Case Study: Compliance Manager - Julie

What do you do?

I am the compliance manager for Promise Finance Ltd in Wolverhampton. Briefly, my job is to make sure that the business conducts itself in accordance with the regulations governing the financial services industry. Our regulator is the Financial Conduct Authority; we have to be registered with them and obtain their approval to conduct our business.

But there are a lot of other rules that govern our behaviour, like the Consumer Credit and Data Protection Acts. I have to keep up with developments and changes in these regulations.

I not only need to have an understanding of these regulations, but I need to be able to apply them in a practical manner so that the business continues to make money whilst maintaining the highest level of professional conduct.

So I'm heavily involved in the firm's procedures, systems and controls, from marketing literature through to the sales process and the aftercare. Luckily, the directors here at Promise are fully committed to maintaining high standards. I have to check everything before it goes out, including direct mailing and website material.

Compliance also incorporates the training and competency requirements. Basically that means determining the skill and knowledge requirements for each job within the business and making sure that the systems are in place so that employees fill those needs, and to arrange training and development where needed. We monitor staff training until the point where people are deemed to be competent for the role, and we continue to check after that to make sure they're keeping up to speed or if they need extra training.

The job I'm doing at the moment is quite a senior position in the compliance field. Some compliance managers will be involved in the design of products, but because Promise sells the products of others, I don't get involved in this. But I can get involved in the selection of products we sell, though.

What is your background?

I left school after A levels and did a two-year business studies course. I've since completed the Financial Planning Certificate [now called the Certificate in Financial Planning] and Advanced Financial Planning Certificate [now the Diploma in Financial Planning], the mortgage advice papers (CeMAP) and I've also done a degree. It's becoming more and more necessary to have professional qualifications and it would be difficult to get to where I am now without a degree.

Before getting into compliance, I spent a long time working for companies that ran occupational pension schemes and associated benefit arrangements. At various times, I provided consultancy advice and managed the day-to-day administration of the schemes. Skills I picked up here were organisational and regulatory; I also needed to be able to read and understand trust deeds and rules. This was useful when I came to deal with the multitude of rules and regulations surrounding the industry as a whole.

I had been working for a large firm of management consultants specialising in regulatory compliance but that meant working away from home a lot. It meant that I got to be involved in lots of different firms so I got a good broad understanding of the different methods used to achieve the same end.

But I wanted to know where my desk was going to be every day and to be involved with the same group of people. Once I'd decided that I wanted to make a change, I spent a couple of months thinking about what I wanted to do and how best I could use the skills and knowledge that I had gained over the years.

It helped that I'd seen at first hand a lot of in-house compliance jobs so I knew what would be needed and expected. Then I started looking for something to fit the bill and this job pretty much ticked all the boxes.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

You have to integrate with pretty much all of the departments in the firm so it's important to be able to get on with people. You also need to be able to present a clear argument and to negotiate and communicate well at all levels, often being the liaison point between different parts of the business.

You need to have an analytical mind and the ability to trawl through acts of parliament and regulatory guidance and apply what you learn to the business in a practical manner. There are a lot of strict 'thou shall or shall not' rules, but there is also a lot of room for interpretation and flexibility to get the best results for all concerned.

It's important to understand working methods, and you need to be able to anticipate weaknesses in any system in order to reduce the occurrence of mistakes and to mitigate [ease] the damage if they happen.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

Well, project work springs to mind. A lot of what I do involves project work, sometimes providing technical back-up and sometimes planning and organising the resources to design and implement the project. There is also an element of training involved. These are the types of management skill that can be transferable.

There is a certain amount of research involved in the job and that can be a full-time job on its own.

What changes will there be in the future?

Regulation will continue to change so there will always be the need to move with the times and adapt. As products and consumer needs change, so what we do to fulfil those needs will also change.

Compliance has grown in importance over the last few years and the demand for people to convert the rule book into business strategy will increase.

Also, access to information is the main driver of change and there will be a growing demand for online services. Distance marketing is a whole area of compliance in itself.

Estate agents may become regulated in the future and firms offering other types of loans too, so there will be more areas of compliance needed.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

The most difficult thing is keeping abreast of new developments and persuading the workforce that compliance is another name for good business practice and not a burden.

Keeping abreast of new developments is always difficult because you're quite often swamped with the things that you have to do that are happening now, and trying to anticipate what might be happening in a couple of weeks' time is very difficult to slot into your priorities but it's critical for this job.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

A few years ago, compliance seemed to be based only in the south of the country but, more and more, there is a demand for experts all over the country. If I'd been looking for this job 18 months ago, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as easy as it is now.

Compliance jobs used to be with the big companies in their head offices somewhere near London. Whereas now, a lot of companies have a need for compliance people all over the country.

What do you like about your job?

I like interacting with other departments and problem solving. Here at Promise we are a fairly young company and the people are all dynamic, committed to their work and keen to make the business successful. The directors recognise the importance of compliance and I get a lot of support from them.

The firm sponsors its own charity, Promise Dreams, which provides equipment and special occasions for very sick and terminally ill children. This is something we feel belongs to us all and helps to promote the team spirit.

What do you dislike about your job?

I can honestly say that there's nothing I really dislike about my job. At this level, though, there is a lot more variety in tasks. At earlier stages in the career, there is a lot more checking of case work and some people might not enjoy that so much.

What are your ambitions?

This is a growing company and to a large degree its success will influence how my career progresses. The next step would be to director level. In the long run, I expect to become involved in the legal aspects of running a business, so there are probably more exams waiting for me in the future!

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Having a degree is a good start, as is getting into a company that values compliance. As I said earlier, professional exams will become more and more important so you have to be prepared to do these.

There's a financial services degree you can do, which is obviously a very useful one. But beyond that, any degree where you have to sift through information and be logical in your approach will help you.

You're more likely to get a wide variety of experience if you work in a smaller firm because they'll expect you to do a bit of everything, whereas in a larger firm you might get stuck in a corner with one particular aspect. Big companies do have their advantages; for example, they have a lot more resources for staff training, but you can get lost in the group that way.

It's also possible, and often useful, to transfer skills from other jobs within the industry; practical experience is always a useful foundation. Other members of the department here have come from the mortgage part of the business and they have been involved in setting up deals in the past; so they understand the process from both sides of the fence now.

A day in the life

7:30 am - 8:30 am

I usually try to start early, before other people in my department, although it's not a requirement.

8:30 am - 9:30 am

Try to fence off time for research. This could be checking up on, and commenting on, new developments or finding out something specifically requested by the business. Sign off all documentation before it is used.

9:30 am - 1:00 pm

Meet with heads of department and do some project work.

1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

In theory, I have one hour for lunch. In practice, I often eat at my desk and continue working.

2:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Attend a regulatory briefing meeting or seminar run by the Financial Conduct Authority or the Compliance Institute [now merged with the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment].

I sometimes take work home or come in at the weekend.

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