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The role of a compliance officer

The role of a compliance officer, sometimes called a compliance manager, is to make sure that a company is conducting its business in full compliance with all national and international laws and regulations that pertain to its particular industry, as well as professional standards, accepted business practices, and internal standards.

There is both an ethical component and a pragmatic component to compliance - a role that is crucial in helping organizations manage risk, maintain a positive reputation, and avoid lawsuits.

Compliance officers must have an innate and intuitive knowledge of the company’s goals and culture, as well as of the greater industry and standard business law. They are charged not just with keeping a company’s business dealings ethically sound and legally pristine, but with educating the entire company and instituting practices that will ensure the highest possible level of compliance.

Levels of responsibility

Most often found in financial services, compliance officers are an important component of corporate governance, determining how an organization is managed, directed, and governed, including the relationships between stakeholders and the structure by which company objectives are set and followed. They usually report to the CEO or COO.

The International Compliance Association breaks down the role of a compliance officer into two levels of responsibility:

Level 1: compliance with the external rules that are imposed upon an organization as a whole

Level 2: compliance with internal systems of control that are imposed to achieve compliance with the externally imposed rules.

The quintessential personality of a compliance officer

One aspect of a compliance officer’s job is communicating compliance-related issues to employees across all divisions of the organization. Sometimes this requires deciphering confusing or abstract laws or ethics and determining how to establish and integrate best practices. A compliance officer must therefore have great people skills and be able to communicate and cooperate up, down, and across the employee chain - and must simultaneously have a firm grasp of the business.

In addition to being a level-headed, clear communicator, here are some other qualities that excellent compliance officers posses:

  • Ethical and principled: These are the single most important qualities of a compliance manager.
  • Fair and modest: Willing to scrutinize all the facts without making a snap judgment, and interview any relevant employees for their perspective.
  • Proactive: A honed alertness and vigilance to potential breaches in compliance. This means actively enforcing a mandatory reporting policy and seeking out any weakness in company dealings.
  • Intelligent and willing to keep learning: Most industries that employ a compliance officer are subject to constantly changing legislation, so staying on top of things is vital.
  • Diligent: Even when it becomes a hassle, a compliance officer must be willing to see an issue through to resolution. Every time
  • A strong constitution and extra conviction: Solid backbone and the strength to stand by difficult decisions and be more influenced by right versus wrong than by relationships. Willing to take the lead in setting the tone for corporate integrity. 

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