The View from the Top: Getting started in compliance – be proactive, push yourself to the front of the queue by targeting companies, hiring managers, build name on social media

The Skinny:

  • If you want to get ahead in an increasingly competitive compliance field – where one job posting can get hundreds of responses – you might have to go small to eventually go big, and use a bit more precision in your resume decisions.  
  • That is, according to Mark Wilson, a recruiter who has been looking for talent in the financial and compliance spaces for more than two decades and is currently Founder & Managing Director at Willow Resourcing Limited.
  • Several compliance veterans agreed, noting that, in some cases, you might have to transition to the frontline of your prospective institution, such as taking a customer service or analyst position, to eventually break into a compliance and control role. While others noted you may not have to always leave your current institution if you want to rise. 

The View from the Top is a new ACFCS series connecting, collaborating and sharing the knowledge of the sector’s brightest minds to light your darkest days. 

By Brian Monroe
bmonroe@acfcs.org 
April 21, 2022

If you want to get ahead in an increasingly competitive compliance field – where one job posting can get hundreds of responses – you might have to go small to eventually go big, and use a bit more precision in your resume decisions.  

That is, according to Mark Wilson, a recruiter who has been looking for talent in the financial and compliance spaces for more than two decades and is currently Founder & Managing Director at Willow Resourcing Limited.

In a recent social media post, he offered some of his insight and guidance on how to stand out in a crowded compliance job market, resulting in dozens of responses from the community.

To see the original social media posting and be part of the conversation, click here.

Several compliance veterans noted that, in some cases, you might have to transition to the frontline of your prospective institution, such as taking a customer service or analyst position, to eventually break into a compliance and control role.

While others noted you may not have to always leave your current institution if you want to rise.

By volunteering your time to job shadow other compliance departments, and gaining their trust and confidence, their bosses may eventually take you on – leading to a dream position without having to enter a jostling and tempestuous hiring process afar.

As for Wilson, he exhorts job seekers to take a more proactive approach.

Rather than waiting for a posting to appear and sending a resume – along with an untold number of others – take a more thoughtful, guided approach and target the company you want, along with the firm’s hiring managers or top financial crime compliance leaders.

As well, connect with them on LinkedIn and be persistent – but not pushy. The goal is to stay on the radar of the company you are trying to break into and be “top of mind” when a spot opens up, without being perceived as pushy, and pushing yourself out of contention.

Here are some of Wilson’s thoughts: 

I’ve recently been approached by a number of people keen to embark upon a career in Compliance but who’ve had no success when applying for junior / entry level roles online. So I thought I’d put my thoughts into a post to reach as wide an audience as possible.

The problem is that such adverts attract a great deal of attention.

One ad that I recently ran for a Junior Compliance Officer generated over 120 applications in 24 hours.

Such high levels of competition reduce your chances immediately.

And even if the advert says, ‘no previous experience required,’ when interest is so strong it’ll almost certainly be candidates with some relevant Compliance experience or perhaps those graduates with exceptional academic records that make the cut.

But what if you’re not a graduate from a Top 10 university? What if you have no Compliance experience as yet? What can you do?

My advice would be to stop being reactive and start being proactive.

Don’t wait for job ads to appear.

As soon as they do, the applications will flood in and your chances plummet with them. You need to get yourself at the front of the queue before the client decides to advertise.

Draw up a list of target employers. Avoid the larger institutions who run graduate schemes. Smaller firms, FinTechs etc. are an ideal target.

They tend to like to keep recruitment costs down and if they can avoid advertising and/or using a recruiter then they will.

Some sectors, such as Payments and E-Money, are particularly useful targets as they tend to need relatively large compliance teams, especially in KYC / AML / Transaction Monitoring roles.

Then use LinkedIn to identify potential hiring managers.

This could be a Compliance Manager, a Financial Crime Manager, the MLRO or the Head of Compliance etc. dependent on the organization.

Talent Acquisition teams are the next best option, but they’ll often oversee multiple functions and so you’re less likely to get their attention.

And then get in touch.

Send them a message via LinkedIn or drop them an email (it’s fairly easy to work out email addresses these days).

Keep it brief but tell them why you’d like to work for them and about your interest in Compliance.

And then stay in touch.

Don’t badger them, but keep yourself on their radar. If they say nothing’s available at the moment, then ask them if it’s OK if you touch base again in a month’s time. And do so.

The aim is to be at the forefront (or thereabouts) of their mind when an entry level requirement arises. So they don’t have to advertise.

One final point. I’m regularly asked about the value of relevant qualifications, such as ICA or ACAMS.

I really believe they add value at entry level. They show commitment to your chosen career.

