Compliance jobs are where it's at. They pay well. They're as abundant as Starbucks in white neighborhoods. They impart a sense of empowerment. They're great. Until you come across someone who's actually worked in the industry and tells it how it really is.
"The thing with compliance is that you're expendable," says one senior Wall Street compliance professional, speaking on condition of anonymity. "If you raise something that isn't followed up, they can get rid of you. There's no incentive to push your point."
A senior London-based compliance professional, speaking equally anonymously, agrees. "There's a lot of frustration in compliance," he says. "If you raise something that isn't followed up and then you blow the whistle, there's very little protection. Everyone I know thinks the Financial Conduct Authority's whistleblower protection is inadequate. Banks will always punish you and you will never be able to get a job again."
Both men paint a similar picture of a profession filled with people who are still too afraid to do the jobs they've been hired to do. "Why would you speak out? There's no incentive to do so," says the Wall Street-based source. "You're there to escalate issues, but when you do, nothing is done about them. Compliance is a soulless job. You end up keeping your head down, collecting your money and destroying your principles."
"Tell me about it," says his counterpart in London. "Literally everyone I know is frustrated at their inability to escalate issues without risking their jobs."
Matters are made worse by the inherent conflicts of interest within banks. In the past, it was common for compliance professionals to escalate serious issues to legal colleagues - but banks' legal teams have an interest in keeping contraventions as quiet as possible. Nowadays, compliance professionals often have a direct route to the CEO - who simply passes matters on to legal counsel with the same effect.
Some of the compliance profession's best known whistleblowers fade into obscurity (and likely penury) after doing the deed. Paul Moore, the man who famously blew the whistle on excessive risk-taking at UK bank HBOS, told the Financial Times the process 'nearly killed' him. Peter Sivere, a former compliance officer at J.P. Morgan was accused of insubordination and ultimately fired when he raised concerns about emails concerning an investigation into late trading. Moore has now founded his own governance and regulatory consultancy. Sivere was re-employed by Barclays (to its credit) but no longer appears to be working for the bank - which didn't return our calls inquiring as to his current whereabouts.
In the meantime, recruiters say jobs in compliance are booming. "Salaries in London have increased by 15-20% over the past year and there's big demand for surveillance and financial crime specialists in particular," says Terri Wickett at recruitment firm Barclay Simpson. "As a VP in compliance, you can now earn a basic salary of between £80k-£100k in London, and around $150k in New York," says James Findlay at recruiters Selby Jennings. "Decent compliance professionals now have a price on their heads," he adds, "they can save employers a lot of money. They're not demoralized or disempowered at all."