What is “Compliance Experience”?


What is "Compliance Experience"?

2014-snell-roy-speaking-headshot-200By Roy Snell

I stated in a previous post, that a board can’t claim to have compliance experience on their board and point to a single person with either audit, legal, risk or ethics experience.  Someone wanted further clarification.  I thought would share the response as a post.

Thanks for the question.  I am not saying that people from legal, risk, ethics, audit, etc. can’t be good compliance professionals.  In fact, they are all excellent backgrounds for a career in compliance.  What I am suggesting is that a board can’t claim to have a compliance expert on the board if the board points to someone with no education or experience in the compliance profession.  That is true even if even if the person they point to has experience in a related field such as audit, legal, ethics, risk, etc.  It would be like saying that a cardiologist can perform brain surgery because they are a doctor.  A cardiologist could become a brain surgeon faster than a CEO could.  A lawyer can become an effective compliance professional faster than a doctor because they are in a field more related to compliance than medicine.  A cardiologist would require further training and experience before becoming a brain surgeon.  If you wanted neurosurgery experience on your board, you would not pick a cardiologist just because they are a doctor.  You would pick a neurosurgeon.

Compliance requires a working knowledge of about 7 or 8 professions such as, audit, education, risk, legal, investigations, ethics, policy development, etc.  Exceptional compliance professionals have a lot of experience in all these areas.  Truly exceptional compliance professionals have experience in all elements of a compliance program and very strong interpersonal skills such as, communication, collaboration, negotiation, influence, relationship building, motivation, etc. If I was going to claim I had compliance experience on my board, I would point to someone who has worked in the compliance field and had experience in all these areas rather than just one area such a legal, audit, risk, ethics etc. The enforcement community is gaining more understanding about the difference between the legal, audit, risk, ethics and compliance professions.  In fact, they just contracted with someone from the compliance field to help them evaluate the effectiveness of compliance programs.  Their ability to discern the difference between expertise in one area of compliance and all areas of compliance is getting stronger.  We all want to put our best foot forward.  Having finance and accounting experience on the board has been a long held tradition.  Boards take accounting and finance seriously and they show it by putting people with that experience on the board.  Now boards want to show they are committed to compliance and ethics.  It is important to think about who you claim your compliance expert is.

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  1. Roy…perhaps you inferred or stated it and I overlooked it. When you described a compliance expert or expertise on the board and gave your examples…I was thinking what is your experience if the lens was focused a bit different to assess…does the board have a workable or practical level of compliance expertise as a result of function of each board members contribution and experience on that which is compliance?

    Often I find that the diverse background of boards, though they may share a few common rungs along the shared double helix that make up their DNA which tends to move them towards a financial focus (possibly also as a result of their strategic focus with respect to the organization)…what say you about the sum total of the bits and pieces each may bring to the table in assembling the jigsaw puzzle that understanding compliance may entail?

    As always…I look forward to your posts!

  2. Roy, agree with your views. A good compliance professional has to be grounded with a suite of skills and experience. A blend of legal, regulatory, policies & procedures formulation, convincing skills, good communications, governance and board functioning grasp….et.al. I am not saykng that these cannot be acquired. They can be over time. I was interviewing a candidate recently who had a legal background and believed that since he had read about preparing a compliance charter, compliance programme and a compliance annual plan, he was qualified to be Chief Compliance Officer. A CAMS and a CCO certificate are thought to be enough to arm them adequately to battle the windmills. It is so good to see the casualness with which people treat compliance. It is like the confidence of a five year old boy who wears a captain’s peak cap and sincerely belives that he can pilot a A380.

  3. Roy: Your post was so timely and extremely insightful. As someone who wishes to transition into the compliance/risk field and be successful, this really highlights that my transferable skills and formal education may not be totally adequate to gain entry into the field where experience in multiple disciplines is very much preferred. I know compliance is where I want to take my career, but breaking in is not easy.

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