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How to get a job in compliance with little or no experience

It’s rather odd to have an industry that’s purging talent nearly across the board at mid and senior-levels while desperately hiring in one particular business area. But that’s essentially what’s happening on Wall Street. Banks are cutting costs and slicing salaries virtually everywhere. Just not in compliance.

Banks facing mountains of litigation and red tape from new regulations are thirsty for compliance staffers at all levels, and many are paying top dollar for the best candidates.

Deutsche Bank recently announced a plan to hire 500 compliance employees, BNP needs 475 extra compliance people and Standard Chartered has upped its compliance staff headcount by 30%. Then there is JPMorgan, which wants 13,000 more people working in controls, with a mix of fresh hires and internal transfers. They’re reported paying contractors north of $100 an hour for their services.

Clearly, the market has never been better for experienced compliance personnel. But what if your resume is missing that all-important “experience” aspect?

Touch the corners

The short answer is: it's not easy. Compliance is tough to break into if you don’t have the background, says Michael Lane, managing director of Compliance Search Group. Banks tend to want to hire big-name talent with direct experience. There are only so many veteran people to poach, though, so opportunities are starting to arrive for those with experience that touches compliance.

The best way to find a job in compliance is through a legal or operations track, says Anne Crowley, managing director at Jay Gaines and Company. Lawyers who work at banks, particularly those who work closely with general counsel, are beginning to earn more roles in compliance, added Neil Owen, global practice director of financial services recruitment for Robert Half. Even past experience as a paralegal can be beneficial, said Suzanne Havranek, fulfillment manager at Wall Street Services.

If you don’t have your JD, working in back-office operations – particularly in reconciliations – is a good starting point, said Crowley. “Banks want people who have been in the trenches, who understand the fault lines,” she said.

A great route for people with little experience is by working with Anti-Money Laundering (AML), Know Your Customer (KYC) and due diligence controls, experts say. Banks often hire for these roles on a temporary basis, said Owen, giving prospective compliance employees an opportunity for exposure.

“There is absolutely an opportunity to transfer those skills into compliance,” Owen said. Client on-boarding is another way to gain exposure to compliance issues, says Havranek.

Finally, go work at a regulator. Banks often pull people from FINRA, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of Currency (OCC), not to mention state agencies.


Earning a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) credential will go a long way to opening doors. For senior-level roles, passing the Series 24 Exam administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is a must. The American Banker Association runs a week-long compliance school in the autumn that is widely recognized.

Depending upon the specialization, firms like to see candidates with their CFA, MBA or Series 6 and 7. Audit and accounting training are big pluses as well.

Soft skills

Finding work in compliance isn’t just about experience and education, although that’s the minimum price of entry. Candidates need have a backbone to find work and be successful.

“You don’t need to be a jerk, but you need to be innately inquisitive,” said Crowley. “You often need to stand up to senior people. You need to be willing to say ‘show me,’ not ‘tell me.’”

That said, you must also be approachable. “Employees should want to come to you with anything,” Crowley said. But above all else, you must be ethical and honest, according to Owen.


“Compliance is so much more attractive than it was five to six years ago,” Owen said. With the deluge of problems banks have had, the attitude toward compliance officers has changed dramatically. “You’re not looked at as a cop,” Lane said. “You’re an integral part of the business now.”

Several chief compliance officers have recently been named to banks’ executive committees - something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.

There is real opportunity for career progression,” Owen said.


Compliance departments within banks are structured much differently than they were years ago. As the units have gotten bigger, teams and individuals are beginning to be siloed into very specific roles, like covering one new regulation, according to George Kennedy, head of recruitment at Maywater Limited, a London-based international compliance consultancy and compliance recruitment firm.

Being a specialist helps with pay, but siloed teams also offer limited exposure and the work can turn dull.

Then there is the workload, says Kennedy. Despite the hiring, banks remain understaffed (hence the rising pay). The hours are longer and the stress associated with the job is on the rise, he says. The threat of having a blowup on your watch is ever-present.

In our recent informal survey, compliance and risk ranked as the third most stressful area in the industry, behind only investment banking and trading.


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AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • in
    interested candidate
    28 March 2018

    I am very interested in compliance roles and desperate to get into it and have been for some time. Will be happy to work part time, full time contract or permanent - whatever is available. Is anyone looking for someone who is smart, energetic and a fast learner; with great attention to details; someone who is not afraid of hard work and getting into the trenches? Please reach out! I am available immediately. Thanks.

  • Ob
    2 October 2014

    I managed to break into Dodd-Frank compliance through a contract role in RRP. There is an immense shortage of people with RRP experience. Even several months after I broke in, there are less than 300 Linkedin profiles that come up in NYC for that skillset.

    I had a unique profile with experience in trading operations, product control, and corporate strategy outside of banking, so that helped. Networking through alumni and dumb luck helped too.

  • Du
    6 May 2013

    There aren't enough compliance people, what will we do!?!

    Call a meeting!!!


    Uh...well since these people are obviously born and not made, there is a finite pool!

    Supply is fixed and limited!

    Bid up the Market!

    Wait a second, this isn't rocket science, can't we just show people how to do it if they're smart?

    Who is this person!?

    You know nothing, that would be stupid!

    Besides, showing people stuff is hard and I don't want to use my brain.

    Plus it's not my money!


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