6 Key Compliance Officer Skills

Posted by

Samantha Martin-Woodgate

on 26 Sep 2023

As regulators continue to clamp down on misconduct with higher fines, compliance officers are under even greater pressure to prevent unethical conduct.

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Protecting the ethical integrity of a company is the heart of the compliance officer's role. But what does it take to succeed in this role?

Compliance officer key skills

We have identified six crucial skills that every compliance officer needs to possess to protect their company effectively.

1. Connect with people

Employees often see compliance as merely an obligation. Compliance isn't the core focus of someone working in Marketing, Strategy or Operations. In fact, it's unlikely to feature on their priority list at all. So, being pulled away from their work to participate in compliance training is an inconvenience.

However, if people can't do something because it could risk a regulatory investigation, compliance becomes more than just an inconvenience. It's a hindrance. This can create an 'us and them' environment, where the compliance officer becomes alienated from the rest of the organisation.

The most effective compliance officers connect with people on a human level. They engage with people beyond just advising on what they can and can't do and issuing training requirements. They show interest in them as people, not just concerning the challenges they face in their role but also on a more personal level.

It could be anything from a simple hello in the corridor to bonding over a drink at a work social event. The point is people will be much more likely to seek your advice and trust you with compliance matters if they see you as one of them.

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2. Understand where they fit in the bigger picture

Being a compliance officer isn't just about drumming rules and regulations into people. The best compliance officers understand how their role fits within the broader goals and objectives of the organisation.

If you understand the motivations of the business, you are far better equipped to build compliance programmes and deliver training courses with the necessary messages. This knowledge means you can better anticipate the risks of the business and take the necessary steps to deal with them.

3. Effective problem-solvers

Compliance officers are met with problems every day. If someone in the business approaches them for guidance on how to handle a situation from a compliance perspective, they need to look at it from all angles and advise on the most appropriate form of action. And in many cases, the answer isn't necessarily straightforward.

But even more than that, you need to be able to go beyond just saying 'yes' or 'no'. If the preferred approach for the business could result in a violation, you need to be active in helping find an alternative solution.

Ask what the ideal outcome would be and work back from there. Wherever there is an alternative approach that would remove the risk of a regulatory investigation, you need to be committed to finding it.

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4. Ability to show empathy

There may be times when a senior manager or stakeholder in the business wants to go down a certain route that would benefit the business somehow, which - from a compliance perspective just isn’t possible or desirable. You have to break this news, and you know that it will be met with disappointment.

This is where you need empathy. Clearly explain why they can't take that course of action, what the risks are that lead you to make the call you did, and do so with both care and sensitivity. Failing to show empathy in these situations will only work to alienate compliance from the rest of the business. You'll be seen as a hindrance and risk losing credibility.

5. Can work closely with other departments

To be effective, compliance officers need to have a positive relationship with all other departments within the business. A close relationship means you'll be better able to educate them on how they can help meet compliance goals. And they'll feel more comfortable seeking and trusting your advice. In turn, you'll be well-placed to 'nudge' them towards compliance.

You may also need to work alongside other departments, such as IT or Finance, on projects and tasks. The ability to communicate and collaborate effectively in these situations without getting territorial is invaluable.

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6. Have a proactive nature

Compliance officers are under a lot of pressure as the driving force supporting the compliance and ethics of the entire organisation. They need to stay up-to-date with new GRC issues and update course material accordingly while keeping old content fresh and engaging.

They also have to make sure everyone completes the relevant training and track those who don't, keeping their eyes open for red flags. Then there's the multitude of reports they have to generate, both for internal use and to satisfy regulators.

Delivering against all these responsibilities relies on being proactive. They need to stay on top of everything and not let things slip. For example, putting off the task of updating a training course with new regulations could put the company at significant risk. If employees don't have access to the right knowledge and support, you risk instances of accidental non-compliance.

Compliance officers play a vital role in the success of any organisation, especially in highly regulated sectors. Being human is the key theme underlying all of the traits that make an effective compliance officer.

A compliance officer needs to understand both the business and people needs of the organisation so they can support them in their goals and, at the same time, protect the sincerity of the business through compliance.

What does the future of compliance look like?

With the role of compliance increasing in complexity, the need to embed policies becomes more pressing. For example, by introducing a centralised policy hub, compliance officers establish a culture of trust, integrity and accountability. Meanwhile, businesses in digital-first spaces will move towards embedding risk management into products, services and processes by design.

The future is also about making investments in compliance go further. How? By managing the right mix of people, technology and processes.

  1. Operating model. Is your risk framework consistent and aligned within your company?
  2. People. Does your compliance team consist of the right people, and does your culture help or hinder compliance?
  3. Technology. How are you using automation, what are you doing to keep it checked and balanced, and how would you rate the quality of your data?

Indeed, how you design your operating model and the technologies you use impact the people element and the skills they need.

In terms of technology, artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly prominent role in many industries. How can AI assist compliance? The technology processes huge amounts of data quickly and accurately; when applied effectively, human error is addressed, risk is reduced, and costs fall.

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What do compliance officers of the future look like?

As well as capitalising on automation and AI, the future involves the compliance officer's role morphing from an inspector to a business advisor who supports responsibility and creative risk-taking. Your compliance team must be on board with that ethos.

Compliance officers of the future will need to be tech-driven and have an agile mindset. Harnessing the power of technology rather than shying away from it will allow compliance officers to adopt a forward-looking approach and develop tech-forward compliance solutions.

Having an agile culture will foster innovation and transparency, which will help compliance officers prioritise, build trust, and deliver results in a streamlined way. The compliance arena is ever-evolving, so compliance officers must embrace change and have the ability to adapt swiftly and efficiently.

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Compliance officer FAQs

  1. What qualifications are required to become a compliance officer?
    Typically, a bachelor's degree in business, finance, law, or a related field is a foundational qualification. Many employers also prefer candidates with advanced degrees such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Juris Doctor (JD).
    In-depth knowledge of relevant laws and regulations, depending on the industry, is essential.

    Professional certifications like Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager (CRCM) or Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP) can enhance one's credibility. Additionally, gaining practical experience through internships or entry-level positions in compliance, risk management, or legal roles is valuable for developing a nuanced understanding of compliance processes and challenges.

    Continuous learning and staying abreast of regulatory changes are vital for a successful career in governance.
  2. How does a compliance officer ensure an organisation's adherence to laws and regulations?
    Compliance officers conduct thorough assessments of applicable laws and industry-specific regulations to identify potential risks and compliance requirements.

    They then collaborate with various departments within the organisation to develop and implement policies, procedures, and training programs that align with the regulatory landscape. Compliance officers actively monitor and audit internal processes to detect and address any deviations from established standards. They often serve as liaisons between the organisation and regulatory bodies, ensuring that the company is well-informed about changes in legislation.
  3. Are there specific ethical considerations for compliance officers?
    Compliance officers must navigate a delicate balance between regulatory requirements and ethical business practices. It is imperative for them to act impartially, avoiding conflicts of interest and favouritism.

    Transparency and honesty are core ethical principles that compliance officers must uphold in their interactions with both internal stakeholders and regulatory bodies. They should prioritise the well-being of the organisation and its stakeholders over personal or departmental interests. Additionally, maintaining confidentiality is crucial when handling sensitive information related to compliance matters.

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Compliance Audit Checklist

Compliance audits systematically examine organisations' activities to determine whether they meet all applicable legal requirements and corporate policies.

Here, we explain the key steps to completing a compliance audit to identify any gaps in compliance and suggest corrective actions.

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