What Is Compliance?

Compliance involves adhering to established policies and standards. Businesses must ensure their products meet organizational quality and safety standards. Companies must also adhere to municipal, state, federal, and international laws and regulations. The compliance field may also incorporate risk management to maintain efficiency and profitability.

The responsibilities of compliance professionals typically include monitoring an organization's processes, maintaining business licenses, and developing risk management plans to avoid production and delivery delays. Many businesses increasingly emphasize compliance as their operations become more global and complex, leading to an increase in demand for compliance officers.

The following sections provide a comprehensive overview of the primary tasks, common qualifications, and educational requirements for compliance officers. This page also explores professional organizations and resources related to the field.

What Is a Compliance Officer?

Any organization that supplies products or services to the public must comply with laws and regulations. Failing to maintain quality standards can result in defective products, which can lead to unhappy customers and profit loss. Additionally, if an organization fails to comply with laws or maintain proper licensure, it may face legal repercussions such as fines. Compliance officers implement and maintain efficient processes to prevent these scenarios.

The following section details the role of a compliance officer within an organization, including their primary tasks and responsibilities, common workplace environments, and required skills.

What Does a Compliance Officer Do?

Compliance officers monitor an organization's processes to ensure adherence to applicable laws and regulations. These professionals also assess processes to identify risk factors and establish effective risk-management techniques. Compliance officers work to prevent negative impacts to their company's profit margin.

Additional job responsibilities may include maintaining and filing compliance documents, conducting internal reviews to identify possible violations, and filing and addressing complaints with the appropriate enforcement agencies. These tasks require strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Compliance officers work with company employees at every level, and they need strong communication skills to discuss issues and suggest protocol changes.

Compliance officers work with company employees at every level, and they need strong communication skills to discuss issues and suggest protocol changes.

Many compliance officers work in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare and financial services. Most officers work in office environments. However, some positions require professionals to visit other office locations, manufacturing facilities, and/or clients. Compliance officers' daily tasks involve email communication, phone calls, filing, typing, and meeting with departments to observe and discuss processes.

Compliance officers must be proficient with computers and software applications. They should also be familiar with common web browsers; email software; and project management software, such as Microsoft Project and Microsoft SharePoint. Most professionals also work with analytical and compliance software, such as StataCorp Stata, Actimize Brokerage Compliance Solutions, Oracle Enterprise Governance, Risk and Compliance Manager, and the MetricStream Enterprise Compliance platform.

"Compliance officer" is the most common title for professionals in this field. Related job titles include internal auditor, inspector general, financial examiner, and fraud analyst. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compliance officers earn an average annual salary of $72,520. To increase their earning potential, professionals can pursue advanced roles as chief compliance officer, vice president compliance officer, or compliance manager. These positions may require additional education or several years of experience.

Compliance officers can work in a variety of industries, but the position is most common in highly regulated industries such as healthcare, insurance, and financial services. Organizations in these industries must adhere to municipal, state, and federal laws, making compliance a complex and necessary business aspect. Compliance professionals can also work in government sectors, technology manufacturing, and aerospace parts manufacturing. Most employers require candidates to hold at least a bachelor's degree, and many positions require certification.

A bachelor's degree qualifies graduates to work as compliance officers in a variety of industries. However, many professionals specialize by pursuing a certification. For example, compliance professionals in the healthcare field may earn the certified medical compliance officer credential, while those in the financial services industry may pursue the certified compliance and regulatory professional credential.

Laws and regulations vary by industry, and specializing helps compliance professionals develop a deeper understanding of their industry's policies.

Laws and regulations vary by industry, and specializing helps compliance professionals develop a deeper understanding of their industry's policies. For example, compliance officers in the healthcare field must understand laws related to insurance and research, while officers in financial services need extensive knowledge of local, federal, and international banking laws.

Because laws and regulations evolve, compliance officers must complete continuing education throughout their career. Most compliance certifications require professionals to complete continuing education hours to qualify for renewal. Some employers offer continuing education programs, and professionals can also pursue online options. Compliance officers must stay apprised of current laws to ensure their organizations remain compliant and profitable.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Compliance Officer?

Observing and Collecting Information

Compliance officers monitor their organization's processes to ensure each step complies with protocols. They also collect data, including how long each step in a process takes, to identify areas where efficiency can be increased. These tasks require strong attention to detail and analytical skills.

Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance With Standards

After collecting data, compliance officers conduct an evaluation of their organization's strengths and weaknesses to determine whether processes meet compliance standards. This evaluation requires strong analytical skills and extensive knowledge of municipal, state, and federal laws.

Maintain Regulatory or Compliance Documentation

Maintaining an organization's regulatory and compliance documents is vital to a compliance officer's job. Professionals may compile and file documents that track company processes and demonstrate that workers complete projects in accordance with protocol. Additionally, officers typically file and maintain business licenses.

