The verdict of history is unanimous: human beings can find trouble anywhere, and always do. We’re geniuses when it comes to messing things up.
For compliance officers, that means there will always be work to do. But compliance officers will never enjoy an ultimate victory. They can’t keep all bad things from happening, or uncover every transgression, or fix every flaw in the compliance system. There’s some “failure” built into the job.
On top of that, compliance officers face constant headwinds. Whenever they have to say no, someone in the C-suite, middle management, or even the rank-and-file accuses them of trying to hurt the company or a colleague.
Trouble also comes from outside. The DOJ and SEC, and even federal judges, don’t always line up behind compliance officers. There are too many competing interests. In some countries, compliance officers face overt professional attacks and actual physical danger.
No wonder some compliance professionals become discouraged, some enough to quit.
So is it crazy to be a compliance officer?
Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Expectations, then, are the key. With the verdict of history in mind, it’s crazy for a compliance officer to expect to bat a thousand against graft. Or to look for constant salutes from the C-suite. Or to think of all prosecutors, regulators, judges, and politicians as natural allies.
But here’s what’s possible. Compliance professionals can put obstacles in front of the people with bad intentions. They can help uncover wrongdoing when it happens, and push for remediation when another weakness in the compliance program shows up. And they can work with integrity and aplomb — and maybe someday win over doubters in the C-suite and beyond.
That may not sound like much. But even small steps can change the world, or at least a little part of it. And that isn’t crazy.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.