Compliance officer career guide

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What is a compliance officer?

If structure, attention to detail, and organization appeal to you, then compliance may be a career worth pursuing.

A compliance officer verifies a company’s adherence to external and internal legal requirements. It’s an admirable career for someone whose focus revolves around legality and detail analysis.

A compliance officer’s duties include developing a company’s policies and performing compliance audits. They must ensure that the firm they work for is behaving ethically while meeting their business objectives without committing fraud or engaging in embezzlement. These professionals also advise upper management about possible risks of non-compliance.

You can find this role in large companies, where you would typically work in an office and largely deal with policy writing and audits. However, you could also work at a smaller firm in a job position that involves compliance and other aspects, such as managing others and preparing reports. Businesses in many industries hire compliance officers, including finance, health, and energy.

You might also work in a role auditing the finances of external companies. In some cases, you’ll need to look over contracts and procurement procedures. Other compliance roles could involve knowledge of the law in terms of licenses, permits, and regulations. Banking firms and national security institutes are the most common employers.

What do I need to become a compliance officer?

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required, preferably in the area of business or law, to become a compliance officer. Prerequisites for a bachelor’s degree are a high school diploma or GED. Colleges and universities will also require your high school transcripts.

GPA minimums vary widely among schools, though commonly sit around the 3.0 mark. The more reputable the school, the higher the GPA requirement may be.

Areas of study

There are several degrees and courses that can benefit you in your career as a compliance officer. Concentrations within a business program such as economics, administration, and management can provide a suitable framework for understanding how companies operate. That said, there are many other specialized electives to choose from, with little restriction.

Management classes aim to aid students professionally as well as academically. The goal is to teach leadership skills in the workplace. Also, to bring forth the management skills necessary to run an efficient working environment. Courses like this are valuable both in and out of the classroom.

Economics and administration coursework generally equip you with the knowledge and skills required to develop and implement policies and to understand the wider financial landscape. They also teach soft skills such as effective communication and organization, which are crucial to a career in compliance.

If you have a compliance role in a specific sector in mind, then you might choose a degree program that provides insight into how that industry operates; for example, healthcare administration, engineering, or finance and law electives.

Coursework

Coursework varies from program to program. Students generally average about 5 classes per semester. A bachelor’s degree takes an average of 4 years to complete, but this differs under individual circumstances, like whether a student identifies as a full-time or part-time student.

In the first 2 years of university life, students can expect mandatory courses to fill their schedule. These might range from basic economics to more complex management topics. The goal of these compulsory courses is to introduce students to the foundations of business. Any courses that focus on ethics can contribute to your career in compliance as this is a fundamental aspect of the job.

Other skills to focus on include analysis, report writing, investigation, and decision making. While you won’t find direct courses to teach you these skills, you can choose electives or assignments that develop these attributes that are essential to compliance officer roles.

A business degree with law electives is a popular route to becoming a compliance officer as it covers 2 key elements of the job. The business side helps with operations, finance, strategy, and policy. The law electives provide you with a foundation in regulations and requirements for companies in different fields.

Online

A business degree is the most common type of degree that is achievable entirely online. Many students prefer online education as it allows them the freedom to cater to their many obligations.

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Hybrid

Hybrid learning is a mix of traditional and online instruction. The benefits of hybrid education are that flexibility is allowed through online classes, although students will still be provided with opportunities to meet on campus for various aspects of the program. Each type of learning has its benefits and drawbacks. It’s up to the individual student to determine which program will work best with their learning style.

Accreditation

When deciding on an education program, it is important to check that the college and program you choose is accredited. Accreditation determines an academic institution’s standard of quality, and that it is formally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. It certifies that a university meets standards for faculty, resources, student services, and more.

Attending an accredited university provides a student with certain benefits. For example, a student is only eligible for federal financial aid if the university they attend is nationally accredited.

Accreditation affects more than just a student’s education. Employers often take this into consideration during the hiring process.

Costs of the degree

Education is an investment in your future, yet enrollment is still dropping. The main reason for this is due to the price of post-secondary education. The public annual tuition for a bachelor’s degree in business ranges from $6,000 to $12,000. Private out-of-state annual tuition can range from $10,000 to $30,000.

Not included in this price is the cost of books and other supplies, which averages around $1,298 annually. Another additional cost is room and board, which can range from $9,669 to $11,823.

Financial aid

Your first step in researching financial support for your studies is to complete the free online application for federal student aid, or FAFSA, which will allow your eligibility to be determined. Also on this government website is a general overview of the financial support opportunities available to students.

A variety of scholarships are available to students. Unfortunately, very few are aware of them. Statistics show that up to $2 billion worth of financial aid goes unclaimed annually. Scholarships can cover a portion of your tuition for the duration of your program or can be extensive enough to cover your education entirely.

Licensing and certification

Certification is not required to become a compliance officer. However, taking the extra initiative to obtain a certification indicates a high level of expertise and dedication to potential employers.

There are 3 options for certifications: Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager, Certified Professional Compliance Manager, and National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU) Certified Compliance officer.

Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager

This certification highlights a student’s knowledge of regulatory compliance. You’ll need to demonstrate at least 6 years in the profession, or 3 years and at least 2 courses from the American Bankers Association (ABA). You’ll need to sign an ethics statement and take a multiple-choice exam; the entrance fee is $750.