Communicate Organizational Policies and Procedures

Compliance officers must effectively communicate details about whether an organization is meeting expectations to employees. Compliance officers explore possible solutions for process issues, and they must motivate employees to implement new protocols and improve efficiency.

Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships

Compliance professionals develop cooperative relationships with executives, supervisors, peers, and subordinates. These officers work closely with various departments to gather information and assess workflows. Maintaining positive working relationships helps officers achieve cooperation when implementing changes.

Communicating With Outside Agencies on Compliance Topics

Compliance officers may need to work with organizations outside their company, such as government agencies and consulting firms. This communication can provide firsthand knowledge of changes to laws and regulations. By establishing positive working relationships with external agencies, compliance officers may also have opportunities to participate in policy-making decisions.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Compliance Officer?

Education

Bachelor's Degree Most employers require candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree in finance, economics, or a related field.
Certification Positions in healthcare may require the certified medical compliance officer credential, and careers in financial services may require the certified compliance and regulatory professional credential.

Skills

Critical Thinking Compliance professionals must use logic and reasoning to compare the strengths and weaknesses of proposed solutions, conclusions, and approaches to issues.
Reading Comprehension Compliance officers must be able to understand words and phrases, especially those pertaining to laws and regulations.
Active Listening Professionals must listen intently to others' views of current processes. They must ask clarifying questions and allow others to speak without interruption.
Monitoring Compliance officers must regularly monitor workers and organizations to identify issues and suggest improvements.
Coordination Officers must assess how changes impact workflow and make necessary adjustments to ensure processes continue to flow smoothly.

Abilities

Oral Expression Compliance professionals must be able to effectively and clearly communicate evaluation results, potential solutions, and plans to initiate changes.
Problem Sensitivity Officers need to identify when a process or person is not working correctly so they can find and suggest solutions.
Oral Comprehension Compliance professionals need the ability to effectively listen and understand information conveyed verbally.
Written Comprehension Professionals must be able to understand written ideas and information pertaining to laws and regulations.
Written Expression Compliance offers need to clearly and concisely convey written information pertaining to protocols.

Knowledge

English Language These professionals need knowledge of proper grammar, vocabulary, and composition to effectively read and draft documents.
Law and Government Officers must understand current laws, legal codes, court procedures, government regulations, agency rules, and the democratic political process.
Customer and Personal Service Compliance professionals need knowledge related to best practices for providing friendly and effective customer service.
Administration and Management Officers must understand basic management principles for strategic planning, resource allocation, coordination of people and resources, production methods, and leadership techniques.
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How Are Compliance Officers Employed?

Compliance officers can work in a variety of settings and industries. The list below includes common work settings for compliance professionals.

  • Healthcare

    Compliance professionals in healthcare settings deal with patient privacy issues, and they may address government regulations related to medical research. These professionals may work in hospitals, research labs, medical offices, substance abuse clinics, and long-term care facilities.

  • Financial Services

    The financial services industry involves banking, investments, and estate planning, which are heavily regulated by government agencies. Compliance officers in this industry typically work in office environments and ensure financial decisions adhere to all applicable laws.

  • Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing

    Businesses in this industry must adhere to strict FAA and government guidelines to ensure passenger safety. Compliance officers in the industry typically work in office environments, but they may visit manufacturing facilities to observe assembly lines and workers.

  • Computer and Peripheral Technology Manufacturing

    Compliance in this industry typically involves copyright law. Many companies rely on exclusivity in the marketplace to drive profitability; therefore, maintaining product and idea copyrights is essential to remaining competitive. Officers in this industry typically work in office environments.

  • Metal Ore Mining

    Mining companies must adhere to strict government rules and regulations that protect the environment and worker safety. Compliance officers in this industry must understand local environmental laws and standards for safe mining procedures. Officers typically work in office buildings, but they may do some field work.

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Professional Organizations for Compliance Officers

  • National Society of Compliance Officers This nonprofit organization provides events, webinars, and educational resources to its members. The society connects compliance professionals and provides tools to help members earn certifications and advance their careers.
  • Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics This membership organization offers certification resources for compliance professionals. SCCE hosts conferences throughout the country, allowing members to network and learn about industry trends.
  • Regulatory Compliance Association This nonprofit accredits compliance programs to ensure they meet industry standards. The association also offers online continuing education courses and symposiums.
  • National Association of Clery Compliance Officers and Professionals This organization supports colleges, universities, and compliance officers who work to meet the standards set by the Clery Act. NACCOP provides access to training and webinars, along with resources about current policy information.
  • Ethics and Compliance Initiative This initiative empowers organizations to implement and maintain quality standard policies. ECI provides job boards, links to industry resources, and training and certification opportunities. The organization also hosts events where professionals can network and learn about the latest industry news.