The compliance function continues to play a critical role in ensuring adherence to laws and regulations and upholding ethical conduct in the financial industry. In addition to core sectors such as retail and wholesale banking, wealth and asset management, global markets, etc, with trends in rapidly expanding areas like sustainability and digital financial transactions, all of which require compliance, compliance professionals in Singapore have ample opportunities to advance their careers.
A prominent trend is the increasing popularity of digital financial transactions. Consumers gravitate to these given the convenience, speed and often superior client experience and customer interface of mobile apps for banking and payments. In an environment where financial transactions occur at an accelerated pace, so do related financial frauds and scams, and compliance professionals who are specialised in financial crimes are crucial in preventing and detecting such crimes, then helping to trace and recover assets.
Competent and skilled professionals, along with robust compliance measures, play a pivotal role in balancing growth, innovation, and effective risk management. With that in mind, professionals in this field face unique challenges. They must proactively enhance their skills, stay abreast of evolving regulations and regulatory expectations, navigate the complexities of cross border, transnational regulatory landscape successfully, understand and utilise new technologies available to differentiate the signal from the noise in what warrants further investigation (or not), and make the right ethical call.
A recent interview with compliance veteran Sharon Craggs, Principal Programme Director of Compliance, Risk & Governance at Wealth Management Institute (WMI) and a former Global Head of Compliance, shed rich insights into what it takes to succeed in a compliance career and to remain competitive in Singapore’s fast-paced environment.
A thorough understanding of laws, regulations, industry standards, and regulatory expectations is critical in compliance. Compliance professionals must stay up-to-date with the latest developments and understand the implications for their organisations.
Finance knows no borders, and clients, transactions, and financial institutions are often based in different jurisdictions. The regulatory landscape is constantly changing, making it essential to engage in continuous learning and education. Therefore, compliance officers must keep pace with both the complexity and volume of new regulations that are continually be promulgated, across all the jurisdictions where their institution conducts business. Over time, these increasingly scale as with each new crisis, comes an additional raft of regulations to address this, whereas taking down regulations from the statute book is a much slower process.
Compliance professionals shoulder a tremendous responsibility, according to Sharon. “They are entrusted with ensuring the completion of the entire compliance cycle, which involves risk identification and assessment, managing regulatory change, compliance advisory, implementation of policies and procedures, training and education and monitoring, surveillance and testing, and assessing the effectiveness of compliance outcomes.”
Compliance officers in banks must possess moral courage as they are responsible for ensuring that the bank operates within legal and ethical boundaries, and protect their institutions from reputational and financial harm.
Compliance officers act as a line of defense against financial crime and fraud. It is their duty to investigate unusual transactions, raise uncomfortable questions and be persistent in obtaining answers, then make a decision whether to report suspicious activities to regulatory authorities.
As Sharon points out, “Compliance professionals must be able to make difficult decisions that may not always be popular. Being able to form a point of view and stand up for it is critical in compliance. They must also be prepared to take ownership of their decisions and be accountable for their actions.”
They may encounter situations where they are pressured by management or colleagues to overlook potential violations and may even face retaliation for raising concerns. In these situations, they must be able to speak up and challenge management or other stakeholders when necessary.
“Compliance professionals must be able to communicate complex information in a clear and concise manner to various stakeholders. They must be able to adapt their communication style to different audiences, including regulators, line and senior management, as well as all levels of staff,” says Sharon.
“Compliance officers need to understand the priorities of each stakeholder and manage them adroitly to create the right outcomes. This requires strong relationship-building skills and the ability to manage competing priorities.”
It is also important for compliance professionals to work for organisations whose risk appetite is aligned with their own. This will enable them to carry out their duties with a clear conscience and without cognitive dissonance. It is therefore paramount that those who want to thrive in their compliance careers assess an organisation’s compliance risk appetite and determine if it aligns with their own values and principles.
“Passion for doing and ensuring the right thing is done is a key characteristic of the most successful compliance professionals. Whereas Compliance roles command decent compensation, compliance officers must be motivated by the goal of ensuring that their organisation does the right thing, and this extends beyond technical legal requirements. One person who stands up, can make a difference,” says Sharon.
Continuous learning and education are essential for staying competitive in the compliance field. Keeping up-to-date with the latest developments and trends in the industry requires an ongoing commitment to learning and development. This includes actively attending industry events and proactively upskilling and pursuing relevant certifications to expand their knowledge and skills.
Technology is transforming all sectors of society and finance, and the compliance function is no exception. Compliance professionals must embrace this change. In financial services, understanding and manipulating large volumes of data, and harnessing the power of machine learning for compliance risk management, is a competitive advantage. An example is, where analysts need to determine and prioritise whether a financial transaction is suspicious and warrants further investigation, or is in line with the profile of the customer.
This involves sifting through gigabytes of data and extracting useful information. Compliance officers across the board must have a basic understanding of technology and data analytics to stay competitive in the field.
Sharon, who attained a Master’s degree in Digital Innovation and Financial Technology from Brandeis University Boston, USA, identifies that “being tech-savvy and understanding how to harness technology and utilise data to solve risk management problems is key for compliance professionals to adding value in today’s field”.
Compliance professionals are guardians of integrity and ethics in the financial industry. As they navigate the ever-changing landscape of regulations and technological advancements, they must remain committed to honing their skills, embracing new technologies, and upholding the highest standards of professionalism. In an increasingly interconnected and digital world, their role is more important than ever, ensuring trust, stability, and ethical practices across the industry.
Hone your competencies in sought-after skillsets with Wealth Management Institute’s (WMI) Compliance. Beyond equipping aspiring compliance leaders with technical knowledge, WMI’s programmes provide participants access to an invaluable network of industry heads and fellow peers. Attendees stand to gain from the leading faculty’s wealth of experience and real-world case studies.