Compliance Officer

The Job and What's Involved

Compliance officers work for financial services organisations and other organisations that are subject to external regulation. Their main role is to help the senior management of their firm make sure that the rules and principles set by regulators, such as the Financial Services Authority (FSA), are being observed. These legal requirements protect consumers and the industry, and failure to meet them could result in a fine for the company, its directors or senior managers. Compliance officers are also involved in determining how the principles issued by the FSA or other regulators are to be met.

Compliance officers constantly review their company's business processes to make sure that they are operating legitimately. A key aspect of the job is to understand and summarise technical information and other communications from the FSA or other regulators. They must do this in order to develop internal business rules that employees can understand and follow. They must also research and understand changes in regulation.

The role of compliance within a firm depends on the firm's size and the way in which senior management wants it to operate. Compliance officers may:

  • Advise the business on how best to maintain compliance whilst meeting business objectives.
  • Communicate company policies to employees. This may involve helping to develop training materials.
  • Monitor sales processes, routinely checking paperwork and telephone recordings.
  • Approve advertisements for publication and broadcasting, making sure that they meet the in-house brand guidelines and regulatory standards.
  • Investigate customer complaints and any suspected breaches of the rules.

Depending on the size and the structure of their organisation, compliance officers may specialise in one product area. They spend much of their time in meetings and liasing with other departments, such as training, sales and accounting.

Compliance officers usually work normal office hours, Monday to Friday. Longer hours are required on occasions, such as when an important regulatory change is introduced. Part-time and job share opportunities may be available.

Compliance officers are usually office based, although they may have to consult with colleagues or attend meetings at sites within the UK. Overseas travel is possible for those working for international companies.

Compliance specialists acting as consultants carry out contract work for companies. They may work partly from home and also spend time visiting clients in their offices.

Trainees or junior officers may earn between £18,000 and £30,000 a year. Qualified compliance officers may earn between £30,000 and £60,000.

Heads of compliance may earn up to £100,000.

Some employers may also pay bonuses.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are compliance jobs throughout the UK, but with concentration in the major financial centres, such as London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Norwich.

The demand for compliance officers continues to grow, although entry is competitive.

The main employers include:

- Banks
- Insurance companies
- Stockbrokers
- Firms of independent financial advisers
- Investment specialists
- Foreign exchange trading houses
- Regulators

Investment banks also employ money laundering specialists who look for suspicious transactions.

Financial services firms need at least one compliance officer. Larger firms may employ a team of compliance specialists. Some compliance officers work for compliance consultancy firms. They provide a service to organisations such as dental practices, car dealerships and veterinary surgeries that recommend insurance or arrange finance. Such organisations need compliance resources to gain FSA authorisation.

Job vacancies may be advertised in national newspapers and in specialist compliance and operational risk management magazines. They may also be advertised on employer and recruitment agency websites.

Education and Training

There are no set qualifications for entry to this work. There are several routes to becoming a compliance officer:

Graduate training scheme: some employers have training schemes for entrants with a degree. Some employers may accept any degree subject but others may prefer subjects such as law, accounting or finance. Entry to degree courses usually needs at least two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications, such as the Advanced Diploma in business, administration and finance.

Progression from compliance administrator: entry to compliance administrator roles is usually with at least GCSE's (A*-C), including English and maths. With experience, administrators may be considered for training as compliance officers.

Career change: a number of compliance officers enter this work from related areas such as banking, insurance, investment, accountancy or law. They usually have qualifications from the professional body relevant to their area of work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Employers provide training in-house. This usually involves working under the supervision of experienced colleagues and gaining specialist product knowledge. Entrants usually work for qualifications by part-time study, often by distance learning.

The International Compliance Association (ICA) offers the:

Advanced Certificate in Compliance - an introductory course that takes around six months to complete.

Diploma in Compliance - open to those with a degree or appropriate professional qualification, or who hold the Advanced Certificate, or have at least three years' relevant work experience. The course takes around nine to twelve months to complete.

The ICA also offers a:

- Certificate and Diploma in Anti Money Laundering
- Certificate in Financial Crime Awareness
- Diploma in Financial Crime Prevention

The Compliance Institute offers a qualification for compliance professionals in the retail investment sector. There are no minimum entry requirements, but people who hold relevant professional qualifications may be exempt from some of the exams.

The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment offers the Diploma in Investment Compliance for compliance professionals who work in the securities and investment industry.

People wishing to progress to a more senior compliance role may benefit from studying for either an MBA or a Masters degree in a subject relating to financial regulation and compliance management.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A compliance officer should:

  • Have good communication skills, including listening, speaking and writing.
  • Have a broad technical knowledge of financial products and how they are sold.
  • Have an enquiring, analytical mind.
  • Be approachable.
  • Have tact and diplomacy, particularly when dealing with changes to working methods.
  • Be organised and work well under pressure.
  • Be able to summarise legal information in a way that people can understand.
  • Have excellent report writing skills.
  • Be capable of working on several projects at one time.
  • Be self-motivated and have good teamwork skills.
  • Have a positive and confident attitude.

Your Long Term Prospects

Compliance officers in larger firms may take on greater levels of responsibility and move into senior management positions. There may be opportunities to oversee large-scale projects and to co-ordinate a team of compliance professionals.

Some compliance officers become self-employed and offer consultancy services.

Work abroad is possible with international companies.

Get Further Information

Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment,
8 Eastcheap, London EC3M 1AE
Tel: 020 7645 0600

Financial Services Skills Council,
51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ
Tel: 0845 257 3772

International Compliance Association (ICA),
Wrens Court, 52-54 Victoria Road,
Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham B72 1SX
Tel: 0121 362 7534

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