How do I begin a career in compliance?

Written by Jason Morris on Monday April 12, 2021

The last decade or so has seen a significant increase in the scale and responsibility of the compliance function. Major financial institutions have made substantial investments in the sector, resulting in a huge array of opportunities for those looking to work in compliance.

Although this increase in interest has been led by the financial sector, other industries have increased their focus in this area too, helping to elevate the status of compliance, which is now recognised as providing a rewarding career.

Historically, compliance was never a number one career choice. This has now changed. Spurred by investment from major banks and other firms, there is a growing interest in compliance as a career among young professionals. So, what’s the best way to start a career in compliance? 

If you’re passionate, make it count

Perhaps one of the first things to ask yourself is, what are you passionate about? Compliance is a purpose-led profession and includes some high-profile, meaningful objectives, such as fighting financial crime, combating money laundering and putting a stop to human and wildlife trafficking.

Financial services is at the forefront of these challenges. Criminals have to use the financial system to commit their crimes and so financial services organisations, such as banks, are effectively the vanguard force in preventing such activity taking place.

These are issues that engender passion and commitment and following a career that helps tackle these challenges will give you real purpose and drive in your working life. If these issues matter to you, then that’s a great start.

What are the best ‘starter’ roles?

A great route for people with little or no experience is to look at opportunities in anti money laundering (AML), know your customer (KYC) and customer due diligence (CDD). These are the roles that offer broad, foundation-level experience, in widely recognised key compliance functions. Where possible, build relationships with the people already working within these functions. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they got started; this a great way to get answers, and also flags you as someone interested in making the move across.

It will also help you to build a network of colleagues working in the same or similar fields. Establishing yourself in this network is a really useful way of kickstarting your career in compliance, and the more people you know, the more opportunities you will be able to consider. Using these resources to find out about opportunities in areas you have a particular interest in is the first step on your journey to where you want to be.

Make sure you include specialist compliance recruitment firms too – they can provide invaluable insight into the compliance market and will be able to identify suitable opportunities, whatever your level of experience.

Existing skills and experience

You can also look at your existing experience and see whether it maps across to any available roles. For example, if you already work in a bank in a customer-facing position, you may already be familiar with some of the internal policies and procedures that enable the organisation to manage financial crime and money laundering activities. Use this experience and understanding when putting yourself forward for compliance positions.

Even if you’re coming from outside of the financial services industry, there are plenty of skills that would transfer really well into a compliance role, including organisational skills, problem-solving, communication skills, critical thinking and integrity (although strictly speaking not a skill, integrity is a crucial quality for anyone working in compliance). If you can wed some of these skills with an interest in industry developments, you’ll be able to demonstrate your suitability through examples when discussing potential opportunities.

Get qualified

Getting qualified is a really good way of signalling your intention to work in compliance. Despite the fact that there are no formal requirements for compliance officers to hold a qualification to carry out their duties, many employers recognise the significant difference a professional qualification can make. It not only signals your commitment to personal development in this area, but also provides reassurance that you have obtained knowledge and understanding to a certain level in a particular discipline. This sort of recognition is highly sought after by employers across the industry.

We are committed to increasing the knowledge and skills of regulatory and financial crime compliance professionals across the globe. Our programme of qualifications range from introductory level – for those with no prior experience – up to expert level, for those in very senior roles with over 10 years’ experience.

Click here to find out how we can help you become qualified and begin your career in compliance.

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