How to Become a Compliance Officer

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Updated September 27, 2022

Learn about how to become a compliance officer, including education requirements, income data, and available pathways for advancement in the field.

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Compliance officers ensure that organizations follow the appropriate laws and regulations. They check for compliance and conformity to quality and safety standards, along with license and permit requirements. These professionals also evaluate organizational processes and policies to manage risk and improve efficiency.

The paths and requirements to enter this field depend on the position and industry. Typically, aspiring compliance officers need communication skills and knowledge of their industry's laws and regulations. Here, we explore the common steps taken to become a compliance officer, plus any alternative paths available.

Steps to a Compliance Officer Career

  • Earn a bachelor's degree: Helpful programs may include a four-year bachelor's degree in accounting, business, finance, or healthcare administration. Look for schools offering courses in policies and regulations, risk management, and professional ethics.
  • Gain experience: Internships and entry-level jobs provide practical experience with compliance requirements and processes.
  • Acquire certification: Professional certification is not required in this field, but employers may prefer candidates with credentials. In addition to passing an exam, certifications typically require specialized courses.
  • Maintain certification: Certified professionals must maintain and renew their credentials with continuing education credits. These courses also keep their compliance skills and knowledge up to date.

Advanced Career Path

  • Complete a bachelor's degree
  • Pursue a law degree or a master's degree: Take a three-year law degree or a master's degree. Programs with compliance or risk management specializations may be most effective. Master's programs typically last 1-3 years.
  • Gather compliance experience: Law and master's graduates can acquire more specialized experience. Their advanced education can qualify them to pursue compliance officer positions after graduation.
  • Secure an advanced certification: Certifications, such as those from the Compliance Certification Board, may require a law degree and at least one year of relevant experience. Higher degrees and certifications can lead to more advanced roles with increased pay.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Compliance Officer?

Compliance officer qualifications vary by position and industry. These careers typically require a bachelor's degree, but an associate degree and industry-specific credentials may suffice. A law degree or a master's degree can lead to even more job prospects and higher earnings.

The best majors for compliance officers depend on their chosen field. For example, financial compliance officers may need accounting or finance degrees, while healthcare compliance officers need healthcare administration or management degrees. Compliance or risk management courses and specializations may be particularly useful.

Law and master's programs feature more compliance and risk management specializations than lower-level degrees. With a legal foundation and advanced field expertise, graduate students can delve into regulatory compliance and healthcare and financial litigation.

Undergraduate students can prepare for the profession with courses in finance or healthcare policies and regulations, ethics, and records and documentation.

Required Credentials for Compliance Officers

The compliance officer field does not have mandatory certification or licensure, but employers may require specific credentials. Useful certifications include the certified medical compliance officer (CMCO), certified in healthcare compliance (CHC), certified compliance and ethics professional (CCEP), and certified regulatory and compliance professional (CRCP).

To acquire these certifications, candidates need to complete the required training program, courses, or continuing education credits, plus the examination. Each credential features specific renewal requirements, as well.

Optional Certifications and Degrees

Compliance officers work in many fields, but they typically specialize in highly regulated industries with strict service and conduct laws, including healthcare and finance. Optional compliance certifications demonstrate a professional's expertise in their field and help them stand out.

These credentials also indicate the completion of specialized training and experience. As a result, certifications can lead to roles with more job security and higher earning potential. The admission and completion requirements for compliance certifications vary by credential.

For example, the CMCO from the Practice Management Institute and the CRCP from the FINRA Institute at Georgetown feature no formal prerequisites, though experience is preferred. Conversely, the CHC and CCEP credentials from the Compliance Certification Board (CCB) require at least one year of compliance experience and a completed CCB-accredited certificate program.

These credentials require continuing education credits to maintain and renew every 1-3 years.

Required Experience for a Compliance Officer

In addition to their education, compliance officers may need relevant experience for employment. These professionals can learn accounting laws and regulations and industry-specific compliance requirements in entry-level accounting and auditing, healthcare administration, and financial examiner positions.

Students can acquire experience while in school through internships and practicums, which can help them enter the profession after graduation. Many bachelor's programs feature internships during their latter halves, offering practical training and mentorship. Employers may even hire experienced professionals with lower levels of education, such as an associate degree in accounting or medical office administration.

Should I Become a Compliance Officer?

Compliance officers enjoy many professional benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 21.6% employment growth rate for the occupation from 2020-2030—nearly three times the projected growth rate for all occupations. The profession's $75,810 mean annual wage in May 2021 exceeded the wage for all occupations by more than $17,000.

Compliance plays an integral role in many industries, providing professionals with job flexibility and security. Compliance officers gain expertise in industry regulations, organizational policies, and operational efficiency, which may help them acquire management positions in the future.

However, compliance officers can encounter high levels of stress. These professionals deal with important responsibilities, changing regulations, and conflicts with other departments. They often need to complete continuing education courses and opportunities to stay on top of industry developments.

The Job Hunt

Job-seeking requires time and effort, but aspiring compliance officers have access to many specialized organizations and job boards that can help. The process typically starts in school, where students can leverage internships, mentorship programs, and career services support to their advantage.

Job-seekers can attend career fairs and networking events to learn about new and upcoming opportunities. They can also join professional associations to access conferences and job boards. Public job boards also post compliance officer opportunities.

Compliance and Ethics Job Board: The Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics hosts a job board for corporate compliance and ethics job postings from around the world. Job-seekers can filter by title, state, and country.

Compliance Crossing: Compliance Crossing's job board features compliance job postings from many industries. Candidates can search by job title and location.

Health Care Compliance Association Job Board: The HCCA job board features specialized compliance-related job postings from the healthcare field.

NSCP Jobline: The National Society of Compliance Professionals' job board features postings for compliance positions from across the country.

Read more tips on job searching:

Upward Mobility

Compliance officers typically possess management skills and industry expertise that can help them to move between careers. Positions with overlapping responsibilities, such as internal auditor or accountant, may be accessible. Switching careers might require additional training, but compliance officers should already meet most requirements.

After gaining field experience, compliance officers can pursue more advanced roles. They may have access to financial analyst, financial manager, or health services manager roles. According to the BLS, financial analysts earned a median annual wage of $81,410, financial managers made $131,710, and health services managers took home $101,340.

Each of these positions requires a bachelor's degree, but candidates may need additional credentials. For example, financial analysts and managers may need a master's degree or graduate certificate in finance. Some organizations require certifications, such as certified public accountant or chartered financial analyst credentials.

Questions About Compliance Officer Qualifications

What degree do you need to become a compliance officer?

According to CareerOneStop, a compliance officer typically possesses a bachelor's degree. Their ideal major depends on their industry and may include accounting, finance, business, or healthcare administration.

What experience do you need to be a compliance officer?

Compliance officers have no mandatory experience requirements, but certified professionals typically have completed at least one year of relevant compliance work.

What are the qualifications of a good compliance officer?

Good compliance officers have many different qualifications, but many top professionals hold a bachelor's degree and certification, such as the CMCO, CRCP, CHC, or CCEP.

Is compliance a good career path?

Yes. Careers in compliance offer strong earnings and growth projections. The top 25% of compliance officers made over $96,660 in May 2021, with growth projections at 21% from 2020-2030.

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