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We explore the different routes professionals can take to get a job in compliance with little or no experience.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, the global banking & finance sector has seen a dramatic increase in both the size & remit of their Compliance functions. Every major banking group has invested heavily in building their in-house Compliance teams which has created a “war for talent” for experienced Compliance professionals.
This classic supply vs. demand mismatch in the Compliance world has led to significant prospects for those with little or no Compliance experience to move into a Compliance role - but the competition can be fierce and job applications often run into the hundreds for each compliance opening.
Significant exposure to senior executives, job security and unparalleled opportunity for fast-track career progression has made Compliance an attractive career path. Those who are lucky enough to land their first Compliance role are often thrown into the deep end & at the cutting edge of regulatory developments affecting their firm.
So what can you do to help secure your first Compliance role if you haven’t already got relevant experience?
Seek an easier path to become a Compliance Officer
We see time & time again a tendency for the more entry-level Compliance jobs to be focused on Financial Crime (Anti Money-Laundering or AML / Know-Your-Client or KYC) or Compliance Monitoring. The majority of banking firms have strong Compliance training programmes to support junior level hires within these areas.
Because of the ongoing focus on Financial Crime and the high profile, public and big-ticket settlements banking firms have made in relation to their failures in this space, there is no shortage of Due Diligence, AML and KYC jobs across all financial service centres.
What we find is that the roles in other areas such as Compliance Advisory, Front Office Compliance & Compliance Distribution are typically afforded to those who have at least 1-2 years of compliance experience in any area.
Call upon any relevant experience when trying to get into the Compliance field
You may not have had direct Compliance experience, but if you’ve worked in a role in Operations or in another Corporate Governance department (such as legal) you’ll certainly have some transferable skills you can use to get ito compliance.
Those with an Operations background are often highly prized, especially when it comes to internal transfers (finding a Compliance job within your current employer rather than exploring a Compliance role elsewhere).
Working in an Operations role gives you fantastic exposure to the intricacies of how a bank or finance firm works & that first hand knowledge of how everything gels together is invaluable when working out how to get a job in compliance. With the continued offshoring
of Operations positions to lower-cost centres, many banks have taken to providing an entry route into compliance for those who have managed to establish themselves within the back-office.
Those with some experience in a Legal department (in any capacity including Paralegals) will also find significant crossover between Legal & Compliance. A growing trend is for a number of the most senior Compliance figures in the industry to be qualified lawyers and it should be relatively easy to relate any experience you may have gained to a new role in Compliance.
If you don’t have Operations or Legal experience, have a think about how the Compliance function may touch upon your current role. We’ve seen multiple routes of how to get into compliance including Client On-Boarding roles being given to prior Sales & Relationship Manager professionals who knew the account opening process inside-out.
Softer skills including the ability to challenge, build relationships, interpret regulation (or complex documentation) and a wider understanding and interest in industry developments will aid your application if you are able to demonstrate these skills through examples.
The chances are, if you already work for a bank or finance firm you’ll have some interaction with the Compliance team. See if you can build a relationship with those already employed in relevant roles - if they are junior, ask them how they secured their first Compliance position and if they know of anything that might be brewing internally. There’s no harm in indicating that the Compliance sector interests you.
Better than that, if you have any exposure to more senior Compliance executives (hiring managers who run a team), see if they would be willing to spend some time for you to have an informal coffee. Picking their brains about how you could best position yourself to be considered for Compliance positions as they come up and making the first steps towards a relationship with a hirer of Compliance professionals internally could yield you a formal interview when the time is right. Make sure you can answer the question “Why do you want to work in Compliance?” though!
Finally, speak with the HR department or the 'Internal Mobility Advisor/Manager' if your organisation has one and ask them to keep you in mind for developing compliance opportunities.
Explore an opportunity with the Regulator
In response to the growing pressure placed on the global Regulators on addressing Compliance concerns, all major Regulatory bodies have significantly expanded their Compliance headcount since 2008. In the same fashion as the banks themselves, Regulators have struggled to keep pace with the recruitment requirements for new Compliance professionals and place significant emphasis on recruiting junior Compliance staff.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry
Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Office of the Comptroller of Currency (OCC) in the US all regularly employ entry level professionals and have diversity programmes that encourage recruitment from a broad demographic of the labour market.
Those who have some experience working at a Regulator are often highly sought after by the Banks and Finance firms themselves because of their first hand exposure in understanding how the Regulator works, thinks and acts. Working at a Regulator will also often give you broader exposure to a range of different financial services firms giving you a first hand perspective of the different ways different organisations manage Compliance and Regulatory Change.
There are a range of professional qualifications that you can undertake that will help you to get into the compliance field. The benchmark Compliance qualification that is highly desired by employers is often the Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) course
Consider Compliance contracting jobs (temporary work)
Particularly in the Financial Crime space (AML, KYC, Remediation & Redress projects), banks and financial services firms have a tendency to employ interim professionals (contractors) to help them through specific projects. Investigations, a response to known failings or a change in regulatory strategy can all lead to the requirement for an increase in flexible workforce.
Contract work can be a great foot-in-the-door to the Compliance world though these opportunities are usually only afforded to those with a month (or less) notice period (firms often can’t wait any longer to get a project moving along or a gap filled).
Build relationships with Compliance Recruitment firms
Professional recruiters will often have visibility on compliance jobs that are not actively advertised on the market.
The niche recruitment firms that specialise in Compliance & Corporate Governance recruitment (& therefore have strong relationships with Heads of Compliance) as well as the larger agencies that tend to have big supply contracts with the banks & financial services firms will tend to be best placed to support you.
Reaching out and being ‘on the radar’ to these recruitment firms can never harm - they may well be able to flag opportunities to you that you can explore through them (although because of the cost involved to organisations in using agencies to hire, agencies are not frequently used for more entry level hires).