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29 May

The Role of a Compliance Officer in Business

In today’s business world, corporate ethics and accountability are front and center. In an era of massive data breaches, rampant workplace crime (costing U.S. businesses $50 billion per year),1 and stricter regulatory enforcement that comes along with these issues, the need for compliance officers and professionals has never been greater.

“The most effective line of defense a corporation can implement against federal prosecution, including both civil and criminal enforcement, is an efficient and effective compliance program, [which] is not attainable without the right compliance officer.” – Niki Zotou, manager of the legal division at Robert Walters, New York2

An effective compliance officer and team can save an organization’s reputation and protect its bottom line. A 2018 report by GlobalScape found the cost of non-compliance is 2.71 times higher than the cost of compliance.3

Read on to learn more about how to become a compliance officer and the basics of this crucial role, including a definition of compliance officer, duties, potential salary outcomes, and what’s in store for compliance officers in the future.

What is a compliance officer?

In a nutshell, a compliance officer identifies and mitigates risk for a company. Compliance officers are in-house employees who ensure the company and its employees comply with all external industry laws and government regulations as well as internal bylaws and policies.4

What does a compliance officer do?

Compliance officers wear many hats. In addition to ensuring company-wide compliance with regulations and bylaws, a compliance officer also must stay up-to-date with industry standards, assess financial risks, develop proactive and reactive plans to deal with compliance breaches, minimize reputation damage, report on the effectiveness of compliance measures, and educate employees on the importance of compliance, among other duties.

A compliance officer job description may include:5

  • Creating, implementing, and overseeing a company’s compliance program
  • Regularly evaluating and reporting on policies and procedures
  • Maintaining a strong level of expertise in regulations
  • Developing and coordinating compliance training for employees
  • Creating and monitoring reporting avenues for compliance issues
  • Leading internal audit teams
  • Interfacing with federal and state regulators
  • Championing an ethical corporate culture

While exact job functions will vary based on the industry and employer, these duties are typical for today’s compliance officers. A compliance officer generally reports to the chief operating officer (COO) or chief executive officer (CEO).6

What are the traits of a successful compliance officer?

Do you have what it takes to succeed as a compliance officer? The role requires a unique blend of technical knowledge and soft skills, and for the right person, it can be incredibly rewarding. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranked compliance officer No. 22 in the Best Business Jobs.7

Here are five crucial traits of a successful compliance officer:

The Role of a Compliance Officer in Business

1. Integrity. As the pillar of ethics at a company, a compliance officer must always act with integrity and tact and be an example to fellow employees.
2. Agility. Regulations change quickly. A savvy compliance officer must stay up-to-date with industry rules and be ready to adjust at a moment’s notice.
3. Expertise. A compliance officer must not only know the current standards but also be able to interpret them quickly and accurately.
4. Charisma. People skills are crucial for compliance officers to nurture a culture of corporate ethics and communicate the importance of compliance among all employees.
5. Transparency. A compliance officer must gain the trust of all employees and executives. Being open and honest in all interactions will take you far.

Embodying these traits can accelerate the process of building relationships, earning trust, and gaining respect.

What kind of training/credentials do I need to become a compliance officer?

Beyond the traits listed above, companies typically look for candidates with a minimum of three to five years of experience in compliance. A bachelor’s degree is required (typical degrees include accounting, business, finance, or a related field), but a master’s degree in legal studies or business administration can make you even more attractive to potential employers.8

For instance, the Online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) in Corporate Compliance from Santa Clara University School of Law can help you launch a career in compliance by imparting in-demand legal skills, business acumen, and specific compliance and risk-management technical abilities. The curriculum helps you build crucial competencies through coursework in global ethics and compliance, corporate communications, and regulations, and a Lecture Series allows instructors to address trending topics in the compliance industry to give you the most relevant, up-to-date knowledge.

Read more about how a Master of Legal Studies can improve your work in corporate compliance.

How much can I make as a compliance officer?

Your earning potential as a compliance professional varies depending on which industry you pursue. The following salaries, pulled from Robert Half salary guide data, reflect some different roles and industries you can pursue with an advanced degree in compliance.

Compliance salaries within corporate accounting:9

  • $102,750: compliance officer salary
  • $138,500: compliance director salary
  • $169,250: chief compliance officer salary

Risk and compliance salaries within financial services:9

  • $113,000: compliance manager salary
  • $123,500: compliance officer salary
  • $200,000: chief compliance officer salary

Compliance administration salaries within the legal field:10

  • $93,750: compliance manager salary (seven to nine years of experience)
  • $121,000: compliance director salary (10+ years’ experience)

Note these salaries fall within the top 50th percentile salaries in the U.S. in 2019. The market variances can vary greatly by city:

  • San Francisco +41%
  • San Jose +38.5%
  • Seattle +25%
  • Washington, D.C. +33%

What does the future hold for compliance officers?

As corporate scrutiny grows and regulations tighten and grow more complex, compliance officers will need to adapt to the changing landscape. The most effective compliance officers will become adept at using data analytics and technology to quantify the effectiveness of compliance programs and identify potential issues. Compliance officers of the future also will need to be exceptionally mobile, performing their role within their organization and also traveling to the frontline if necessary to better understand the issues facing their company.11

Carve Your Path as a Compliance Officer

If you want to mitigate risk, influence corporate culture, and become an invaluable member of any company, consider a career as a compliance officer. The Online MLS in Corporate Compliance can give you the legal analysis skills and business acumen you need to stand out in this field. Want to learn more about the state of corporate compliance? Check out our blog post, 7 Corporate Compliance Insights for 2019.


1. Retrieved on May 9, 2019, from cnbc.com/2017/09/12/workplace-crime-costs-us-businesses-50-billion-a-year.html
2. Retrieved on May 9, 2019, from robertwalters-usa.com/career-advice/the-role-of-a-compliance-officer.html
3. Retrieved on May 9, 2019, from globalscape.com/resources/whitepapers/data-protection-regulations-study
4. Retrieved on May 9, 2019, from investopedia.com/terms/c/compliance-officer.asp
5. Retrieved on May 9, 2019, from roberthalf.com/blog/salaries-and-skills/compliance-officers-what-they-do-and-why-theyre-in-demand
6. Retrieved on May 9, 2019, from robertwalters-usa.com/career-advice/the-role-of-a-compliance-officer.html
7. Retrieved on May 9, 2019, from https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/compliance-officer
8. Retrieved on May 9, 2019, from roberthalf.com/blog/salaries-and-skills/compliance-officers-what-they-do-and-why-theyre-in-demand
9. Retrieved on May 9, 2019, from roberthalf.com/sites/default/files/documents_not_indexed/2019_Salary_Guide_Financial_US_0.pdf
10. Retrieved on January 21, 2019, from roberthalf.com/sites/default/files/documents_not_indexed/2019_Salary_Guide_Legal_NA_5.pdf
11. Retrieved on January 21, 2019, from fcpablog.com/blog/2019/1/16/what-does-an-effective-compliance-officer-look-like-in-2019.html