A compliance officer’s work centers on the three key areas of inspection, complaint processing, and legal review, though the specifics of how these play out on a day-to-day basis vary depending on where the officer works, as well as well as his or her industry. Officers who work for private corporations usually tackle things differently than those who are government inspectors, for instance; private contractors and independent auditors have still another approach. The main goal of anyone in this field is to understand the governing rules and laws and make sure that they are being followed precisely.
Compliance officers are often also known as “performance auditors,” a title very much linked to their role as inspectors. In most cases, one of their primary responsibilities is to make sure that a corporation, business, or other entity is complying with both internal and external rules governing how things should be done. The best way for them to make this determination is to closely inspect what goes on each day. This can happen either through constant observation or intermittent, random sampling.
Inspections look different in different industries, but the driving goal is always to compare how things should be done with how they are being done in actuality. In a financial institution, inspections often center on how money is handled, how accounts are processed, and how records are kept; in a large-scale corporation, the concern may be more about filing, data retention, and shareholder transparency. Officers usually conduct their evaluations through a combination of observation and direct interviewing. They may study record-keeping books, access electronic databases, and possibly even read communications like memos and e-mails that pertain to certain topics of interest.
Handling and Processing Complaints
In many institutions, the employees themselves are in the best position to know how their companies or individual departments are doing when it comes to following rules and regulations. Compliance officers often make an effort to reach out to workers to get information, which frequently comes in the form of handling complaints. Setting up anonymous complaint hotlines often works well in big companies, but even something as simple as a grievance box where employees can write out their concerns can be effective.
Things usually get more complicated when it comes to actually evaluating submitted complaints. A good compliance officer is usually bound to follow up on any information of wrongdoing, no matter how far-fetched it sounds. This often means that he or she spends a lot of time investigating everything that employees report, even if the complaints do not ultimately point to any legitimate concerns.
The standards and rules compliance officers evaluate against vary tremendously depending on the industry, but nearly all take their root in the law. The law is what dictates fair business dealings in most places, and is also where safety standards and medical best practices are spelled out. Officers have to know the rules and regulations for their chosen industry inside and out in order for their reviews and critiques to be helpful. When rules change, officers must act quickly to make sure that their company or client’s processes keep up.
Many large companies hire compliance officers as full-time employees. These workers spend their days doing constant audits, usually reporting back to executives at regular intervals about their findings. Their job is to make sure all departments and divisions are complying both with legal requirements and individual corporate goals like hitting certain sales numbers or reducing wasteful spending. A lot of this officer’s time is devoted to evaluating, observing, and creating written reviews and presentations. He or she may also be called on to make recommendations about how to improve compliance in problem areas.
Private and Contract Professionals
A number of compliance professionals also work independently, either on their own as freelancers or for private auditing corporations. People in this category are usually hired on a project-by-project basis by companies and businesses looking for a one-time review of how they are doing when it comes to following certain rules or achieving certain goals. Projects can be short or long depending on the depth of the information needed, but typically range from a few months to about a year. These professionals are usually able to pick and choose their clients, and typically develop expertise in evaluating certain kinds of concerns.
Even companies that have full-time staff compliance teams may reach out to independent contractors if they feel that an outside perspective is needed. This is often the case when a business is worried that it is about to be audited by a government agency, for instance, or if it suspects that it may soon be party to a lawsuit. Getting an unbiased outside idea of any compliance concerns can be a good way to fix minor problems before they become major liabilities.
Working for Government and Enforcement Agencies
Most government agencies and legal enforcement entities have compliance officers on staff, as well. These professionals are usually sent to investigate cases of suspected wrongdoing — the evaluations and audits these officers perform are generally meant to determine whether there is a problem that warrants large-scale intervention, and are not usually undertaken unless there is a strong suspicion that the company or business at the center has already broken the law. In these cases, a compliance officer is involved only to confirm what is already believed to be true. His or her findings will typically become part of an official investigation, and may or may not play a role in later court cases or hearings to determine fines, sanctions, or other punishments.
Required Skills and Basic Training
Getting started in the field usually requires a combination of education and experience. A university degree is almost always essential, and in many places a legal education is also expected. Most people have some experience working in their chosen field, too, whether as a corporate executive, medical lab tech, or banking loan officer. Having some knowledge of how things work on the inside often makes looking for disparities and navigating the complex world of industry regulations somewhat easier.