A constantly evolving career in compliance


Suzanne Feeney, Director for Legal, Compliance & Financial Services in Robert Walters in Dublin, discusses the evolving skill sets required for a career in compliance.

The Robert Walters' European Job Index (a report which tracks job advertisement volumes across Ireland and Europe) showed a 13% increase in risk and compliance opportunities advertised over the last 12 months. The skill sets most in demand were consumer regulation, MiFID, funds, conduct of business and financial crime. This highlights the evolving nature of the world of compliance as these roles did not exist in a stand alone capacity five years ago, and there was little demand in the Irish market for such specialist skill sets.

Regulations and specialised skill sets

An increase in the level of regulatory pressure at a domestic and European level is clearly visible within the field of compliance. Tighter controls are being established in relation to issues such as financial crime, consumer protection and investor protection, resulting in significant demand for employees with experience and skill in these areas.

Factors such as a firm’s risk rating, its existing compliance resources, emerging regulation and budgetary issues can greatly impact the skill set sought by each regulated entity. This can determine how specialist or generalist a compliance role may be.

Larger firms tend to seek individuals with specialist skill sets, whether this is for anti-money laundering, monitoring or prudential regulation, while smaller firms demand a more generalist skill set. Budgetary and headcount constraints often result in these firms seeking candidates who can carry out multiple tasks within the compliance function. For example, roles incorporating both risk and compliance have recently become more frequent.

Tighter controls are being established in relation to issues such as financial crime, consumer protection and investor protection, resulting in significant demand for employees with experience and skill in these areas.

There are clear merits in each of the above scenarios from the perspective of the job seeker; as a specialist in one area, it is possible to carve out a career as a subject matter expert, with AML and data protection being the prime examples. Regarding the generalist route, several career avenues can be taken, such as consulting and central compliance roles. 

Key functions within compliance

In recent years, we have witnessed compliance playing a key part from product development stage, influencing the decision on whether a firm should or should not pursue certain products or enter new markets. Strong technical knowledge and communication skills are vital in this regard. Continuous professional development is a major factor when one is carving out a career in compliance, particularly when taking in to account the ever changing regulatory environment with new and emerging legislation constantly on the agenda.

Managing the impact of financial crime is also key within compliance, with anti-money laundering fast becoming a distinct function within the role. The ability to actively play a part in the development and implementation of policies and procedures provides a distinct advantage in relation to career progression. With regards to new regulation, foresight and the ability to monitor for upstream regulation is fundamental to a role in compliance.                            

There are a number of backgrounds that transfer very well and can contribute to a successful career in compliance:                 

Legal: Firstly, and probably the most common, is the legal qualification. Whether it is a qualified solicitor and/or an individual with an LLB or LLM, this is highly sought-after within compliance roles and is very attractive to many employers. The most common reason given by those with a legal background to move into compliance is that these positions allow professionals to move closer to a business and work in a role that can actively influence key stakeholders at the same time. The key transferrable skill within this area is the ability to interpret legislation and assess how it impacts the business.

Accountancy: Professionals with accounting qualifications tend to be numerically and analytically strong, which transfers well to compliance monitoring roles. It is also evident that these professionals have the ability to bridge the gap between the business and its prudential obligations constructively. Advisory positions can also be very suitable for individuals with this background, as well as investment compliance roles, given the complexity of these positions.

Operations: Professionals with a background in operations not only bring knowledge of products and markets to a role, they also have experience and understand the operational side of a business, which can be extremely useful when assessing and conveying the impact that regulation has on a firm.

Ex-regulators: Professionals who have experience working in the regulator are often sought after. They can offer firms a unique insight into how businesses should deal with regulatory change. Having a relationship with the regulator is a key element in the compliance function, so someone who has previous work experience there can have a lot to offer

Graduates: Many firms favour promoting internally and recruiting, where possible, at a junior level. Graduates who come from a legal, accounting, business or economics background are often recruited and later seek to pursue the ACOI qualifications. We have witnessed an increase in graduates choosing compliance as their initial career path given the longevity and career progression on offer.

In recent years, the dynamic has changed considerably when considering how a compliance career can develop. ACOI qualifications are now crucial, while learning how to become a business partner and developing knowledge of upstream regulation can work as a distinct advantage. The ability to see the ‘bigger picture’ and to analyse the impact of regulatory change is vital. Managing the implementation of new regulation, as well as the ability to negotiate and build relationships, has become extremely important when considering career progression within compliance.                                                                                      

Seeking a new opportunity? To discuss your current compliance recruitment needs in more detail, please contact:

Suzanne Feeney
Director - Legal, Compliance & Financial Services
T: +353 1 633 4111
E: suzanne.feeney@robertwalters.com

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