Professional development is crucial for every compliance officer. Either you need it yourself, to better understand the issues in our field; or you need to provide it to your team, since that’s part of your job as chief compliance officer. 

So how does one devise professional development opportunities under what we’ll call an “extremely limited” budget?

A compliance officer I know asked me this question a few days ago. His company had been expanding into South America since last year, and he hired a local compliance officer for the region over the summer. The local compliance officer has promise, my friend told me, but is new to the field and needs that extra training and development.

“Except, I don’t have much money to send this person to industry conferences or other travel,” my friend said. “I’m looking for ideas of low-cost professional development. Like, as low as possible.” 

Translation: Dude has no budget at all. 

I’m sure my friend is not the only compliance officer in this predicament. So what other ways could he help his person in South America? Below are some recommendations. 

The Obvious Online Options

The Internet is full of webinars, white papers, and other materials that explore the latest challenges in compliance. I know this because I publish some of them, and other colleagues publish much more. Most of them are free. So a great place to start is simply to find as many of those offerings as you can. 

One can find these free options by visiting the website of any compliance software vendor or advisory firm and nosing around. Usually the vendor will have a page labeled “Resources” or “Research” or something similar for white papers; and “Events” or “Webinars” for upcoming webinars. Find one that catches your interest, register to download the paper or hear the webinar, and you’re all set. 

To state the obvious: yes, these vendors will then try to sell you services. So what? Who answers their office phone any more these days anyway? 

Technology vendors typically talk about tech; advisory firms typically talk about issues. The best webinars, in my estimation, feature speakers from both worlds: maybe a lawyer talking about the law for 15 minutes, a vendor’s product manager talking about the firm’s tech for another 15, and a compliance officer offering a mini-case study for 15 more. 

The best webinars also offer continuing education credit. CPEs for accounting or legal licenses are easy to find. Webinars offering CPEs for other certifications (the CCEP in compliance or the CIA in auditing, for example) are more rare, but they’re out there. 

Vendor Events

I’m also a fan of physical events that compliance, audit, and risk management vendors host here in the real world. Some might be cocktail receptions for sales prospects (that’s you). Others might be lunch-and-learn seminars hosted at the local offices of an advisory firm, or at an upscale restaurant in your city. 

First, these events are typically free to compliance officers attending. Second, you’ll get a chance to meet the compliance peers in your local community who also attend. The quality of conversation can be hit or miss, but I’ve found events like this to be hits much more than misses. 

How do you find local vendor events? You can always call up a vendor and ask whether the firm holds them, although calling a vendor pretty much guarantees that some sales rep will then spend the next six months trying to be your new BFF. Signing up for a webinar or white paper (see above) also gets you on the vendors’ mailing list. (Radical Compliance tries to track and list events on our Events page too, so if you’re a vendor reading this and have one to list, email me at [email protected].) 

The largest vendors might also have annual user conferences. This will require you to spend money to travel to the conference site, and possibly pay a registration fee. (You might sweet talk your way into a complimentary registration if your company is already a customer of the vendor.) Beyond that, however — don’t dismiss a vendor’s user conference just because a vendor is hosting it. 

Yes, plenty of the agenda will be programmed to sing the praises of that vendor’s product. But plenty of the agenda won’t be designed with that purpose, too. I’ve attended some stellar vendor conferences that include great keynote speakers, regulators, and other thought leaders (disclosure: I am one of those thought leaders) who are there solely to talk about issues in audit and compliance, regardless of any vendors or advisory firms you use back home. 

Be Shameless

You can always volunteer to speak at a compliance event yourself. I have programmed many conferences over the years and rest assured, event organizers are always looking for good corporate compliance and audit executives willing to talk about how they run their programs. 

At the least, typically a compliance officer can attend the event for free if he or she is a speaker. Some conferences (the Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics’ annual conference, for example) will even defray travel and lodging costs. 

The trick here is that you need to be an enthusiastic speaker and have something useful to convey to the audience. Notice, however, that I didn’t say “great” speaker, or “something good” to tell the audience — because you don’t need the oratory skills of Pericles, nor a compelling story of compliance success. 

You simply need a passion for talking about compliance and a story that’s relevant to the audience. (Plus a good PPT deck, I suppose.) Some of the best presentations I’ve seen have been from compliance officers talking about how they failed at a project, leading to great discussions with the audience about how else one might succeed. 

Be Outgoing

When all else fails — when no vendors visit your city, and you’ve consumed all the webinars and whitepapers you can stand — a compliance officer can also score free professional development just by finding other professionals in your region. Never, in all my years following this business, have I encountered two compliance officers who didn’t want to talk shop. That’s one of the perks of working in a field where so many of us are flying by the seat of our pants. 

For example, I know of local ethics and compliance groups in Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., that meet regularly to talk about issues that challenge us all. Boston has a group of hedge fund compliance officers who meet quarterly, each firm taking turns hosting the others. If you have such a group in your city, let me know and I’m happy to list it on the Radical Compliance Resources page so others can find you.

More than anything else, that was my advice for the newbie compliance officer in South America: to circulate at business events in his city, to scour LinkedIn or compliance message boards; and find others in his part of the world. Then offer to meet in a conference room, at a restaurant function space, or even just over a cup of coffee; and start talking. 

After all, talking is at the heart of any successful professional development.Those are my suggestions, at least. If you have other ideas, by all means let me know and we’ll include the good ones in a future post.

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