Why Compliance is now an A-Player game | FOW, May 2016

by Nathan Fuller


You can be brilliant at anything. From the seemingly mundane to the obviously complex, the right person in the right role makes all the difference. Did you pick up your coffee this morning from your usual place? Hopefully you were served by your favourite barista - the one who knows exactly what you’re having the second they see you, who flashes their winning smile before announcing your order over the heads of all the regular customers so that everyone there knows how special you are. It’s great to be you. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the coffee is hot and everybody loves you. You’ll definitely be back tomorrow; after all, they’d be upset if you didn’t drop by.

A-Players are everywhere. From the board of directors right down to the front desk, through security and in every office, retail outlet and coffee shop you pass in the street. They are the people who care more about getting it right than going home, who constantly innovate, relentlessly pursue excellence and learn from every lesson they can along the way. A-Players are great; we have literally built our recruitment business around them.

However, it is fair to say that whilst every industry has its A-Players, some professions demand them more than others. This isn’t a constant; in the derivatives space hiring needs are ever changing and are shaped by the market growth, economic stability and regulatory reform that ultimately dictates success, strengthens resilience and safeguards the future. Capital Markets always needs good people, but the business areas in which we need brilliant people can change from time to time. technology and change management in financial services has a long history of requesting A-Player hires. Most of us will have witnessed first-hand the difference between an average project and one delivered by an A-Player. Company mergers, divestments, platform implementations and regulatory change are rarely pieces of work on which we can risk anything less than the highest possible standards. As a result, it has been unusual over the years for our customers to ask for anything less than the best in this area. This has not always been the case with compliance – but the tide has been changing for some time and compliance is now officially an A-Player market. 

So why is this? Compliance has always been important. Any leader who doesn’t recognise the value of running their business the right way, simply isn’t paying attention. An effective compliance function has always offered the protection and reassurance needed by both employees and customers alike and ultimately guides best practice across any successful organisation. The compliance landscape has shifted dramatically over the years, not least in the past decade. What was, until relatively recently, a profession chiefly concerned with internal policy and some industry-specific regulation, has evolved almost beyond recognition and shows no signs of slowing.  From EMIR and Dodd Frank to MiFID II and MiFIR, the weight on internal and external compliance functions is steadily increasing. Regulation is nothing new, but the pace and complexity of regulatory reform in recent years far exceeds the days gone by and has had a notable effect on hiring trends across the compliance spectrum.

Compliance is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution. In today’s market not every compliance professional is versed, or in some cases even capable, of executing every compliance task. The scope is simply too vast. This has led to a move away from traditional “horizontal” models, where one team manages a range of compliance-related tasks, to “vertical” models where teams and often individuals are increasingly specialist in their focus. For the talented compliance professional this has provided a chance to shine and make their mark, but for those who struggle to change with the times it serves only to eradicate safety in numbers and ultimately, expose under performers. Naturally this has resulted in more hiring within compliance, but of more importance perhaps, is the focus on the kind of person being hired. Expectations are up and the stakes are high. A low performer in a coffee shop can really irritate customers and lead to lost revenue. A low performing compliance function can be the difference between make and break for an entire company.

Compliance needs A-Players, this is obvious and has been for some time, and whilst it’s an important point, it isn’t the only news. Any business wanting to stand the test of time in the derivatives market needs to invest in the best possible compliance talent – and in many cases they already are. More thought is going into compliance hiring than ever before and criteria such as certifications and academic qualifications are playing a greater role than in previous years. However, what is even more exciting is the face of compliance as a career choice. Greater expectations have led to increased visibility, significant promotion prospects and far more lucrative remuneration – all wrapped up in some really challenging deliverables and a tonne of accountability. This is exactly what A-Players look for and whilst compliance has always been a reputable career path, it is rapidly evolving into one of the most sought after professions in the derivatives market with graduates fresh out of university vying to break into the space and an increasing number of experienced professionals attempting to make the move mid-career. In short, whilst compliance has always been important; it has never been as important to hire the right people, as it is right now. 

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