What Qualifications Do You Need to Work in Compliance?



As ever, there is a seemingly straightforward answer to this question, along with a less straightforward one. Technically, candidates do not need a compliance qualification to get started in Compliance. There are however a variety of different compliance domains and roles and some are more hotly competed for (e.g., trade surveillance) than others (e.g., KYC) – so a compliance qualification can give you an edge. Also, as your compliance career progresses, you will need to build knowledge in a number of dimensions. A compliance qualification can be a helpful source of acquiring additional skills and knowledge beyond those gained directly through work experience.

An undergraduate degree is usually required at entry level and although many employers are flexible about the degree subject, common degree subjects include Economics, Business Studies, Law or Accountancy. Transferable skills will also be relevant. If you have had experience in Operations (and thus have a grounded understanding of how aspects of the business run operationally) or in Corporate Governance or in the Legal profession (and thus will be comfortable in scrutinising, interpreting and applying legal or regulatory requirements), then the transferable skills are self-evident. Individuals from other backgrounds may wish to bolster their candidacy by pursuing a relevant qualification.

There are a range of bodies which provide relevant qualifications. Before you look at all the options available, it’s important to try to identify which aspects of your knowledge you feel you need to enhance. Employers are typically looking for compliance professionals to understand:

  • The broad risk and compliance framework. An understanding of the FS legal and regulatory framework, the role of the different applicable regulators and the implications of non-compliance.
  • Industry and company context. An understanding of the broad dynamics of the sectors their institution participates in and the products and services it offers; the organisation’s mission, values and professional standards; the way in which the business delivers fair customer outcomes.
  • Domain-specific policies and procedures. A solid understanding of the risk and compliance requirements of the specific role – whether that be financial crime / AML, conduct risk, operational risk, etc. This includes both the corresponding regulatory stipulations and the policies and procedures used to satisfy these requirements.
  • Systems and processes. An understanding of the systems, tools and processes used to meet compliance and/or manage compliance risks.

Relevant qualifications are offered by the International Compliance Association (ICA), the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment (CISI), the London Institute of Banking and Finance (LIBF), the Institute of Risk Management (IRM), and several others. Some qualifications are highly specialised (e.g., the ICA’s “Specialist Certificate in Trade Based Money Laundering”, whilst others are more general (e.g., IRM’s “International Certificate in Risk Management”). Knowing what your 2 – 3 year career ambitions are, along with making an honest self-assessment of where you are starting from relative to the above four categories, should help you determine which (if any) qualification makes most sense for you.


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