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For compliance officers, pay is up but so is burnout

There was good news for compliance officers last week. They’re in demand, and their pay is rising. But there was bad news too. In the finance sector, compliance officers feel overworked and underpaid. Half want to change jobs, and nearly three-quarters say they’re burned out.

The good news came from an annual salary guide for compliance staff from Robert Half (via the Wall Street Journal). Salaries for entry-level compliance officers have risen to $66,000 and for chief compliance officers to $209,000. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for compliance officers in the United States dropped from 3.5 percent in 2020 to 2.4 percent.

But there’s a dark side. A survey of compliance professionals in the finance sector from the United States, the UK, Canada, and Australia reported that 41 percent feel they aren’t being compensated fairly, 53 percent want to change jobs or companies in the next year, and 72 percent feel somewhat or very burned out at their work.

What is burnout? It’s “a syndrome of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy,” according to experts Michael Leiter and Christina Maslach. Workers with burnout become disengaged and cynical.

The cause of all the burnout? Let’s start with the obvious. More than two years later, pandemic fatigue is real. Lockdowns, travel restrictions, business and school closures, variants, and breakout cases are pummeling everyone. Who doesn’t feel somehow displaced, hassled, and stressed by what’s going on (and on, and on)?

For most workers, being home all day, every day, was isolating. Last year, about 80 percent of workers said they wanted to go hybrid. Most companies adopted the hybrid model, asking workers to spend a day or two a week in the office. But it turned out the hybrid model created more problems.

Splitting work time between home and office is disruptive and disorienting. The BBC reported that a TINYpulse survey of 100 global workers found that “72 percent reported exhaustion from working hybrid – nearly double the figures for fully remote employees and also greater than those based fully in the office.”

An ultra-tight labor market is pushing up both pay and workloads for compliance officers everywhere. I haven’t seen burnout statistics yet for all compliance officers — I’ll bet they’re high — just those in the finance sector. But I wonder, are compliance officers in the finance sector under unique pressure?

The demand for KYC/AML functions is enormous. FinCEN, the primary anti-money laundering agency in the United States, says it now regulates “more than 100,000 banks, credit unions, money services businesses (MSBs), insurance companies, securities brokers, casinos, mutual funds, precious metal dealers, and other financial institutions.”

No one has tabulated how many compliance jobs that means, but it’s a huge number. In 2020, Citigroup alone said it categorized 30,000 employees as “risk, regulatory, and compliance staff.”

Apart from banks, companies in other industries are reshaping themselves into financial services businesses. It’s hard to think of a business now that doesn’t offer purchase financing, leasing, or subscriptions All those financial products require bigger finance departments supported by more compliance personnel.

(A great video on YouTube with more than 2.5 million views is aptly titled “How Airlines Quietly Became Banks.” At Ford Motor Company, the financing and leasing unit known as Ford Credit far outpaced the rest of the company in Q2 2021, according to

Looking beyond the finance sector, a lot of compliance officers and other workers must feel overworked and under-appreciated. The two experts I cited earlier, Michael Leiter and Christina Maslach, said, “[I]n most workplaces, under normal circumstances, employers and employees usually manage to find a healthier balance. This past year, the pandemic disrupted all of that.”

Welcome to the Great Burnout.

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