How to be a Successful Compliance Officer

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The role of the Compliance Officer has evolved this century from a bolt-on middle-management position where someone drew the short straw of added responsibilities – something akin to being a fire warden or first aider – to an essential full-time job amid ever-changing and escalating regulatory demands.

In those early days businesses typically viewed the role as a box-ticking exercise, rather than an essential function, resulting in common challenges: they didn’t value the importance of robust regulatory compliance, they couldn’t keep pace with the increasingly dynamic regulatory environment, and the fractional nature of the role meant it was an inconvenience, not a priority.

Since then, a major global event has reshaped the Compliance Oficer role: the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. This deep economic downturn caused the regulatory screw to be tightened to reinforce businesses and industries against future catastrophic events, bringing the need to meet regulatory obligations into sharp focus for the board – and propelling the role up the corporate agenda.

Such is the value placed on compliance today, it has become an industry of its own complete with specialist training programmes, professional associations, conferences, codes of conduct, academic research, and lobbying. Central to this is the compliance officer, whose job it is to ensure the business is compliant with external rules imposed upon the organisation by establishing robust internal systems of control. These compliance champions are no longer viewed as an operational barrier; they are considered critical to a business’s success – even more so in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the role’s importance has grown in recent years, so too has its scope – from ensuring all corporate processes and procedures comply with external regulations linked to key factors like anti-money laundering and cybersecurity, to ensuring business operations also comply with internal standards. The challenge for the Compliance Officer is to empower the organisation to function in a legal and ethical manner while meeting its business goals. 

To achieve this, they must identify the current risks – and horizon scan future risks – that an organisation faces and identify how to overcome them without disrupting its output. The stakes are high: if they fail in their responsibilities not only could operations be disrupted, the business will be exposed to the threat of hefty fines, legal ramifications and reputation damage.

Effective compliance officers possess a diverse skillset – communication, organisation, problem-solving, interpretation, critical thinking, integrity – that allows them to mitigate these threats by designing and implementing robust controls to protect the organisation from non-compliance. By harnessing these skills, they can undertake a range of crucial tasks that contribute to the delivery of a holistic compliance programme, including:

  • Monitoring operational processes and procedures to ensure the business complies with all legal regulations and ethical standards.
  • Researching, recording and analysing data and information that can inform compliance-related decisions. 
  • Training and educating employees on the latest regulations and processes – and updating them on any changes.
  • Liaising between department heads and senior management.
  • Conduct regular assessments to determine whether policies are compliant with the law.
  • Producing detailed reports that advise management on the company’s compliance with laws and regulations.
  • Creating and managing effective action plans in response to audit discoveries and compliance violations.
  • Addressing and resolving employee concerns about regulatory compliance.

This ability to develop robust compliance programmes, review company policies, and advise management on possible risks also requires compliance officers to move with the times. Core compliance skills should dovetail with new skill sets that allow them to thrive in the modern landscape where data, technology, and agile working are shaping both the rules and regulations and the tools and techniques used to comply with them.

 

 

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