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Compliance jobs in banks: High pressure, high reward

Compliance jobs in banks have become much more heavyweight

Compliance jobs in banks have become much more heavyweight

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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Comments (9)

  1. I think the main difference between compliance now and compliance back then is that while things have generally become more professional a lot of expertise has been lost because of the siloing. You’ve got lots of people in important positions who have only ever done one thing. They might only ever have done transaction reporting to the FCA, but don’t know anything about market abuse or reporting to other agencies and exchanges. I think it was much better when you had a few well-rounded generalists around who were able to see the whole picture and transfer knowledge from one area to another.

    ComplianceDude Reply
  2. Totally agree. All that siloing has caused a lot of damage. Even very senior people often don’t have much of a clue anymore about areas that they’re not directly involved in.

  3. The most important point of the article to me is the fact that this recruiter says many senior professionals can’t be bothered to take over head of roles because of personal liability risk. In my view this is absolutely a worst-case, because especially in these turbulent times we need all senior professionals to take on responsibility. I believe that the FCA isn’t doing anyone any favours by pointing the finger at compliance professionals rather than the senior management of firms. Well, senior management of small firms might sometimes be pointed at, but not the senior management of big firms, who are all best-mates with their former university buddies from the FCA and the audit firms. This is going exactly the wrong way.

  4. @ Barbados – I agree. It’s strange that instead of strengthening the compliance officer and his or her standing, the FCA actually goes after the compliance officer, at least in some cases, where something “blows up on their watch”.

    I think what adds to the stress is that a lot of firms might have hired hundreds of additional people in their compliance departments, but oftentimes this is just to please the regulator, or, in some cases, literally to comply with the conditions set by a Deferred Prosecution Agreement or Consent Order, it is not intended and certainly doesn’t lead to an improvement in capacity to support the senior and senior mid-level compliance management in doing their jobs or to a reduction in pressure at those levels. I completely agree with the article.

    Compliance departments nowadays are often over-staffed at the lower end and at the very top end (you often have several dozen people who assist the CCO with position titles such as Logbook Loans Product Governance Policy Review and Business Liaison Officers or similar, not saying that these areas shouldn’t be covered, just silly to have dozens of senior roles siloed like this, and yes, probably often overstaffed, never seen any of those guys work overtime).

  5. @ComplianceDude & @s166 – Guys, don’t be so negative. When you compare the situation today with what it was 5 or 10 years ago, things have improved enormously. Compliance departments are so much better-skilled, knowledgeable, and professional than in the olden days. I personally also don’t think that the stress has increased. It might have increased for a period of time following the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008/09, but now with all the hiring, up-skilling, and the professionalisation that’s been going on over the following years, compliance today is much less stressful than it was before 2008. It also helps enormously in my opinion that compliance’s standing has improved and we now typically have one of ours on board level and don’t report into someone who reports into the General Counsel or Chief Risk Officer any longer.

  6. I work for a small firm. We’re a team of 5 in compliance (incl. AML), so no siloing here. We’re all generalists and able to cover every area. That’s why I chose a small firm.

  7. No doubt there is a lot of high pressure, but high reward? Not so sure. If you compare us with Legal, Risk, or – even more so – with the front office, we’re at the bottom end by a huge margin. I would agree that the more junior end and the very top end have seen some serious pay rises over the past few years, but the vast majority of the mid-level and senior roles have not.

  8. I only moved into compliance a couple of years ago from trading and I agree with George, it’s a great area to be in, still expanding, with salaries rising. I used to make more money as a trader in good years, but you’re always in fear of losing your job and during the crisis a lot of us found it impossible to get a new role in trading again. Compliance is perfect in that you’re making good money in an interesting line of work, and if you’re any good, chances are you will keep your job forever if you want to, and you’ll automatically progress. I don’t quite understand the talk about pressure. What are you guys about?? I’ve never seen any pressure in compliance like the one every trader is under every single day. This is a very relaxed environment typically.

  9. @Compliance247 – I’d rather make a ton of money as a trader than have little less stress but lots less money as a compliance professional.

    ElmoFromFinchley Reply

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