Risk and compliance officers are responsible for ensuring an organisation adheres to government regulations
As a compliance officer, you'll ensure 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, organisations (and particularly financial service ones) 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.
Types of compliance work
Regulated industries include:
- financial services
Specialist areas in compliance, include:
- financial crime
- product advisory
- regulatory affairs
- trade surveillance.
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
- manage voluntary best practice relating to professional standards
- 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.
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 are in the region of £400 to £600 per day.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are typically 8.30am to 5.30pm. While compliance is not revenue-generating, you'll often find yourself working on business-critical projects, often with little notice. Generally though, you'll enjoy a good work/life balance compared with other professional services jobs.
Some employers recruit on a day-rate basis, opting to pay 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.
- The number of risk and compliance jobs is rising due to increasing regulations, particularly in the banking sector.
- 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.
An undergraduate degree is usually required for entry to this role, but there is no specification as to what subject this should be, since many employers are flexible about the degree subject.
However, studying any of the following may be favourable:
- business studies
The increasing importance of compliance and the growing involvement of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), mean that qualifications are becoming more important.
A range of courses is 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.
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 several projects at a time.
Unlike law or medicine, there are no set criteria of work experience and qualifications for working in compliance, so the focus is often identifying your transferable skills.
Some dedicated graduate schemes, particularly in financial services, are available. Graduate risk management roles may 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
- customer services.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Compliance is a fast-growing sector in the UK, so job prospects are good.
Compliance roles are available in a range of industries, including financial services, pharmaceuticals, property, charities, technology and IT.
Look for job vacancies at:
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.
The role of compliance is rapidly developing, opening up new and increasing opportunities across a range of sectors.
The rate of progression in your career as a compliance professional 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.
Many compliance professionals move not just to more senior roles but also take side steps into other related areas. For example, from compliance, you can often move across to a career in auditing, cybersecurity or risk consulting.