The growing role of compliance within banks

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Although compliance officers have been around for a while, their value to financial institutions has taken on increasing significance with the influx of regulatory initiatives and fines following the financial crisis of 2007-2009.

Since then, US regulators have been ramping up their efforts to prevent money laundering and cracking down on small to medium financial institutions as well as the big name banks.


In April 2014, Financial Times cited compliance as one of the hottest areas of financial recruitment, calling now the “age of the compliance officer.”

Why is compliance so crucial right now?

"Regulators aren’t just more aggressively pursuing institutions who break the law. Higher penalties are being imposed on lawbreakers. Compliance has become a pivotal issue for banks, because failing to do their diligence on customers and transactions leaves a company open to scrutiny and litigation." - Adrian Morrissey, Manager of the Compliance Division, Robert Walters, New York.

If a client’s fraudulent scheme benefits a bank, and the bank willfully fails to file an SAR, the bank’s actions may make it a co-conspirator and susceptible to private litigation. This is motivating financial institutions to hold themselves to a much higher level of accountability for their actions.

Where do compliance officers fit into all of this?

Compliance officers help organizations set a path for effective compliance in conjunction with the organizations’ broader strategic goals. The most common compliance risks a company faces have to do with data privacy, bribery and corruption, and industry-specific risks. Compliance officers are charged with determining how to protect their particular organizations from all risks. 

CCOs (Chief Compliance Officers) are always under pressure to prove that their programs are effective. They must develop simple protocols for reviewing compliance issues, create internal control processes to review Currency Transaction Reports (CTRs) and Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), ensure reports are filed promptly, and provide training to all employees whose jobs touch on compliance in any way. Officers must also be willing to undergo regular voluntary audits of their programs.

Where do compliance officers come from?

Generally, compliance officers are trained as lawyers or accountants. With the ever increasing number of opportunities in the market for compliance professionals, many people see this as a good time to try to make the move into this area.

Despite this, many frms are hesitant to show flexibility when it comes to hiring for roles in this area. Given the importance of compliance to any firm's ability to conduct business effectively, there is a certain level of flexibility at the more junior end of the market. This allows candidates who understand the business to transfer that knowledge into a compliance related capacity. Most of these transitions happen when there is a team already in place and the function is built on a solid foundation, and the candidate has the ability to learn from their peers.

Adrian Morrissey continues, "As the level of seniority increases, so does the level of difficulty in making the transition. With personal liability and more responsibility at the senior end of the market, no financial institution is considering non-compliance candidates for these key hires. If professionals are looking to transition into the compliance field and have no direct compliance experience, I would suggest looking for internal opportunities before looking elsewhere. Once this experience has been achieved, you will then be far more attractive to outside firms."

As we anticipate two-thirds of compliance practitioners will be growing teams this year, there will be a number of compliance positions created in 2015.

Compliance has become a pivotal issue for banks, because failing to do their diligence on customers and transactions leaves a company open to scrutiny and litigation.

Interested in a role in compliance? Read our interview tips for compliance jobs.

Start your compliance job search today.

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For more information, please contact:

Adrian Morrissey, Manager - Compliance

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