Who will be suited to compliance roles in the 2020s?

Written by Jonathan Dempsey, MBA on Monday July 19, 2021

As we move through the second year of this decade, we can already see signs that the 2020s will be vastly different from the 2010s and unrecognisable in many ways from, say, the 1980s.

This is the decade in which the ‘baby boomer’ generation will retire – the children who grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War, a heavily-industrialised and unionised world and the Swinging Sixties. There were few television channels and programmes were shown in black and white, with radio and newspapers the key sources of world events. In the UK, fuel shortages during the mid-1970s meant that ‘blackouts’ (the temporary loss of electrical power to homes) were common and reminiscent of the rationing which their parents experienced during the war. It could take days – or even weeks – to receive photographs which were taken on cameras (the negatives for which were kept safe for future copies). Boomers entered the world of employment when a ‘job for life’ was a reality and a career within a single profession or trade, perhaps even with the same employer. In many ways, this generation designed and presided over the organisational design, cultures and compliance which reflected ‘that world’.  

Concurrently, in our decade, #GenZ (born 1995–2010) will comprise a significant proportion of the adult population. Impacted by a global banking and financial crisis in 2009 and recently a global pandemic, they witnessed a US President reframing conduct of power through direct tweets. They are acutely aware that they may experience the worst consequences of climate change. Digital natives, they have only ever known a world which has the Internet. Life is instant and on-demand. Marketing to them from fashion brands is hyper-personalised. Inseparable from their mobile phones, they can stream a box set of their favourite TV programmes and are as likely to create their own content (on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram). Increased automation and innovation will combine further with a fluctuating job market. So, rather than seek a job for life, #GenZ are more likely to question how they can leverage their value now and start their own business or, at least, a side hustle.

The challenges for compliance in the 2020s will become more insidious in nature. No longer purely assessments of financial irregularity and tax evasion, the meteoric rise of cryptocurrency is highly disruptive and a game changer. Use of nanobots in patients’ bloodstreams and other innovations in medical technology provide examples of ethics and data privacy obstacles. In 2021, there has been a UK High Court case about employee rights involving a key player in the gig economy and allegations of a major social media platform attempting to hold at least one country ‘to ransom’ by threatening to curtail access. 

Reimagining compliance

So, as we explored in previous blogs, in such a radically different paradigm, we can reimagine what compliance looks like. As an integrated approach to risk management to add value, the profession requires fresh thinking and different perspectives. The agility of thought needs to be complemented by creativity, curiosity and care so that everyone within the business is brought along on the journey. The historical notion of ‘enforcer’ now gives way to ‘educator and enabler’.

It's important that there is collaboration between pioneers and innovators to ‘design in’ the ability to learn how to learn. This requires cognitive diversity, which means that the compliance profession (like others) needs to embrace diversity, inclusion and equity. A recent LinkedIn post referenced that GCHQ (a branch of the UK intelligence services) actively recruit employees with dyslexia because of their unique abilities. So, how can compliance create opportunities for the neurodiverse community and, with ‘work from anywhere’ growing, how is access for people with disabilities facilitated? Gamers who have spent years playing Call of Duty or FIFA may not have applied for an auditing role, but can they operate drones to verify the quality of external property audits?

Many fundamental socio-economic and technological trends will accelerate and other changes yet to be conceived will disrupt the world further beyond recognition. Now is the time to reimagine what skills the profession needs to develop, in tandem with others. Analytical thinking and regulatory acuity will remain. However, such administrative functions within businesses inherently need to be ‘ahead of the curve’ to be cost-effective and enable competitiveness. Learning how to learn (as individuals, as a profession and as a business) will be critical to building agility, adaptability and resilience. Compliance cannot merely report on ‘end of product testing’ with 2020 hindsight; instead, it needs to integrate into risk management and business continuity, testing the robustness of security and the viability of supply chains.

Whether in private business, charities, public organisation or consultancy, compliance-based roles will become more attractive as a first career. Making a difference and supporting a bigger purpose will become a stronger motivation, particularly as sustainability becomes a more mainstream competitive feature. As the global community grows and the world feels smaller, ideas will become a ‘stronger currency’ including how different disciplines of ‘compliance’ can learn from one another e.g. organised crime in food safety, waste management, human trafficking and cybercrime. Compliance professionals need to think and act holistically with a ‘whole organisation’ perspective and the interplay across sectors, communication media and time zones.

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 must 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.

Who will be suited to compliance roles in the 2020s?

This is an exciting time to open the world of compliance to everyone, to help make the world a better place. Rather than allowing any bias to emerge in answering this question, let’s do everything we can to remove any barriers.



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