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compliance officer

What is a compliance officer?

Compliance officers are employees tasked with ensuring a company follows its internal rules and best-practice policies while always complying with applicable external laws and government regulations. They apply their organizational and data management skills to identify regulatory risks, monitor company activity to confirm regulatory compliance, and then work closely with management and staff to overcome any existing compliance violations and minimize -- or eliminate -- future non-compliance.

Among their responsibilities, compliance officers audit email and social media activity, scrutinize extraneous business operations and, perhaps most importantly, develop and maintain sustainable systems and programs for a company and its workers. At the same time, they provide compliance training and education about these systems to all employees, fostering company security, order and integrity in the process.

However, most tasks for the average compliance officer are clerical, though they are vital in establishing a steady workflow and building workplace cohesion. These duties include preparing paperwork for meetings, scheduling and sometimes leading conferences, along with reviewing legal cases and resolving issues stemming from regulatory breaches to minimize future risks to the company.

Compliance officer jobs are required positions for all registered investment adviser firms, and larger corporations usually have a chief compliance officer (CCO) who reports all activity to the chief executive officer and chief legal officer of these companies.

Compliance officer responsibilities

While human resources develop and enforce company policies, the compliance officer is responsible for identifying and investigating compliance risks, as well as establishing and administering compliance and training programs. Compliance officers must build and hone an in-depth knowledge of compliance risks, while simultaneously generating and regularly redesigning programs that ensure all employees and employers respond decisively to a regulatory breach and work to prevent future instances of noncompliance.

In case of an infraction, the compliance officer must take quick and appropriate action with the disciplinary structures in place to ensure the security and safety of their enterprise, then lead internal audits of prior procedures to alleviate the risk of a future transgression.

Core responsibilities include the following:

  • Act as a liaison between department supervisors and senior management.
  • Use compliance training and educate staff on updates and changes in compliance policies and company guidelines.
  • Work with stakeholders to administer assessments that determine if existing policies are compliant with legal requirements and internal systems and rules.
  • Monitor the flow of data and sensitive information closely and carefully to ensure the smooth operation of a business.
  • Track all current operational procedures using a compliance management platform.
  • Review company marketing material to ensure compliance and ethical business practices at all levels.

Must-have skills and qualifications for a compliance officer

Beyond educational and professional accomplishments, compliance officers must maintain a company's ethics and integrity and manage conflict between upper management and rank-and-file employees, all while keeping everyone working together to battle the threat of a regulatory breach. Therefore, the compliance officer must work well under pressure with people. In addition, reliability, commitment and loyalty indicate dedication to and trust in a company and its best interests.

These skills are especially important in this social media age of technological revolution, in which closer regulation of easily manipulated markets -- such as cryptocurrency and blockchain -- has increased dramatically. The best compliance officers pair strong soft skills with necessary hard skills to separate themselves from run-of-the-mill counterparts.

Must-have hard skills include the following:

  • In-depth regulatory, legal and IT knowledge of a business.
  • Sharp, quick data analysis.
  • Project and risk management experience.
  • Audit and conflict resolution expertise.
  • Being up to date with new technology.

Meanwhile, the necessary soft skills, which are relevant across industries and essential to successfully building interpersonal and business relationships, include the following:

  • Leadership.
  • Clear communication and active listening.
  • Strong work ethic.
  • Integrity.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving.
  • Organization.
  • Accurate risk assessment.
  • Attention to detail.

Compliance officer salary and career outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for a compliance officer is $34.47 on an hourly wage and $71,690 on an annual wage. Those on the lower end make around $ 20 hourly and $41,000 annually, while those on the higher end earn $56.76 per hour or $118,060 annually. The average, or mean, hourly wage is around $37, while the average annual wage sits at $76,980.

California has the most compliance officer jobs available, while the highest concentration is in Vermont. The highest annual and hourly mean wage is offered in Washington D.C. with a reported average pay rate of $98,690 and $47.45 respectively. The average base salary for a CCO is about $158,517, with the lower end earning $91,117 and the higher end making $275,773.

Employment in the position should grow by 4.3% between 2021 and 2031, with an estimate of 15,100 new jobs. The employment of financial examiners in general is projected to grow 18% by 2030 with about 6,900 new jobs opening annually, making it one of the fastest-growing fields in the country.

Successful compliance experts are likely to advance in their field quickly. The compliance and ethics fields promote from within and linearly, so motivated employees may obtain senior-level C-suite positions in as little as two to four years. Some compliance professionals migrate from specialty to specialty, moving from the compliance department through cybersecurity, general financial services, human resources, auditing and risk management.

How do you become a compliance officer?

Compliance officers are typically required to have a bachelor's degree in business, finance, criminal justice or a program connected to their chosen industry. Most candidates then take an internship -- whether full-time, part-time or unpaid -- to gain on-the-job training needed to develop skills.

Interns typically gain initial work experience in compliance by serving as a primary point of contact between a company's employees and managers. Becoming familiar with management software, aiding in ethics and compliance research and studying the internal and external rules and regulations of the business all develop an intern's resume. These candidates tend to spend a few years working as analysts or in client support to further hone their skill set before moving to the compliance department.

From here, prospective employees often pursue certification. While becoming a certified compliance specialist is optional, many industry professionals consider certification a distinct edge to any job candidate and an indication of a likely lifelong learner. Credentialing organizations, such as the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) provide certification in the profession. Certification requires gaining work experience, acquiring the requisite continuing education units and completing a state-sanctioned exam. Once these steps are completed, candidates can realistically apply for higher-earning compliance jobs.

Chief compliance officers often have a master's degree in legal studies or a master's in business administration (MBA). While a master's degree is not required to become a compliance officer, earning it further illustrates the advanced skills and knowledge, raising a job candidate's profile and attracting potential employers.

This was last updated in October 2023

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