Risk and compliance is one of the fastest growing-areas of employment in the finance sector and a popular choice for those with an eye for detail

As a compliance officer, you're responsible for ensuring a company complies with its outside regulatory requirements and internal policies. In short, you're responsible for making sure that your employer plays by the rules.

After the global economic downturn, financial service organisations in particular have been significantly increasing the size of their risk and compliance departments to respond to new regulations. Billions of pounds in fines were imposed on many of the top tier banks, compelling many to grow their teams as they rushed to ensure they were compliant. Because of this, there's a shortage of compliance change professionals.

Types of work

As a compliance officer, you'll have the opportunity to work in a broad range of industries as most sectors now face some level of regulation. These include:

  • accountancy
  • charity/not-for-profit
  • digital and technology
  • environmental services
  • financial services
  • insurance
  • pharmaceuticals
  • property.

Your role in compliance may vary as there are a number of specialist areas you can choose to pursue:

  • assurance
  • financial crime
  • monitoring
  • product advisory
  • regulatory affairs
  • trade surveillance.

Responsibilities

The remit of your role will depend on the specialism of your employer, but it's likely that you will also be responsible for compliance with professional standards (such as voluntary best practice) and internal standards. As a compliance professional, you'll need to:

  • perform risk assessments to understand risk level, significance and scope
  • keep up to date with, and understand, relevant laws and regulations
  • monitor compliance with laws, regulations and internal policies
  • ensure that your findings are recorded and followed up with management so that issues can be rectified
  • educate employees on not only the regulations, but also the impact on the organisation if these aren't complied with
  • investigate irregularities and non-compliance issues
  • report back to business functions on current risk and compliance performance
  • highlight or escalate areas of concern
  • contribute to robust and effective compliance controls within the organisation
  • review marketing materials, presentations and websites to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements
  • assist in the gathering of internal information in response to regulatory requests
  • perform various general administrative duties (such as file creation and maintenance of ongoing administrative projects)
  • collaborate with other departments to create a culture of compliance.

Salary

The industry you choose to work in often affects how much you get paid - for instance, compliance officers in banking are more highly paid than compliance officers in charities.

  • Starting salaries for compliance officers range from £18,000 to £35,000.
  • Compliance managers can earn between £30,000 and £75,000.
  • Senior managers in compliance can earn up to, and more than, £100,000.

Contract or temporary roles may also be worth considering. Day rates for compliance professionals with up to two years' experience start at £200 per day.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours, at least contractually, are typical office hours of 8.30am to 5.30pm. A number of factors affect how many hours you are likely to work - your location and sector being most significant. While compliance is not revenue-generating (unlike a sales job, for example), you'll often find yourself working on business-critical projects, often with little notice. Generally, you'll enjoy a good work/life balance compared with other professional services jobs.

Many employers are increasingly recruiting on a day-rate basis, i.e. being paid per day rather than by the hour. As with many professional roles, paid overtime is rare.

What to expect

  • Compliance is at the heart of many businesses, so even junior compliance officers get to interact with senior leaders. Few other graduate jobs offer you this level of visibility in both large and small companies.
  • Regulations and laws change so your job will change too. It's this change in the role that many graduates enjoy.
  • There's a shortage of compliance professionals, with many employers struggling to hire enough people.
  • Compliance is closely related to risk, and as such is often slightly more structured and formal than some other departments. Expect to wear business dress rather than anything casual.
  • Compliance jobs are often based indoors though if you pursue a career in energy compliance you could find yourself on an oil rig.
  • Compliance jobs in financial services are often London-based.
  • Many jobs cover numerous locations so expect some travel.

Qualifications

People working in compliance do not always hold specific qualifications. However, with the increasing importance of compliance and the growing involvement of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), qualifications are becoming more important.

Compliance is not an industry which is obsessed with where and what you studied. However, as a general rule, there is a preference for number-based degrees (such as economics), commercial degrees (such as business studies) or law degrees, but don't let this put you off as many employers are flexible and will accept any degree discipline.

There are a range of courses available but those provided by the International Compliance Association (ICA) are respected by employers.

Law degrees are popular with employers, as are accountancy degrees. Remember that compliance is a large profession and different functions within compliance will look for different backgrounds.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • critical problem-solving ability. You'll often have to make decisions on the information available, which is not always in black and white
  • an ability to analyse and interpret information quickly (in some sectors such as trading, decisions need to be made within minutes)
  • an interest in your chosen area. You're likely to be delving in to granular levels of detail as a compliance professional so you're more likely to enjoy the role if you have an interest in the sector. This should prove easy as compliance roles exist in almost all sectors from government and finance, to technology and the environment
  • project management skills, as you're likely to have to juggle a number of projects at one time.

Work experience

Compliance is a fast-growing sector in the UK with a reported skills shortage. In fact, many recruiters state that compliance is their busiest sector. This is positive news for graduates hoping to work in compliance.

Unlike law or medicine, compliance does not have a set criteria for work experience and qualifications, so the focus is often identifying your transferable skills. Some dedicated graduate schemes, particularly in financial services, are available. Some risk management graduate roles may also contain elements of compliance work and many of the rotational graduate schemes in banks will include a placement in compliance.

However, many graduates join the compliance profession after undertaking employment that helps them develop the required skills. Examples of unrelated but relevant roles include:

  • pre-employment screening co-ordinator
  • administration executive
  • financial analyst
  • paralegal
  • customer services.

These all show employers that you've gained some of the skills and attributes required to become a compliance officer.

Employers

Compliance roles are available in a broad range of industries, including financial services, pharmaceuticals, property, charities, technology and IT.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Once you land a compliance job your employer may help you gain a qualification to support your professional development. Many employers choose a course provided by the ICA or the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI). Others may propose a course from an accredited university.

You'll receive much of your training on the job, or by attending short courses and conferences. The compliance sector is fast moving and always changing, so your employer will expect you to keep your knowledge up to date.

Career prospects

Opportunities to develop your career in compliance have been growing for many years due to the increased focus on compliance. Since the global economic crisis, the role of a compliance officer has been regarded as an up-and-coming role mainly due to the many opportunities across several industries.

The rate of progression can be fast, with many junior compliance officers being promoted to senior officers within two to four years. Compliance managers typically have more than five years' experience, and senior management often more than ten.

If you choose to work in a large corporate organisation you're likely to find that your career path is linear, where you may progress from analyst level to associate vice president to vice president. Smaller firms may use more familiar language like manager and senior manager.

Due to the 'boom' in compliance, many compliance professionals move not just to more senior roles but also take side steps into other related areas.

Experience in compliance often provides an opportunity for you pursue a career in auditing, cybersecurity or risk consulting. Compliance is often considered by employers to be a mindset, so you may well be able to move sectors - such as moving from financial services in to e-commerce.