How To Become a Compliance Officer (With Steps)

Updated March 3, 2023

Responsible businesses implement measures to remain in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Hiring a compliance officer is one step an organization can take to improve its commitment to lawful operations. If you're interested in providing critical guidance to organizations in fields such as finance, government or healthcare, you might benefit from learning about the role of a compliance officer. In this article, we review what a compliance officer is, what a compliance officer does and the steps to take to become one.

Related: 13 Jobs in Regulatory Affairs

What is a compliance officer?

A compliance officer is a regulations expert who works on behalf of an organization to confirm that it follows all relevant laws and guidelines. Depending on the organization's size, compliance officers may work as members of a larger compliance department or independently. Businesses that operate in fields with complex legal requirements benefit from employing compliance officers so that they avoid any legal action, fines or other penalties that result from a lack of compliance.

What does a compliance officer do?

Compliance officers review, interpret and clarify regulations that evolve as laws change or as businesses undertake different projects. For instance, an international bank needs a robust compliance department because it deals with regulations that change for each country and each type of financial activity. Compliance officers typically become specialists in a specific regulatory area so they can better identify sources of risk. They develop control systems that prevent mistakes or malpractice from harming organizational health. Here are the various components of a compliance officer's job:

  • Research: Compliance officers research the shifting political and legal factors that affect their organization. If necessary, they suggest policy changes that ensure their company remains compliant.

  • Auditing: Compliance officers regularly conduct internal audits to assess how well an organization follows regulations. They then prepare recommendations for management based on their findings.

  • Communication: Complicated regulations may be difficult to understand without proper training. Compliance officers translate legal and technical language into accessible instructions so an organization's employees can conduct business properly.

  • Discipline: If there's an intentional or otherwise unacceptable breach of required conduct, compliance officers advise management and human resources on how to respond.

  • Filing: A central component of compliance is preparing and submitting documentation to regulatory bodies. Compliance officers collect information, organize it into reports and share them with the appropriate authorities.

Read more: The Importance of Compliance Training

How to become a compliance officer

Here are the steps for determining if you'd enjoy working as a compliance officer and beginning in the field:

1. Assess your skills

Depending on a compliance officer's specialization, their most critical skill sets might vary. For instance, a compliance officer in finance might require greater expertise in math than one in healthcare. However, most compliance officers rely on similar capabilities. When considering a career in the field, it's therefore important to confirm that you're interested in developing the following skills:

  • Written communication: Compliance officers are careful readers who can understand dense, technical language. Their ability to clarify the core features of a law or regulation enables them to advise an organization's leadership who may not share the same specialized knowledge.

  • Risk analysis: Risk analysis involves mathematical and statistical skills to organize data and draw conclusions about policies' costs and benefits.

  • Organizational management: Compliance officers acquire management and business development skills that empower them to make recommendations that support organizational growth.

Related: 10 Risk Management Job Titles and Roles With Salaries

2. Determine your field of interest

Research the industries that regularly hire compliance officers and compare their qualification requirements with the skills you want to learn. Your field of interest likely dictates the educational and professional development opportunities you pursue in the future. Here are a few ways to achieve a better understanding of the compliance work done in each field:

  • Review compliance-related job postings.

  • Ask for professional interviews.

  • Read industry publications and journals.

  • Compare the professional social network profiles of compliance officers from different industries.

  • Follow news coverage about different industries and relevant political developments.

3. Pursue a bachelor's degree

Once you've identified an industry that satisfies your interests, select a course of study that aligns with your intended career path. Here are several fields compliance officers commonly work in and the relevant majors you could pursue:

  • Environmental compliance: Consider environmental science, environmental engineering, biology, geology or soil sciences.

  • Healthcare: Consider healthcare administration, health management, health sciences or public policy.

  • Business: Consider business administration, organizational management, accounting or international business.

  • Finance: Consider finance, accounting, economics, statistics or mathematics.

  • Pharmaceuticals: Consider chemistry, public health or organizational management.

  • Government agencies: Consider government, public policy, international relations or political science.

  • Development and real estate: Consider engineering, urban planning or construction management.

  • Logistics and supply chain management: Consider international business, business administration, finance or economics.

Related: How To Become a Compliance Officer in Healthcare

4. Gain professional experience

Gaining professional experience can help confirm your interest in a field or encourage you to consider other options. Most of the bachelor's degrees you might pursue preserve some professional flexibility. For instance, you might enter college as an accounting major intending to work in finance, but if you instead decide to work in healthcare, your expertise would transfer. Opportunities such as internships expose you to the responsibilities and workflows compliance officers manage. They also enable you to network in different industries before beginning your job search.

The role of a compliance officer is typically not an entry-level position. You therefore might first apply to openings that require less experience. You could apply to jobs in other departments in your desired field or look for entry-level compliance work as a compliance analyst, representative or associate.

5. Consider further credentials

Most employers don't require further education or certification for compliance officer positions, but earning additional credentials might improve your candidacy. You could earn a master's degree related to your industry or pursue a more specialized Master of Studies in Law in compliance. If interested in certification, you can earn one of the following credentials:

  • Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional: Offered by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, applicants first complete continuing education requirements dictated by the Compliance Certification Board. They also must complete one year or 1,500 hours of compliance-related work before sitting for the exam.

  • Leadership Professional in Ethics and Compliance: Granted by the Ethics and Compliance Initiative, applicants must pass a 100-question exam that reflects an understanding of the best compliance practices discussed in their High-Quality Program principles.

6. Apply to compliance officer positions

After accumulating educational and professional experience, begin looking for compliance officer positions. Companies value candidates who understand the direct link between thorough compliance and organizational achievement. Emphasize how your academic specialization and previous exposure to different work environments have affirmed your interest in this challenging role.

Read more: How To Get a Compliance Job

Salary and job outlook for compliance officers

According to Indeed, the average pay for a compliance officer in the United States is $74,833 per year. Pay may vary depending on geographic location, industry, professional experience and education.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in compliance to grow 5% between 2019 and 2029. This rate represents a slightly faster than average creation of new jobs.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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