Lucrative Trends Only Getting Bigger in Compliance

Last week a mid-career compliance professional, someone with significant experience in the financial regulatory world, dropped me an email to say he is taking an early retirement buyout. So what compliance fields, he asked me, are likely to see healthy career prospects for the next 10 years or so?

To my thinking, the trick to career success at this person’s stage isn’t to google “compliance jobs that are hot.” No matter what hot compliance job you find, the job could still be at a poorly run company that will stumble into layoffs next quarter. You shouldn’t even approach your career as, “I gotta get into this specialty” (whatever the specialty is), since the economy or regulation can change swiftly and leave that field pretty barren.

Better simply to answer these two questions: What are the big forces afoot in corporate compliance that aren’t going away? And how can I play off those forces to advance my career? Below, then, are five big forces I see in corporate compliance, all of them driving change in the industry and all of them needing more people in one way or another.

Cybersecurity as a process. This is one of the big mantras for compliance today. What does it mean? To think about cybersecurity as an issue of people and workflows—not as an issue of firewalls the IT department buys and you glibly hope your cybersecurity is done. Cybersecurity threats are far more insidious these days, and usually they involve (1) tricking an employee into doing something dumb; or (2) exploiting a weakness in the policies or procedures your company has. “Cybersecurity as a process” really means “cleaning up your org chart and personnel training to avoid data theft.” Compliance professionals should be ready to participate in those discussions at all times.

Boardroom and workforce diversity. The Securities and Exchange Commission, shareholder activists, lawmakers in Congress, and many other voices now want to see all sorts of diversity in Corporate America: more minorities considered for executive-level jobs; more women in the boardrooms; more cybersecurity expertise in the boardroom—the list is endless. We can expect more regulatory reporting (to the Labor Department, for example) on diversity issues in the workforce, and more enforcement from bodies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Meanwhile, as diversity demands grow for boardroom service, we’ll see more demand from recruiters who want to know qualified candidates. Compliance officers tend to meet a lot of board directors over time; work with recruiters to your advantage or even consider becoming one yourself if you have a big network.

Anti-money laundering. Pick any large bank in the world; read its press releases for the past year. Almost inevitably, you will find some regulatory settlement for failures in anti-money laundering compliance. AML is going to be a huge driver of compliance spending in the financial world for years to come—everything from training employees on AML procedures, to more software to screen transactions for AML risk, to investigating allegations of money laundering that happens anyway. Whether you want to target the banks worried about AML risk, or the vendors who sell goods and services to help banks with AML risk, there’s growth here.

Supply chain compliance. Supply chain issues are a cousin to AML issues. In many ways both trace back to the same fundamental goal—knowing your customers, and cutting loose the undesirable ones—but supply chain problems go well beyond AML. Slave labor and human trafficking are two examples, and both are likely to have the force of regulatory might behind them soon. (Slave labor disclosures are already law in Britain thanks to the Modern Slavery Act.) Compliance officers who have previously worked on AML or anti-bribery issues should find that supply chain risk is familiar territory.

Predictive analytics. This last trend is a favor to internal auditors who might be reading, since they usually have much more experience in data analytics than compliance officers. But any improvements to a company’s effort to find problems—fraudulent transactions, politically exposed persons, transactions outside permitted risk tolerances, contracts that have been changed, unforeseen tax liabilities—anything along those lines will be in more demand tomorrow than today. In a perfect world, internal audit and IT form a team to whip up great predictive analytics, with suspicious reports then going to compliance for follow-up. We will need years to master this, but that’s years of career opportunity.

Now, how can you specifically play off these trends to advance your career? I have no idea. I don’t know who you are, where you’ve worked, or what skills you have. But everyone will be working in the same business environment for compliance, and you want to be close to the trends that are getting bigger, not smaller. These five trends all fit that profile. What’s your opinion?

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