Company blog

Preparing for Your Firm’s Annual Certifications

Nov 30, 2017

In most financial services firms, the end of one calendar year and the start of the next may be a stressful period. It’s typically a whirlwind of activity, not the least of which involves the annual certification process.

Compliance departments must prepare certifications, distribute them, review and record returned certifications, and then follow up with stragglers and those whose responses require a closer look.

Using the ComplySci Platform to streamline the process, improve accuracy and cut down on time spent trying to verify completion can improve compliance department productivity and free up staff to focus on more meaningful work.

Annual Certification Best Practices

As your firm is planning your annual certifications, these best practices and tips may help you improve your methods.

1. Calendar Key Deliverable Dates

As with any compliance task, recording key deliverable dates on a master compliance department calendar can help ensure the certification process stays on track. You may also want to identify and calendar the deliverable due dates, and target dates for completing any follow-up tasks. Many firms set target dates to notify employees that certifications are coming.

2. Designate a Point Person

It’s also a good idea to designate a point person, with responsibility for managing the annual certification process from start to finish. Be sure at least one other person is cross-trained to understand the process and steps, to avoid any issues that could occur if the point person was out of the office unexpectedly for an extended period.

3. Re-evaluate Certification Language Each Year

Your annual certification language may be identical from year-to-year. However, as a rule of thumb, it should be evaluated on an annual basis to determine if it is still understandable, concise and includes all the information you want employees to certify or agree to. Many firms have members of both the compliance department and the legal department review annual certification language before it goes “live” to employees.

4. Incorporate Both Paper-Based and Electronic Certifications

In some firms, employees are asked to complete multiple certifications: AML, insider trading, code of ethics, personal trading, and more. Compliance and legal departments should determine the best method of obtaining all required certifications.

In some cases, it may make sense to have some paper-based certifications; in others, firms will find it easiest to capture, review and maintain electronic certifications. The right method for your firm may include both options.

When it comes to annual certifications of personal securities holdings, your firm may need to have processes to accommodate both paper statements and electronic feeds. In firms that use the ComplySci platform, most employee trading will be covered by the direct broker feeds from 170+ brokerage houses and clearing firms. Where needed, employees also have the option of using the upload feature to share paper statements with the compliance department, rather than having to email, fax, or mail in paper documents.

5. Customize Your Certifications

Firms should also customize the certification process in a way that reflects your firm’s policies and procedures – and its operations. Having boilerplate certification language that isn’t tailored to your firm may not be helpful in the event you need to rely on the certification later when addressing an issue; in fact, it could hurt the company.

As you design certifications, look at them from both the compliance perspective and from the employee perspective. It’s important for the compliance department to be familiar with the output employees are asked to complete, and to understand the steps needed to return an annual certification questionnaire. You may also want to think about whether to send individual certifications or to combine them into one (or a few). Take into account how long it might take an employee to complete each certification.

6. Leverage Technology for Delivery and Follow-up Efforts

Relying on a paper-based method for delivering and capturing certifications is inefficient at best. Leverage compliance technology tools to make the notification and reminder processes simple and organized.

Financial services firms that use the ComplySci Platform have an email reminder function inside of the compliance calendar process that can be used to notify employees before annual certifications go out, as well as reminding them on a periodic, pre-scheduled basis to return completed certification forms.

This can eliminate the hours many firms spend chasing incomplete certifications. And, because the process is automated, you don’t need to worry about finding the time to manually send out these notifications.

The ComplySci Platform also makes follow-up efforts significantly easier for Supervisors. Rather than trying to track down paper statements or any other supplemental documents an employee wants to upload with his or her certification, the employee document repository helps tie everything together. This repository enables Supervisors to immediately see whether the information they need has been reported or submitted. The system dashboard also makes tracking stragglers simple and effective, allowing for more targeted, streamlined follow-up efforts.

The ComplySci Platform is also available on mobile, making it easy for both employees and Supervisors to access full functionality from any device.

Getting the Desired Result Out of Annual Certifications

Your annual certifications serve a regulatory purpose, but they can also help your compliance department identify – and address – potential issues promptly.

Using compliance technology solutions to help you with your annual certifications will help your team create process efficiencies and take a proactive approach to managing the process.

Wouldn’t it be great not having to chase your employee stragglers for weeks or months after certifications are due?!

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