS 2023 statistics, the latest available as of this writing, annual salaries for compliance professions range from $43,790 to $123,710, and hourly wages from $21.05 to $59.48.

A lower-income earner may have less work experience or hold a degree not directly related to the industry. A worker with a higher income often has substantial tenure in his position or has earned advanced degrees in business, accounting, law, or finance.

Those who work at large corporations are more likely to have access to fringe benefits that increase the total compensation package, with chief compliance officers possessing those on a par with other C-Suite executives.

Career Paths

There are compliance jobs in almost every field, which can make it a difficult career path to prepare for. For example, a compliance officer working at HSBC or Wells Fargo has very different responsibilities and educational requirements than a compliance officer working for Dow Chemical or Exxon Mobil.

Aspiring compliance professionals should identify industries of particular interest and understand their practical and regulatory obstacles.

Certain industries, such as food, chemicals, health care, and finance lend themselves to compliance department growth. However, a majority of new jobs for compliance staff come from the public sector, not private businesses.

Public Sector Compliance Careers

According to the BLS, the top three employers of compliance officers are the federal government, state governments, and local governments. In fact, local governments employ more compliance officers (33,430 as of 2023) than private companies (21,980) albeit at lower pay.

State and local public sector compliance jobs generally come with lower starting salaries than their private sector counterparts, but the benefits and job security are better. Even states with relatively modest public benefits offer packages as good or better than the best private employers.

It’s also difficult to get fired from a public sector job, essentially adding a form of unemployment insurance. So, while applying for a public sector job can be cumbersome, it is still a good option for those interested in compliance.

What is Financial Compliance?

The duties of compliance personnel vary by firm and job description, but the following are tasks that are typically accomplished by compliance departments:

  • Ensuring that the company adheres to minimum net capital rules.
  • Making sure that employees are following internal compliance guidelines.
  • Fielding and addressing customer complaints.
  • Maintaining a dialogue with regulatory bodies.
  • Reviewing sales activities and discretionary accounts and making certain that other principals within the firm are obeying securities laws.
  • Making sure that the firm complies with state securities laws.
  • Ensuring that all employees are property-registered and have taken continuing education classes as required.
  • Making sure that the company complies with trading and market-making rules.
  • Representing the firm or preparing documentation for any pending arbitration cases.

Financial Industry Compliance Careers

The financial industry is a ripe field for those interested in a compliance-related career.

The compliance department of a bank, brokerage, or investment management firm works to ensure that all of the employees and officers comply not only with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations but also Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rules.

Training Requirements

A position as a compliance officer or manager is not typically entry-level employment. Bachelor’s degrees are usually required, and some employers look for advanced degrees, like a law degree or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA), especially for higher-level positions.

Compliance officers in other sectors have the opportunity to complete the Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional Program (CCEP) through the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE).

The CCEP requires participation in an intensive prerequisite course and passing an exam. Similar designation and certification courses are available through the Ethics and Compliance Officer Association (ECOA).

Educational Requirements

In the 1980s, a bachelor’s degree was not always required to get work in a compliance department. The idea was that employees would learn on the job.

That has changed. A degree in finance, management, accounting, economics, or law is a must to get a compliance job at any of the bulge bracket firms. A master’s degree in finance, accounting, or economics can help set an individual apart from the competition.

Other Credentials

Applicants with a law degree often have a leg up on the competition as they already have a feel for the way the law works. This is particularly desirable by many brokerage houses.

Other credentials can help a candidate stand out. COMPLY, formerly known as National Regulatory Services, offers an Investment Adviser Certified Compliance Professional credential for those seeking advancement in careers as compliance officers within the financial services industry.

This advanced certification program provides participants with up-to-date regulatory content that is relevant to financial experts working in compliance departments.

What About Securities Licenses?

A firm may require its compliance personnel to become licensed. It is common for firms to require their compliance personnel to sit for the Series 7 and Series 63 exams. The curriculum for these licensing exams allows compliance officers to obtain a good foundation and understanding of the securities industry.

Other licenses that a firm may sponsor a compliance individual for include the Series 14, Series 26, Series 27, and Series 39 exams. These exams require an understanding of net capital rules, Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) rules, rules for maintaining customer accounts, sales (and other) supervisory roles, and record-keeping.

Work Experience

Compliance teams will occasionally hire people who have worked in other fields or aspects of the industry, such as brokerage sales and trading. Many of those who work their way up the compliance ranks have extensive back-office experience in trade settlement or operations.

A fair number of those in the field also have a background in accounting or have worked for the major stock exchanges or FINRA as field auditors or examiners.

Beyond that, many companies will also look to see whether the candidate has had prior experience at a firm of similar size and stature. This experience ensures that the individual will be able to handle the type of duties and often frantic pace characteristic of the compliance department.

Skill Set

Even if an individual meets all of the above requirements and looks good on paper, there are specific skill sets that they must also have to be successful in the field of compliance. For example:

  • Individuals should be detail-oriented and have the ability to review and analyze large data sets in short order.
  • Since compliance personnel members are charged with making sure that the company adheres to all FINRA rules, they must be able to decipher information (such as detailed trade activity) and be able to determine whether the individual and/or firm is in compliance.
  • Compliance personnel must have intimate knowledge of other jobs and functions, such as sales and trading (and the rules associated with them).

What Does a Compliance Department Do?

A compliance department works to ensure that an organization adheres to the external regulations and the internal rules that apply to its activities. Its mission is important to any organization, but it is especially critical in highly complex and regulated industries such as finance and healthcare. State and local governments also rely on compliance personnel, as public service programs are subject to stringent federal and state regulations.

What Does a Compliance Officer in Healthcare Do?

Healthcare administration is one of the trickiest areas for a compliance officer, given the competing demands of patients, personnel, insurance companies, and the federal government. Not to mention the fact that lives are at stake in this industry. In fact, the duties of a compliance officer in healthcare are so specialized that a degree in healthcare administration is a valuable asset for a candidate.

What Does a Compliance Officer in the Public Sector Do?

Public agencies are governed by a complex set of rules related to financial conduct, data protection, environmental regulation, and health and safety concerns. Moreover, rules are frequently added or revised. The compliance department keeps on top of these changes and makes sure the organization is changing with them. Maintaining public trust is crucial to a government agency. They’re funded with tax dollars, and nobody is going to let them forget it.

The Bottom Line

Compliance has an increasingly important role in our complex modern world. Laws and regulations are there to protect workers, customers, and the community. The compliance department is responsible for making sure they are followed.


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