Compliance Specialist

To operate legally, a company must comply with the local, state, and federal laws governing that specific industry. From meeting safety standards, to following wage and hour guidelines, these laws affect almost all aspects of a business. A compliance specialist, also known as a compliance officer, monitors the activities of a company to ensure it complies with, not only these external regulations, but also internal standards. Keep reading to learn more about a compliance specialist.

What Does a Compliance Specialist Do?

Companies benefit from meeting compliance requirements as it portrays a positive image, builds consumer loyalty, and helps ensure smooth operation. It also reduces the risk of legal consequences, which can include sanctions, fines, or lawsuits. Many companies establish a compliance program to create, implement, and enforce formal policies aimed at preventing violations. A compliance specialist manages and maintains the program by developing policies, educating employees, and responding to violations.

Other duties of a compliance officer include:

  • Assessing company operations to identify compliance risks
  • Advising management on updated regulations and policies
  • Updating policies and procedures based on changing regulations and laws

Compliance officers specialize in specific industries, which means they must have knowledge and experience related to that field. For instance, an environmental specialist may investigate a company to make sure it follows all laws related to pollution. A specialist in healthcare compliance may oversee a hospital’s privacy practices to ensure they conform to state and federal laws.

If they find a business in violation of compliance, they take corrective action to prevent future occurrences. This includes conducting audits, recommending methods to prevent violations, and creating a plan for remediation. Specialists also work as the liaison between the business and the governing inspector or agency.

Professional Requirements to Become a Compliance Specialist

The requirements to become a compliance specialist start with obtaining a bachelor’s degree (B.S.). The four-year undergraduate program provides you with the entry-level skills needed for employment. It also allows you to earn a graduate degree. Some acceptable majors for this career including accounting, business, and finance.

While small companies only require a bachelor’s degree, many give preference to applicants possessing a master’s degree or equivalent. Most masters programs allow students to focus on legal issues and ethics, and some even allow for a dual program in law and business.

Experience is also a must when it comes to securing a job as a specialist. Most employers require at least five years of work in a position related to compliance.

Additional Educational Requirements

If an individual wants to take their education beyond a master’s degree, they can pursue a doctorate in accounting or business administration. Those possessing a doctorate often qualify for top-executive positions.

Additional Licensing Requirements

The type of license required to work as a compliance officer varies based on the field you work in. For example, those working in banking and finance benefit from earning the Certified Management Accountant credential. You can also earn additional regulatory industry-related certifications, including the National Regulatory Services certification.

Where Can You Work as a Compliance Officer

You have plenty of flexibility when it comes to where you can work as a compliance specialist. You can work for a company directly, or as a consultant on a contractual basis. Another option is working for the U.S. Department of Labor ensuring businesses abide by federal laws.

The industries employing the majority of compliance specialists include:

  • Pharmaceutical
  • Insurance
  • Biotechnology
  • Finance and banking
  • Medical device
  • Healthcare

Your daily work environment will depend mainly on the industry you specialize in. For example, a compliance specialist in finance or banking spends most of their time in office settings reviewing documents and records. However, an environmental compliance officer may experience more fieldwork in outdoor settings taking samples and conducting tests.

How do Compliance Specialists Get Paid

Several factors influence how compliance specialists get paid. If employed by a company directly, the employer typically sets the amount of pay. They also enjoy various benefits including sick pay, vacation pay, and retirement plans.

Compliance officers working on a contractual basis generally have more control when it comes to pay. They may charge by the hour or a flat-rate fee per job. The amount will also vary depending on the industry and size of company. If self-employed, the specialists usually do not receive extra benefits.

Compliance Specialist Salary

The median annual salary for a compliance specialist was $67,870 ($32.63/hr) as of 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. This accounts for all specialists as the BLS does not distinguish between the different industries in this field. Generally, securities and commodity exchange compliance officers fall on the highest end of the pay spectrum. This is also true for specialists working in financial investment activities and computer equipment manufacturing.

Employment Outlook for Compliance Specialist

The BLS predicts that the growth rate for compliance specialists will increase around 8.2% by 2026. This is slightly faster than the average growth rate for all occupations in the U.S. More compliances positions become available as the number of rules and regulations pertaining to businesses continues to increase.

How to Get a Job as a Compliance Specialist

To get a job as a compliance specialist, first make sure you meet the education and experience requirements. The next step is actively searching for an option position. One way to do this is by utilizing employment websites. These websites connect employers and employees by posting available job positions. Some even allow job seekers to upload or post a resume for potential employers to review.

For larger companies or organizations, check their official website. Many have a career or employment page that lists available positions and instructs interested parties on how to apply. Another option is applying directly to companies that you have had contact with, either through internships or entry level positions.

 Essential Information

Degree Level Bachelor’s or master’s degree
Degree Field(s) Accounting, business administration
License/Certification Voluntary certification available
Key Skills Listening, critical thinking, verbal communication, written communication, analytical, researching, observative
Number of Jobs (2016) 23,700
Job Outlook
8.2% growth rate (slightly faster than average growth rate)
Median Salary (2017) $67,870*
On the Job Training None
Top Earners Top earners in the field generally work in the field of finance

(*Source: the BLS)