Rise to the challenge: become a compliance officer

Not only is the role of the compliance officer changing, but it is also becoming one of the most sought-after jobs across the US.

In a recent survey conducted by US News, the role of compliance officer is seen as one of the best and most important jobs of 2012.

The report points out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects compliance officer employment growth of 15 percent between 2010 and 2020, which means 32,400 new jobs and 26,200 replacement jobs. In 2010 there were just 216,600 compliance officer positions at companies.

The compliance officer role has long existed in organizations that operate within heavily regulated sectors such as government, financial services and healthcare. But with revelations of a string of unethical business practices and new regulatory requirements, many companies outside these areas are now considering whether they might need such an appointment as well.

‘Given the continuous stream of laws and regulations, companies need people just devoted to seeing that they are in compliance with all the laws to which they are subject,’ says James Fanto, a professor at Brooklyn Law School. ‘If a company is not in compliance with the laws, it may be criminally prosecuted or be the target of a civil enforcement action, which could result in significant penalties.’

Meanwhile, as the Dodd-Frank legislation moves into its second year since enactment in 2010, another major hurdle has surfaced for companies: anti-money laundering (AML) compliance. While the legislation may seem to reach every nook and cranny of business operations, it does not suggest companies should have AML programs in place. According to a recent Deloitte poll, however, approximately 25 percent of compliance officers will be tasked with building or modifying a company’s AML compliance program.

JF‘Compliance officers in the financial sector must promulgate written procedures for ensuring particular activities are conducted in accordance with the law and then must help make sure these procedures are followed,’ says Fanto, who is also a specialist in public companies and broker-dealer compliance. ‘Indeed, since the financial sector has been the object of federal reform (Dodd-Frank), the tasks of compliance officers in broker-dealers and investment advisers have grown significantly.’

Without a doubt, the primary responsibility of the compliance officer was traditionally to ensure the company remained in compliance with all laws, rules and policies, both nationally and internationally. Beyond that, a crucial function of the position entailed establishing an acceptable ‘risk appetite’ and developing a mitigation process to manage both inherent and future roadblocks.

While the function has existed for some time, it has typically been hamstrung by a lack of funding and top-level internal support. This situation is changing, however, as compliance officers are crossing silos and starting to converge with other departments, such as governance and risk. In a nutshell, compliance is no longer seen as just an introspective activity; it is vital to a company’s reputation.

So it’s not surprising that the rewards for compliance officers have also risen. The US News report collected data from the Labor Department that indicates the median annual salary for compliance officers in 2010 was $58,720. The best-paid 10 percent made nearly $95,000, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earned $34,540.

‘I think it is fair to say today that a job once thought of as prosaic and low level is growing in status and in pay,’ Fanto concludes.

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