7 reasons why individuals enter compliance

Written by Jonathan Dempsey, MBA on Monday April 26, 2021

In the first blog of this series we explored how the ways in which we live and work are rapidly changing, and asked whether compliance could keep up with the pace of such change.  

This is the most pertinent question of our age. Whole sectors have become fragmented; lines are increasingly blurred between employer responsibilities and the rights of individuals; and, rather than a ‘return to office,’ for many work-from-home will become ‘work-from-anywhere’, across national boundaries or even time zones.

These changes have been exacerbated by COVID-19. In response to the emergence and spread of the virus, there was a flurry of activity from the UK government, with legislation, policy and guidance moving in varying directions, including swift U-turns.

The government made unprecedented decisions, including the implementation of funding schemes to issue billions of pounds of support to stricken businesses.

Such measures placed immense pressure on the integrity of associated financial mechanisms and increased the threat of fraudulent activity.

The UK’s Town and Country Planning Act, for example, was relaxed insofar as it related to change of use for certain business types, e.g. restaurants could pivot towards offering takeaway and home delivery services.

Yet it remains unclear how well this aligned with regulation of food hygiene for such activities and how well prepared the relevant businesses were in this area of risk management. 

Whether innovation and technology, health and safety, the Working Time Directive, data protection, insurance, taxes or other areas of regular compliance activity, new grey areas of risk and opportunity continue to arise.

Set against this turbulent backdrop, why do people continue to join the compliance profession in great numbers?

Defining the ‘compliance profession’

To help us answer this question, let’s firstly clarify what we mean by the compliance profession.

The International Compliance Association is the leading professional body for the global regulatory and financial crime compliance community.

However, there are other aspects of compliance which affect businesses across a range of sectors, for instance food hygiene, workplace safety, fire safety, environmental management and safeguarding children, to name a few.

These also have professional bodies and there are parallels across these disciplines with the ICA community.

We can also consider that people entering the compliance profession may be in a range of employment scenarios e.g. employee of a private business, charity, public organisation (including regulators) or consultant (including self-employed).

So, for the purpose of this blog, we’ll use the broader scope of compliance-based roles.

1. A first or second career 

At a practical level, an individual may join the compliance profession as a first career choice, perhaps following a family tradition (e.g. the police), the result of a school, college or university careers event, or pursuing a passion (e.g. forensics).

But compliance also emerges as a second-career option for many, for instance moving from the Security Services (MI5, MI6, etc.) to tackling cybercrime in private enterprises.

2. Making a difference

A strong motivation can be to make a difference, something common for those working in health and safety roles.

Many of those operating within this discipline suggest that safety isn’t a job, but a calling, a vocation.

The notion that everything about the role is aimed towards promoting the health of employees and protecting people from harm will influence the types of organisation for which such professionals will choose to work, especially insofar as the values align.

3. A bigger purpose 

Involvement in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) roles is often about a much bigger purpose: making the world a better place both now and for future generations, with a focus on (often) intangible benefits broader than ‘here and now’ activities.

Over the past decade, for example, sustainability and climate change have become a more natural part of the world’s vocabulary, with electric and hybrid vehicles commonplace and the iconic natural world documentaries of Sir David Attenborough well-known to millions.

The rapid proliferation of social media platforms has heavily democratised content creation through the use of mobile phones, allowing the dissemination of the environmental message.

Savvy brands recognise that GenZ (those born 1996–2010) in particular have only known a digital world and are more passionate about sustainability.

This knowledge is powerful in creating hyper-personalised advertising to this demographic of consumers. 

In a world as dynamic as ours is now, brand and reputation are critical. Compliance-based roles which help to ensure the governance credentials of businesses, therefore, can provide an attractive proposition for the future leaders and rising stars of GenZ.

Similarly, as this creates a platform to promote such credentials as a USP and enabler for growth, it can attract second-career compliance professionals.

4. A global community 

For most of human history, people have worked and spent leisure time in the areas in which they lived. In 2021, we can be based within the UK, send an invitation for #Clubhouse app to a LinkedIn connection in Brazil and hold a telephone-style conversation with them in-app within minutes.

Business ideas are quickly scalable, so greater adaptability and agility is required for compliance and governance to build resilience – not least against those with criminal intent.

As more of us can think, act and work globally, our learning and actions can be positively influenced and greatly enhanced through collaboration across the world. We don’t need to ‘reinvent the wheel.’ Instead, we can reimagine something new, something compliance is fully geared toward.  

5. Develop skills 

Skills traditionally associated with compliance-based roles include inspection, audit and analysis.

Whilst these continue to play a vital role, organisations of all types now need to build resilience to facilitate agility and adaptability.

This will require more sophisticated development of communication skills and active listening across the business to understand the innovations and sources of opportunity being explored.

To facilitate thriving and even surviving businesses, compliance professionals now need to develop horizon-scanning skills, and be adept at understanding operating environments, global and industry trends and translating them into added value.

This becomes increasingly important to prepare for emerging roles such as chief compliance officer, where leadership skills are also essential.

For all of the advances in innovation and technology, business is increasingly recognised as being all about people.

Creativity, curiosity and care are becoming the prerequisites where reliance on ‘tried and tested’ solutions needs to give way to different lines of enquiry.

At the same time, care needs to come to the fore where there is an environment of trust and respect and corporate values are lived. 

6. The whole organisation view 

It’s often the case that compliance-based roles provide professionals with access to the whole business.

This may be a from a systems perspective (e.g. cybercrime and forensic accountancy) or a physical perspective.

For instance, in a hotel and leisure environment, ensuring compliance with food hygiene and workplace safety requirements can include visiting kitchens, bedrooms, engineering plant rooms, waste areas, roof spaces, basements and more across multiple sites.

7. Influence success 

Compliance professionals are something akin to unsung heroes and are critical to a firm’s success.

In legal and finance teams they can ensure viability of the business through effective vetting of suppliers as part of proactive corporate risk management and business continuity arrangements.

Elsewhere, significant tenders can be won or lost on the ability to effectively demonstrate compliance with corporate social governance requirements.

Imagine a multi-million-pound contract where the client requires a supply chain with ISO-accredited management systems (e.g. quality, environment, occupational health and safety and energy).

At this point, the health and safety team unlocks immense added value which, at other times may seem burdensome. 

These are just a few of the reasons why compliance is increasingly attractive to professionals, whether as a first or second career.

Now is the time to get involved in an exciting, expanding industry bursting with opportunities.


More from Jonathan Dempsey

About the author

Jonathan Dempsey, MBA, is the Director of Red Laces, a management consultancy unravelling the mystery and requirements of risk, safety and compliance to empower business leaders towards success. Jonathan is a member of the ICA Panel, a body of leading industry thought-leaders and subject matter experts who meet ICA’s high standards for excellence in knowledge delivery and who work in partnership with the ICA to support and empower our community.


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