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Should compliance training be humanities- or business-based?

Tom Fox | June 4, 2017

Like many compliance practitioners, The Man From FCPA came to the profession from the legal route: law school, private practice, then an in-house legal career. Before I got to law school, I had an undergraduate degree in history, about a liberal arts education as one could sustain. My father was a university professor in engineering so he had the quantitative side, which my sister inherited and I most decidedly did not. I lay all of this out in some detail to introduce the question of whether a compliance professional benefits more from a humanities-based education or a business school-based education.

Compliance is finally recognized as a business process. This has one school of thought around training to be a compliance professional to advocate a greater quantitative ground, even one based on STEM disciplines, which consist of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This approach is largely quantitative, focusing on big data and data analytics to determine steps forward. Moreover, with such specific business focused training, students coming out of colleges would be better poised to land jobs in the compliance field and immediately bring an impact to their employers.

The other side of the fence advocates for a more humanities-based approach, as it argues compliance is more than simple number crunching, as context and meaning should predominate. Certainly, the cultural norms across the globe for compliance programs must point to this approach. This is because employee programs are always based on different cultural norms, even within one multinational organization. Simply consider the response to any request for whistleblowing in countries as disparate as the U.S., France, and China. In each of those countries, the historical context goes a long way to explain why anonymous reporting is viewed so differently in each country.

There is usually a cultural bias by tech and quantitative types in any organization. Yet, there are many situations where the decision cannot simply be reduced to numbers. The ability to bring independent thought and reason to those situations requires the type of training the humanities continues to deliver.