success down a road

Defining “Success” for Compliance Officers

How do you measure your professional success as a Compliance Officer? A lack of regulatory actions should not be taken alone as proof that a CCO is successful. After all, any organization can have compliance issues that have simply not been uncovered yet. Of course, every CCO should be able to perform the minimum requirements and functions of the job. However, meeting requirements shouldn’t be confused with success either.

The true measure of a compliance officer’s performance goes beyond what can be easily quantified. While the definition of success for compliance personnel varies somewhat from one financial services organization to another, there are several commonalities that apply to both retail and institutional firms, spanning firms of all sizes, from large, multi-national corporations to small, independent operations.

Earn the Business’ Respect

No matter how well you know the rules, you’re not going to find much success as a Compliance Officer if you don’t have the respect of the Operations, Sales, Marketing, Investment, Finance, and other departments in your organization. Being able to cite the Code of Federal Regulations from memory is a nice skill, but it will only get you so far.

Respect has to be earned; it cannot be demanded. CCOs can build respect by seeking to fully understand their organization’s hierarchies and by becoming comfortable navigating their company’s structure. Knowing which departments are responsible for which processes, being able to identify the leaders of those units, and understanding interdependencies between various business areas will help you form the bedrock on which respect can be built. It’s only when you truly understand the company that you can create or adapt your compliance program, and tailor it to address the company’s risks.

Look for Opportunities to Say “Yes”

When you’ve earned the business’ respect, they will include you when they want to propose a new product or service, or when they want to make changes to the way their departments handle things. This, of course, represents a positive step, because the compliance department is less likely to be blindsided later finding out about a policy or product the business has already rolled out.

Part of any CCO’s role is to interpret and apply the rules and regulations, ensuring that the organization is meeting its compliance requirements. Sometimes this means saying “no” when the business wants to make a change.

Successful CCOs don’t immediately jump to a “no” answer. Instead, they look for ways to help the business get to the outcome they want, being creative and strategic in suggesting other options that would allow for a “yes” answer. If you aren’t able to get to “yes”, explain why. Be open and forthright, so the business understands your rationale.

Be a Trusted Business Partner

Another measure of success for a CCO is how the business views the relationship. When you become a trusted business partner, you are as much a member of the senior leadership team as anyone else.

Rather than compliance being siloed and distant from the rest of the company, successful compliance officers seek to help everyone in the organization understand how their roles fit in the bigger picture. Successful CCOs are those for whose organizations compliance isn’t a set of rules on top of the company’s policies and procedures; rather, those policies and procedures represent compliance. In other words, compliance is just part of the business.

Getting to that point, however, is dependent on several factors.

  • Understand the Business. CCOs should cultivate an in-depth, working knowledge of the business, understanding processes inside and out – in some cases, better than the business understands them.
  • Integrity. Compliance Officers must approach everything they do with an unwavering integrity. When everything you do is geared toward protecting the company, its employees, its clients, and its investors, the business will notice.
  • Proactive and Diligent Approach. Successful CCOs are both proactive and diligent. Good compliance officers understand they cannot sit back and simply react to problems as they arise. Working with the business to develop and implement controls, and being diligent about testing those controls periodically, should mean you have fewer problems to react to.
  • Effective Communication Skills. Finally, compliance officers need to be able to communicate effectively with all levels of the organization, from new, entry-level staffers to the board of directors. Showing you are confident and well-versed should help you earn the business’ trust.

Being an effective Compliance Officer involves more than just interpreting and enforcing the rules. Successful CCOs use their influence to become trusted business partners, earning the respect of everyone in the organization. Having the right tools and resources, including effective, state-of-the-art compliance technology, can help you easily access the data you need and address potential issues head-on.

Regardless of the size of your firm, who your clients are, or how long you have been in your current role, it’s never too late to cultivate the trust and respect you need to truly be successful in your role.