The growing maze of laws, regulations, licensing and permits increases the need for compliance officers, who make sure companies and governing bodies keep in line with internal policies and regulatory requirements. In the financial industry, these positions are particularly in demand as the government steps up its enforcement of anti-money laundering laws. Aside from their sizable presence on Wall Street and within the federal government, compliance officers work in a broad range of industries, from health care and telecommunications, to oil and gas extraction. Duties may include identifying risks an organization faces, designing or implementing controls to mitigate those risks and reporting the effectiveness of the controls.
Compliance officers may work for the organizations they’re reviewing or for external agencies or companies contracted to do compliance work. Working environments can vary greatly, from permit work and document review in office settings to off-site fieldwork in outdoor and industrial plant settings. Because of the diversity of employer types and needs, compliance officers often require extensive specialized education and training. For example, environment compliance officers may need substantial scientific knowledge to perform sophisticated tests that measure the environmental impacts of airborne and waterborne chemical releases.
Most compliance officers have college degrees – many in accounting, business or finance – though not all jobs require a degree. Specific job requirements vary greatly, and many positions require certification and regular retraining in the business and industry sector in which the person works.
As mentioned in the Overview paragraphs, the student may have to tailor his/her degree according to the niche he/she wishes to pursue in this field. For example, those involved in the financial aspect of the profession will be served better to have a degree in finance, accounting, or business. Other organizations where adherence to laws and regulations are paramount may require a criminal justice degree. A job in healthcare may require a degree in business or Health Care Administration. Another example is a job involving environmental compliance, this may require a degree in civil or environmental engineering, earth science, forestry or other related discipline. A Bank Compliance Manager may require a bachelor’s degree in business, finance or related field.
Regardless of the degree requirements, most positions stress that leadership, public speaking, writing and ethics are important skills to excel in this profession. Intrinsic to these skills is the ability to deal with the stress of the job. Companies who fail to cooperate with the US Government in any investigations will face the wrath of the Attorney General’s Office. These high-pressure stakes have caused 60% of compliance officers to consider another line of work according to a 2012 survey.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for compliance officers was $64,340 in 2013, but there can be wide differences in wages depending on a job’s educational, scientific and work-experience requirements. The best-paid 10 percent in the field earned $99,450 in 2013, while the lowest-paid made $36,720. The pesticide, fertilizer, and other agricultural chemical manufacturing industries have the highest median income at $93,100. The Federal Executive Branch and state governments employ the greatest number of compliance officers at 52, 790 and 33,250 respectively, as of May 2013.