Compliance Careers Looking Good, Mostly

In the wake of last Friday’s stellar jobs report, let’s take a look this morning at the career trends working away on compliance officers—which, as often happens with this profession, is both good and bad news at the same time.

The good news is that overall, compliance professionals seem to be highly employable. Your specific career or company might be in the middle of a rough patch right now, and if that’s the case you have my sympathy. In the main, however, skilled compliance officers are in demand.

We can find plenty of evidence to that effect buried in the July jobs report and elsewhere in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You need to dig around the report to find the clues; no single statistic matches corporate compliance officers exactly. Still, we can find many that mirror the demographics of compliance officers roughly, and take a look:

  • Unemployment for managerial, professional, and financial services sectors overall is 2.4 percent;
  • Unemployment for people with college degree or higher: 2.5 percent;
  • Unemployment for Generation X, ages 35-54, is 3.6 percent; for Baby Boomers the rate is 3.7 percent.

The unemployment rate for college-educated workers in most major metropolitan areas where companies tend to be headquartered (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington) is under 3 percent just about everywhere.

Somewhere in there, most likely, is you: college educated, living in an urban area, somewhere north of 35 years old. That’s the average corporate ethics & compliance officer. You’re also old enough to remember at least several recessions where unemployment was much worse than today, and if you’re well-traveled then you know significant parts of the United States and overseas still have things much worse than us.

JobsFor a better look at salaries for compliance officers, one useful source is the annual salary survey from the Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics. In its most recent report from last November, the average salary for CCOs at large companies ($3 billion or more in annual revenue) was $272,000, and even at smaller companies (less than $5 million in annual revenue) the average was $145,400. Those numbers are well above the median salary for U.S. workers as a whole.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does have one report on compliance officers, although it defines that career in the narrow sense of regulatory compliance specifically—not in the broader sense of business ethics and conduct, which occupy most of a senior compliance officer’s time.

These figures might include your junior compliance officer for EHS, or a contract review officer for projects you do with Uncle Sam. They do not include self-employed compliance professionals; or the many compliance-savvy people who work at GRC vendors; or accountants who end up working in compliance, and so forth. Plus the most recent statistics the BLS has are from May 2015. So again, I’m not certain these numbers capture your career concerns exactly. Nevertheless…

  • 257,000 compliance professionals employed nationwide;
  • Median salary nationwide of $65,640, with the 90th percentile at $102,940;
  • States with the highest concentration of compliance officers are, in order: California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

Once you start defining “corporate compliance professional” more broadly, the above report barely skims the surface. For example, it does not include lawyers at law firms, who are some of the sharpest compliance thinkers I know. Nor does it include enforcement attorneys at government agencies, or chief audit executives, or HR chiefs, and they all qualify as fellow travelers in this career path.

So in all likelihood, corporate compliance as a career path will be lucrative and sustainable for quite a while.

What the Future Holds

For chief compliance officers, the bigger issue isn’t necessarily your own employment security—it’s the pipeline of future compliance professionals who will first work for you, and then replace you when you retire. That is the bad news coming out of the labor market, and I’ll explore that in more depth tomorrow.

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