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Best Practices Ethics & Culture

The Modern Compliance Officer’s Ideal Skillset

The first of two blogs exploring qualities to look for and roles to fill when building a compliance team

“I think that we as compliance professionals are becoming more data centric. We’re more data scientists than compliance officers, because we’re always trying to find connections in the data, and thereby identify compliance concerns before they manifest.”

     Compliance team leader for a large US asset manager 

Data, data, data. It should come as no surprise that data, specifically the capacity to work with it, gets all the attention these days when it comes to hiring compliance officers. We famously live in the age of Big Data. We are consumed by it and consume it ourselves. Companies take the data we create and run multi-billion dollar businesses built around the slicing, dicing, packaging, and sale of it. As financial compliance becomes, as so much else in modern life, more tech-enabled and more data-focused, it makes sense that compliance officers need to be perfectly at home in this world. 

“I look for people who are data savvy, much more so than previously,” continues our US team leader. “And I need people who seek efficiency in the data, so that we can monitor a larger and larger population of associates, as well as larger and larger data sets, but in an efficient manner. Previously, we looked for people who could process information, whether that was transaction requests or trade confirmations or reporting of activity. Now we need people who can monitor the process flows, make sure they’re current, and then resolve issues that arise during their monitoring.” 

And since tech and data are so tightly intertwined at this point, being data savvy in the modern age also equates to being tech savvy. But it’s not tech savviness in the traditional sense, i.e., someone who knows how to hook up all the wires correctly in the server room, or someone who can code like Mark Zuckerberg. “It’s more about technical understanding than technical skills,” says another compliance team leader, this one from a large UK asset manager. “You need to be able to think, this technology is going to be able to do this but it’s not going to be able to do that unless we do this. This is opposed to the kind of thinking that goes, oh, it’s technology, it can automatically do whatever it is I need it to do.” 

This technical understanding and data savviness also means knowing what to do when something goes wrong. Again, our UK team leader: “You’re going to have lots of feeds coming in, feeds you depend on, so what do you do when one of them fails? Or what do you do when some bit of the feed changes? How do you make sure it still works? That it’s still viable? Automation may mean no more back-office clerks, matching trades, but you need to be able to understand how the trade-matching system works, so if it breaks you can manage the fallout.” 

Is it all just about the tech and the data these days, then? Not quite. Ultimately, the job of compliance officer is still one of dealing with people: human beings who don’t always act rationally, who need to be figured out on a personal level. Thus, basic communications skills matter, and quite a bit, according to our US team leader: “Communications skills ultimately top the list for us. Compliance is the only department that touches every other department. We sit at the hub of information and data flows for the entire firm. And we need to be able to explain the convergence of that data: to communicate our observations and insights to leadership so they understand why we’re concerned.”

Thoughtfulness and intellectual curiosity count, too. Connections need to be drawn in the data. Organizations need people who are thoughtful enough to be able to identify these connections, and then curious enough to want to pull at the string and see what they find. Compliance officers remain, ultimately, investigators. Puzzle solvers. So if you’re looking to add fresh faces to your compliance team, consider prioritizing the following qualities and capabilities: 

  • Data savviness
  • Tech savviness
  • Good communications skills
  • Thoughtfulness
  • A natural curiosity 

Our US team leader sums it all up thusly: “We need people who know where to find the information, no matter the source, and how to make the necessary connections. Because otherwise you just have a lot of information and no capacity to do anything with it.”