Compliance jobs in banks: High pressure, high reward

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While many professions today are not much different from what they were ten years ago, the role of the compliance professional in banking can certainly be said to have undergone more change in recent years than most any other profession. Compliance jobs today are unrecognisable compared to a decade ago.

One of our candidates, who has been in compliance for over 20 years, says it’s a completely different world. “Even as recently as during MiFID 1, many medium-sized firms would have handled critical areas such as client money or transaction reporting on an ad-hoc basis, assigning some of their staff to cover a regulatory change or do a review,” he points out. Nowadays, however, he says nearly every firm has a whole team, including director-level staff, exclusively covering each of those areas.

As compliance teams have become larger, siloing has increased, with many firms only considering candidates for senior roles who have specialised on one area for the past 5-10 years. Whole new breeds of experts have evolved, such as highly-paid regulatory change experts who combine traditional compliance expertise with skills in project management, policy, and strategy. Some of the best-paid jobs in the industry today are experts who often cover just one piece of new regulation, such as Dodd-Frank.

Meanwhile, many relatively inexperienced, but often surprisingly highly-paid career contractors, are touring the field as complaints handlers or past business reviewers in areas such as PPI or swaps mis-selling. Because they pay well, these roles attract senior talent.

The bad news is that the workload and stress, especially for the more senior people, has gone up enormously. We find that, whilst there has been some increase in resources at the very top, the senior to mid-level still often remains understaffed.

There is also an increasing reluctance among some senior compliance professionals to take over CF10 or CF11 responsibility because of the risk of severe personal consequences in case something blows up on their watch

What about qualifications? The UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) does not have a required compliance exam that all practitioners need to take.  In the absence of a mandatory certificate, there appears to be an increasing trend for compliance professionals to have some sort of legal qualification. More and more law graduates are working in compliance. However, technical knowledge alone isn't enough - Bryan Foss, an independent director and visiting professor with Bristol Business School, notes that compliance professionals also need communication skills, especially if they're to make themselves heard at board level.

Despite increased pressure compliance will remain one of the best areas to be involved in for the foreseeable future. Pressure is high, but so is pay and the overall sense of achievement can be considerable.

George Kennedy, is Head of Recruitment at Maywater Limited, a London-based international compliance consultancy and compliance recruitment firm.

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