How to Become a Compliance Officer


Do you have high ethical standards? Are you looking for a career in finance that can lead to a position in executive management? How about a career wherein you can apply your reading comprehension skills and business acumen?


If so, becoming a compliance officer may be a good option for you! Here are some quick highlights of working in this field:


• Excellent opportunities for career advancement

• Great level of pay

• An opportunity to apply your strong reading skills, business acumen, and project management skills


If you want to know more about the ins and outs of this career, then read on; we’ll fill you in on the details, including an overview of what you would be doing as a compliance officer, how much you could earn, and what you’ll need to break into this field!



Education Needed to Become a Compliance Officer

Typically, you will require a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field to become a compliance officer. Having a graduate degree in one of these fields may also be required, depending on the employer. Some employers may also require that you have compliance-specific certification in order to be hired (more on certification below).


Success Tip: Earning a graduate degree in a relevant financial, legal, or administrative field may not required by your employer, but having one can be very helpful for advancing into higher-level jobs!





Certification as a Compliance Officer

In both Canada and the United States, there is certification available for compliance officers. It is considered “voluntary”, as it is not an industry-wide requirement.


Many employers however, will consider it an asset if you have completed a certification program, or relevant coursework, and some may require that you have it in order to be hired. Certification can also go a long way into further advancing your career, by opening doors to positions of greater responsibility.



Certification in Canada

The Canadian Securities Institute (CSI) offers various coursework that can be helpful for a career as a compliance officer, and may be required by your future employer.


For example, the Canadian Securities Course (CSC) and the Conduct and Practices Handbook Course (CPH) are highly relevant to this field, and completing them successfully can make you much stronger in today’s competitive job market.  



Certification in the United States

Several organizations offer compliance certifications that differ according to the type of organization for which you work. Relevant certifications include (but are not limited to):


• The National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) offers the NAFCU Certified Compliance Officer (NCCO) designation

• The International Academy of Financial Management offers a course of study leading to the Certified Compliance Officer designation (CCO)

• The American Bankers Association offers the Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager (CRCM) designation



Skills Needed to Be Effective

In order to perform the duties of this profession job with competence, you need to have the following skills and traits:


Soft Skills:


• Application of high ethical standards

• Proactive and goal-orientated

• Strong reading comprehension skills



Knowledge Skills:


• Regulatory and legislative policy & procedures for the financial sector

• Risk and credit management in the Financial Sector

• Able to recommend compliance solutions that are also business-friendly

• A strong grasp of relevant legal codes



Transferrable Skills:


• An aptitude for explaining policies and procedures to other employees

• Familiarity with project management techniques

• Familiarity with personnel management techniques

• Attention to detail

• A strong grasps of economics, accounting and mathematics





Experience Needed

The amount of experience you’ll need to become a compliance officer can vary, based on the requirements of your employer. Some employers may require that you have held positions of lesser responsibility (in finance or in compliance) in order to be hired on as a compliance officer. Other employers will hire you on in an entry-level capacity, provided you have relevant education and/or certification. 



General Job Description

As a compliance officer, you would be responsible for ensuring that the operations of your organization (typical in the Finance department) comply with outside regulations, as well as internal rules, policies and regulations.


You would be responsible for identifying any violations, and making actionable recommendations to senior management when you do.



Job Duties Typical to This Profession

Although your duties would vary from job to job, you could generally expect to perform the following duties:


• Explain compliance policies to employees and contractors

• Prevent unethical or illegal conduct by monitoring employee compliance with the organization’s policies and procedures

• Prepare reports and recommendations for senior management regarding compliance issues

• Assist with the resolution of any compliance related problems

• Confer with the organization’s corporate attorney when dealing with difficult compliance issues

• Investigate the activities surrounding suspected violations of regulations, privacy procedures or other rules

• Create plans to strengthen any weaknesses within the compliance program

• Keep abreast of regulatory developments



Who Employs Compliance Officers?

As a compliance officer, you could be employed (likely on a full-time basis) by organizations in almost any conceivable sector of almost any type of organization within the financial sector*.


The following is an overview of the types of employers you could have as a compliance officer.


• Banks and financial institutions, including investment banks

• Financial and investment brokerages

• Regulatory organizations (such as governmental securities commissions)

• Trust companies

• Financial sector professional associations


*Although the title “Compliance Officer” can exist within organizations outside of the financial sector, it is most commonly used within the financial sector.



Average Salary Level in This Line of Work

The salary or wage you might earn as a compliance officer* can vary, due to the following factors:


• Your level of education

• Your level of experience

• Your area of specialty

• Your specific level of job responsibility

• The size and type of your employer

• The region in which you work


Compliance Officer Salary Canada (Alberta): According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Financial Auditors and Accountants occupational group earn an average salary of $75,474 per year.


Compliance Officer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of American workers in the Accountants and Auditors occupational group is $65,940 per year.


*Unfortunately, there is no salary information available from reliable sources for the occupation "Compliance Officer". We can however, get a good idea of what you could earn by looking at the salary level of workers in similar career fields.



Job Postings - Open Positions

Our job board below has "Compliance Officer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



Areas of Within This Profession

Although the professional title “Compliance Officer” can refer to a position within virtually any sector of industry, compliance officers typically operate within the Financial Services sector. Within this sector, a compliance officer may choose to focus on different areas of compliance, such as:


Banking: Includes securities, investment practices, consumer protection, privacy, anti-money laundering


Insurance: Includes consumer protection, privacy, anti-money laundering


Investment Management: Includes securities, investment practices, privacy, anti-money laundering


Pension Management: Includes investment practices, federal pension regulations



Career Advancement Possibilities

Since you need a set of sophisticated and transferrable skills, as well as advanced industry knowledge to be effective in this profession, it's ideal for career advancement within an organization. In fact, many top executives in public and private companies have a background in auditing and compliance.


The fact that you would be working directly with senior managers and executives gives you an excellent chance to demonstrate work initiative and competence. This can be of great use in getting promoted into roles of greater responsibility and pay.



Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are occupations in our database that have similar responsibilities, and/or require similar skills, or be in the same sector of industry:


Administrative Officer


Business Analyst

Corporate Lawyer

ISO Auditor

Quality Control Specialist

Risk Analyst




Please consult the following resources to learn more about the various aspects of a career as a compliance officer.


Occupations in Alberta: “Accountant.” (March 4, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Business & Financial: “Accountants and Auditors.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

News - World: “Compliance officers are in demand more than ever, as companies look for experts to help navigate complex regulations and mitigate risk.” Daniel McKenzie (July 18, 2018). CPA Canada website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Compliance Officer

The 'Relevant Areas of Study' section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a compliance officer. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Areas of Study

Studying one of the college/university majors listed below can be helpful (or necessary) for becoming a compliance officer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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