Certified Professional Compliance Manager

This certification course provides specialized knowledge of healthcare regulatory compliance. It is recommended that applicants have 2 years of experience in the field before taking the exam. It’s a multiple-choice test arranged by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). The exam fee is around $400.

Certified Compliance Officer (NCCO)

This National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU) certification is awarded to compliance officers working for credit unions. This NCCO program provides candidates with a comprehensive understanding of the major regulations for credit unions within the U.S. You can attend in-person seminars or study course materials from your workplace or home, and will need to pass 4 examinations. This certification costs $1,799 for members and $2,599 for non-members.

Continuing education

Obtaining an education beyond a bachelor’s degree increases an individual’s knowledge base and sharpens their expertise. A bachelor’s degree not only prepares students for their career but for even higher education like a master’s degree or Ph.D. program.

A master’s degree in your field, such as business or engineering, typically gives you a more detailed understanding of the subject. Master’s programs touch on complex theories and practices, and encourage students to conduct their own research. You might want to complete a postgraduate degree while working to gain an understanding of the most up-to-date regulations and policies.

Master’s degree in Business Compliance

A master’s degree that would be beneficial to a compliance officer is a Master’s of Compliance, which prepares students to become experts in the field of rules and regulations, risk assessment, fraud, and more.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) would also be worth pursuing if a student desires an executive position in their field. Depending on the certification you obtain, you might need to attend a number of conferences or seminars to maintain your status. These could be offered by universities or by the awarding bodies for certificates.

Doctorate degree

In obtaining a Ph.D., a student must already have a master’s degree. A Ph.D. is seldom sought after in the business world as it doesn’t often provide a tangible benefit within the field. That said, a DBA, a doctoral version of an MBA, raises a compliance officer’s expertise. It qualifies a student for executive positions, for training future compliance officers, and for playing a role in setting regulations and procedures. These programs take between 3.5 to 7 years to complete and allow you to research and address a particular issue in your field.

Compliance officer industries

Employment opportunities in compliance range from the banking industry to national security. Although positions will share some similarities, here are some of the key differences between compliance roles in a range of industries.

Finance and insurance

For banks and other financial institutions, the work typically involves checking accounting and lending practices and completing audits. In the insurance business, compliance officers compare products to industry standards. They might also review claims payments.

Manufacturing

These roles generally involve assessing physical worksites, with a significant emphasis on health and safety compliance. The regulations for employees and for any products that are manufactured will need to be checked and enforced.

Food and beverage

This industry is heavily regulated, which means that compliance officers will need to stay up to date in all areas. This includes preparation, food handling, packaging, and distribution. You might also play a role in quality assurance, and in reviewing quantities produced. The role is generally split between policy work in an office and on-site inspection.

Healthcare

This industry spans pharmaceuticals and medical devices. It’s likely that you’ll require a thorough understanding of the laws and regulations in healthcare, food and drug administration, and privacy. It usually requires at least an LL.M. degree and compliance experience. It could involve manufacturing overview, policy and staff training, as well as providing in-house counsel for company directors.

Career options

Becoming a compliance officer can be as simple as searching a job board for available positions. A student may also find employment through their school’s career services, or through contacts made during the program.

Career opportunities for compliance officers are currently in high demand in Vermont, Nebraska, and Washington D.C. Many opportunities are office-based, although you can find positions where you work from home, or as an external auditor, in which case you could need to visit other company offices.

The salary can vary significantly based on location and experience. This job is typically the entry level point in a compliance career. Tasks include advising executives, inspecting worksites, reviewing company processes, and conducting audits. Generally, you’ll need to maintain knowledge of regulations, identify risks, and share information with staff. The role could be internal or external and is usually office-based with some site visits.

The mean annual salary is $72,800.

This role is similar to that of an officer but with more responsibility. The position often requires leadership skills, as you’ll guide others in the company to enact the correct procedures. Typically, you’ll oversee compliance officers performing a range of tasks, which means you’ll need a broad knowledge of different areas, such as health and safety. Staff training and meetings with senior executives will be more common in this office-based role.

The mean annual salary is $78,450.

You’re likely to find this role at regulatory bodies, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). At this level, you’re more likely to set policy and oversee the creation and implementation of regulations across the industry instead of in one organization. You’ll manage staff, bring together expertise and information, and maintain a broad overview of laws and current policies.

The typical salary range is $68,000 to $150,000.

This role is closely linked to compliance, as you’ll be evaluating and analyzing potential risks inside an organization. You could report to a compliance manager in a healthcare, legal, insurance, or financial company. Typically, these jobs are based in offices and are internal. You might need to create market forecasts, make recommendations to senior management for risk reduction, and gather and organize relevant data. One of the primary elements of the job in a bank, for example, is obtaining and verifying client information for loan approval.

The average annual salary is $65,230.

National Society of Compliance Professionals

Often referred to as the NSCP, the National Society of Compliance Professionals website provides a wealth of resources for anyone in the field of compliance. Virtual seminars, and job postings available to members, the NSCP is dedicated to delivering expertise.

National Association of Licensing and Compliance Professionals (NALCP)

Similar to the NSCP, the NALCP is a more specific site dedicated to the compliance professionals focused on liquor licensing.

International Compliance Association (ICA)

This site provides courses for the global community of compliance. There are a wide array of courses to choose from. While it is not based in the U.S., every course they offer is available to everyone.

Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics

The society provides a plethora of resources including certification, conferences, and job postings.