They also tell potential employers that you’ve got an insight into the field and are therefore less likely to decide it’s not a career for you and leave them after a few months.

Good Luck!

Many readers agreed and offered some of their own guidance from past experiences.

“My advice to anyone entering the compliance world is to start reading and understanding the regulation, the current market trends etc.,” said Saba Munir, a risk and compliance consultant with experience in financial services, fintechs and corporates.

“In this manner you are showing a prospective employer your eagerness to learn, skills can be taught, but not the attitude and drive,” she said in the posting. “Also if you are already in a role, approach your in-house compliance team, volunteer for any projects – it’s additional work but 1) gets you exposure 2) gives you experience.”

“I’d also advise looking at 1st line/quality assurance roles – these often require less experience and gaining skills in these areas can translate well to a second line compliance role in the future,” said Thomas Brady, a compliance officer at Parkingeye, in a comment.

To enter and rise in the fincrime field, you can’t do it alone – you need a community

How to enter and rise in the fincrime compliance field is one of the most pressing questions by members of the community, so much so that ACFCS in recent years started a “Fincrime Compliance Career Tips and Tricks” initiative, garnering more than 60 responses.

More than a dozen responses are currently on the site.

So what have we learned so far in ACFCS’ first broad querying of the community?

To grow in the fincrime compliance field, you need to expand knowledge in more areas, going beyond historic anti-money laundering (AML) and fraud mores and knit together at-times disparate disciplines like corruption and cybersecurity.

How?

Throw down the gauntlet and spearhead compliance convergence at your institution. 

Be a champion who prevents investigations from running in parallel and get your siloed teams to connect, collaborate and speak the same language, foster a deeper understanding of their communal challenges. 

Then go further and push the knowledge and skills across fincrime compliance departments to the frontline and beyond – extend deep and detailed training to your business line and frontline tellers, and even to customers. 

Such a stratagem adds an invisible shield going beyond the 1LOD, or in risk management speak, the “first line of defense.”

But don’t forget about pushing yourself and growing on an individual level.

To compete in the physical and virtual countercrime worlds, you must drill down to more complex and nuanced areas, like crypto and data analytics – crafting a rare, diversified and in-demand skillset that prepares you not just for where the industry has been and where it is now, but where it is going.

Fincrime professionals, including current and former compliance officers, regulators and investigators, also highlighted the need to be part of a community, an acknowledgement that as fincrime fighters around the globe, we still have so much more to do. 

No group, in the public or private sectors, has solved AML or stopped all the money laundering in the world, halting trillions of dollars swirling around the globe and propping up organized criminals, graft-gilt oligarchs, frenetic fraudsters and twisted terrorists. 

In short, it is absolutely critical to network in and out of your institution to see bank countercrime challenges through the eyes of other departments – and gain access to deeper and broader insight from top industry thought leaders — giving you and your institution more ammunition to fight with more fire and fury than ever before.

But how to rise in compliance? Be curious, courageous, charismatic – and empathetic

But once you get the job, it takes so much more to be successful, according to Jon Elvin, the EVP of Strategy and Corporate Impact at, ACFCS, and a top thought leader holding senior compliance positions for nearly three decades.

To read a full story about what like is like on the compliance frontlines, click here.

Here are some of his thoughts on the keys to conquering compliance:

One of the most oft-asked questions that I get is: What does it take to be a successful fincrime compliance leader?

There is no easy answer.

It starts with a deep genuine care and respect for the accountabilities of your role and overall mission.

Here are some additional areas vital for success: The mind of a scientist, willigness to embrace data analytics, mathematician and military tactician.

You need to be creative, curious, courageous – and charismatic.

You need to be a zealot and calming force for your direct fincrime compliance team, a diplomat with the business and front-line executives and a politician and lobbyist with the C-suite and board as necessary.  

Even so, you must be relentlessly resourceful and creative.

To achieve effectiveness, you must recognize that it takes component pieces across the ecosystem of execution and your fellow committed colleagues, not just a well written check the box program an attorney helped write.

It must come alive naturally and cannot be forced.

Further, success requires a synthesis of technology and human tactics, an amalgam of the speed and efficiency of powerful, AI-fueled systems and the knowledge, skills and experience of informed and empowered analysts and investigators to build strong programs and conquer compliance.

You need to know how to defend your position and decisions with logic, reasoning and written and verbal precision.

But you also need to be able to get your ego out of the way to see things from new vantage points – and to better understand internal fincrime foils from their perspective, knowing full well the frontline and the business line are the first line of defense.

You need to go beyond fearing regulators and bridge the gap between rules and results, pairing passion and compassion to realize that behind the hundreds of specified unlawful activities generating the illicit finance that needs laundering are very real and very vulnerable victims.