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Harry Cassin
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What does an effective compliance officer look like in 2019 and beyond?

Undoubtedly, one of the most valuable assets to a company in managing the ever-changing and complex regulatory landscape, and responding to these identified trends and risks, is having the very best compliance officers equipped with the tools to enhance their skills and influence. 

Compliance officers are integral to the pursuit of a company’s commercial objectives, supporting and empowering the business to achieve them in an ethical and compliant way and embedding ethics and compliance within the company’s culture. Effective compliance officers are able to position themselves and their compliance programs as an enabler for the successful realization of commercial objectives. Doing so requires a wide-ranging and advanced skillset.

Fundamentally, a compliance officer must be ethically minded. They must act with integrity and be motivated to do the right thing. These are the non-negotiable, core foundations of a compliance officer’s constitution.

A compliance officer’s skillset is then broadly structured across these three spectrums: 

  • Reactivity and proactivity: a propensity to anticipate or self-initiate projects and be change-oriented versus the ability to effectively respond to and solve issues as and when they arise.  
  • Innovation and rationality: the inclination to be resourceful and innovative or logical, rational and structured.
  • Emotional intelligence and subject matter expertise: the tendency to be more people-focused or technically-minded.

Quite often, people excel at either end of these skill sets. In some cases we might consider each to be mutually exclusive. The challenge of a compliance officer’s role is that they are required to excel across the spectrum of skillsets. 

They must have the ability to promptly and independently provide advice on potential compliance issues in a methodical, structured way which gets to the root cause of the issue. But the very best compliance officers will capitalize on their emotional intelligence to get the best out of the people involved and ensure that the process is dealt with in an understanding yet effective manner, implementing innovative solutions. 

The best compliance officer is the archetypal “people person” — charismatic, empathetic and collaborative. They have the skill of rapport building and developing the right chemistry with their key stakeholders across the business leading to honesty and transparency from their key stakeholders. Similarly, they are a proud marketer, unapologetically, constructively and continually promoting and advocating the company’s compliance program in a compelling way that fosters an understanding and appreciation of the importance and benefits of doing business in an ethical and compliant way to achieve commercial objectives and safeguard the company. In this way, the best compliance officers are those that are mobile, travelling to secure valuable facetime, cementing relationships across the business.   

They will be technically minded, subject matter experts that build a wealth of knowledge through their team in a number of business areas. Often they will recruit and develop their team from within the business itself in order to gain business insights and ensure that compliance speaks the organization’s business language and lives and breathes its values.

They have the knowledge and experience to address the variety of compliance issues the business may face and understand the potential impact of, and act upon, the evolving and increasingly complex regulatory landscape, key industry trends and the actions of enforcement agencies as well as best practices to address these risks.

Finally, they are methodical, rational, results-driven individuals with a budget conscious approach that are focused on the successful realization of the company’s commercial objectives.

Importantly, a compliance officer should be afforded an appropriate level of seniority in order to ensure that they have the influence and stature to be effective and have a voice that will be heard from the board level to every corner of the organization.

Based on all of the above, for a compliance officer to be truly effective, arguably, there is no other role in a company, other than perhaps the chief executive officer or the chief financial officer, which requires such a wide ranging, fundamental understanding and knowledge of all aspects of the business, its functions and people. 

The compliance officer of the future

Companies are increasingly expecting more and more from their compliance specialists. In a profession that has evolved so quickly, it is difficult to imagine the job of a compliance officer encompassing even more, requiring new and improved skillsets.

The ability to better utilize data will be invaluable to the compliance officer of the future. Data analytics and technology enablers can offer valuable insights that allow a business to measure the effectiveness of its compliance program, identify potential issues, and understand the root cause of compliance misdemeanors.

Compliance officers should aim to use real time data pulled from many data points and various sources from across the organization, not just data available within the compliance function. This should be used to identify patterns and issues before they become endemic and embedded.

Finally, companies are increasingly expecting their compliance officers to be even more mobile — not only to be an active advocate voicing the benefits to the business in person, but also to perform their role in tackling compliance issues from the frontline, having their finger on the pulse to understand the issues that the business is facing first hand.


Annabel Reoch, pictured above left, is a Partner and UK Head of Anti-bribery and Corruption investigation and compliance at KPMG in the UK. She’s a qualified Chartered Accountant and an experienced forensic consultant with subject matter expertise in bribery and corruption. She can be contacted here.

Tom Barrett, above right, is a Manager in the Risk Consulting, Forensic and Anti-Bribery and Corruption practice at KPMG in London. He can be contacted here.

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