Compliance Specialist: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for compliance specialists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, salary and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Accounting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Compliance Specialist Do?

Compliance specialists, also known as compliance officers, monitor the policies and practices of businesses and organizations to make sure they conform to laws and regulations, as well as to the contracts they have with clients. Typically, compliance officers specialize in a particular type of investigation. For instance, as an environmental compliance inspector, you would make sure that an organization is following laws related to pollution and sustainability. As an Equal Opportunity officer, you would make sure that the contracting and hiring practices of an organization do not discriminate against protected classes.

Take a look at the table below to explore the general requirements for a career as a compliance specialist.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree, master's degree recommended
Education Field of Study Accounting; business administration (for master's degree)
Key Responsibilities Interpret laws and policies, perform inspections and audits, evaluate corporate policy and recommend improvements, investigate and analyze data for compliance with affirmative action requirements
Certification Voluntary certification available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3%*
Average Salary (2015) $69,180*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Statistics

What Is a Compliance Specialist?

A compliance specialist ensures the integrity and credibility of internal and external business and organizational affairs. Essential skills you'll need include strong interpersonal communication skills, an understanding of business law and ethics, plus the ability to address and handle confidential issues.

According to the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE), a compliance specialist may work in six different areas for any company or organization as a regulator of policies and procedures (www.corporatecompliance.org). For instance, you may work as an auditor in an internal reporting system or in a standards and practices setting to enforce laws and regulations. In other areas, compliance specialists work in risk assessment or as investigative researchers who might also train and educate others

What Are My Job Duties?

You may enter this field with accounting skills, but your job duties generally involve working in legal and business matters. Duties might include reading and interpreting laws and policies, or performing inspections and audits to ensure conformity of rules and regulations. You may evaluate corporate policy and make recommendations for improvement.

In the federal government, where many compliance specialist jobs are found, you may use your research and analytical skills to investigate and analyze data for affirmative action compliance or to enforce laws against discrimination. Overall, your job is to ensure a company is maintaining legal and ethical business practices.

What Education Do I Need?

To work as a compliance specialist, you'll typically need a bachelor's degree in accounting. This degree program gives you the entry-level skills for employment, as well as allows you to enter graduate programs in accounting, business or law. A master's degree in business administration (MBA) is the most common graduate program that provides you a foundation in business methods and practices.

Most MBA programs offer concentrations in legal issues and ethics. You may also opt for a joint program in law and business. Generally, this combined degree focuses on the coordination of legal and business principles and practices that improve your policy making skills. Courses may include professional responsibility and leadership ethics. A professional certification exam is also offered by the SCCE if you're seeking continuing education credits and concentrated experience in the field. Certification is not always required for a compliance specialist position.

What Will I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual mean wage of a compliance officer in May 2015 was $69,180 (www.bls.gov). Most of these jobs are found with the federal government, where the mean annual salary in the same period was $76,580.

California had the largest number of compliance specialists jobs, with a mean annual salary of $77,290 in May 2015, the BLS noted. The top-paying industries in this field are securities and commodity exchanges, other financial investment activities and computer equipment manufacturing. A compliance specialist in the financial investments industry earned a mean annual salary of $102,620 in May 2015. The BLS also projected a slower than average growth rate for this position between 2014 and 2024.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are looking for a job related to organizational investigations, you could consider becoming an occupational health and safety specialist. Your job would be to evaluate workplaces to ensure that they are free of hazards that could threaten the health and safety of employees, consumers or the environment. These specialists need at least a bachelor's degree. Alternatively, if you are looking for a finance-related career, you could consider becoming a personal financial advisor. In this job, you would evaluate the financial situations of individual clients and offer advice to help them make decisions about investments, savings and taxes. The minimum educational requirement is a bachelor's degree, but your job prospects may improve with a master's degree.

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