Compliance Officers: The Yin and the Yang

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with the compliance staff of a major global company to discuss issues of concern and share ideas.  It was not only a productive meeting; it was an exhilarating experience.

You can always learn a lot from compliance professionals – they live and breathe the issues every day.  They have a unique perspective and they bring fresh ideas to the profession.

As I always say, compliance professionals are the “unsung heroes” of a company.  They are never praised when everything is going right but they are the first to be questioned when things go wrong.  Compliance professionals are always asked to do more with less – their requests for additional resources and commitments are usually rejected or dramatically trimmed.  Hopefully, this trend will change in response to the reality of aggressive enforcement.

More importantly, compliance professionals carry within themselves a unique trait –they hold within themselves inconsistent feelings: on the one hand, they know they have implemented an effective compliance program, but they want to do more to improve the compliance program.  All of this occurs in the context of a compliance program that recognizes that, in the end, no matter how good a compliance program is on paper and in operation, you can never eliminate the risk that a “knucklehead employee” will violate company policy and/or the law. 

When you ask a compliance professional what keeps them up at night, they are more than willing to list for you their latest issues of concern that they want to tackle.  That is what makes compliance such a fascinating field.  It is a profession which always looks to do better while acknowledging its accomplishments and its own shortcomings at the same time.  That is called – confidence and commitment, and what I term – the yin and the yang. 

Unlike many in the legal field, compliance professionals have a unique ability to listen to others.  Lawyers sometimes bloviate; compliance professionals do not.  Lawyers are sometimes afraid to ask questions or acknowledge when they do not know something; compliance professionals ask questions because they want to learn and improve their company’s program. 

Because each company is different, compliance programs across different companies are different.  That is why everyone in the profession can learn from each other.  It is trite but true that there is no single solution to every compliance problem.  There are a number of common tools but the most effective compliance programs reflect the company’s culture, operations and organization.

Compliance officers are creative.  They know that flexible solutions are far better than reliance on common solutions.  At the same time, compliance officers learn to organize by prioritizing.  When conducting a risk assessment, designing and implementing compliance controls, and monitoring and re-evaluating their compliance program, compliance officers live by priorities – addressing those issues and problems by risk analysis and available solutions. 

In the end, my dollar will always be bet on compliance professionals.  They are more “content” in the face of risks, and they exhibit an unmatched professionalism each and every day.

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3 Responses

  1. Tracey Abram says:

    Great article- I concur.

  2. Agreed.  As compliance professionals, we suffer from the perception that we are making the simple complex.  It is a testament to how well we do our jobs that many people think what we do is simple, when in fact it is quite complex.  Compliance looks simple because our internal clients and external customers do not see all of the research and analysis that lie behind the recommendations that we make.  Instead of being considered an obstacle to operations, we are a strategic partner, although that may be difficult to illustrate.  But at the end of the day, it is incredibly rewarding and challenging work, even if under-valued by others.  ~  d


  3. Well written and true.  I also agreed with Deiadra's comment that clients and customer do not see all the research and analysis that lies behind the recommendations we make.  All too often we know what we want to achieve, but finding the information and methods to implement and achieve it takes a lot of work!