Curiosity is not often seen as an attractive trait—it killed the cat, after all. But for compliance professionals, it is a key skill we need to improve both personally and professionally in order to protect our firms from risk.


The International Compliance Association (ICA) is a professional membership and awarding body. ICA is the leading global provider of professional, certificated qualifications in anti-money laundering; governance, risk, and compliance; and financial crime prevention. ICA members are recognized globally for their commitment to best compliance practice and an enhanced professional reputation. To find out more, visit the ICA website.

Why is it important for a compliance professional to foster curiosity? Quite simply, we don’t know quite where the world is heading. Rapid developments in technology have made concepts that at one time seemed like science fiction now part of our everyday reality.

Transaction monitoring in trade finance is a great example. It was historically thought of as all but impossible to implement meaningful transaction monitoring systems for trade finance transactions. The paper-based nature of the documents alongside the difficulties in determining what parameters should be deemed as unusual meant the bulk of the responsibility to identify suspicious activity rested with the individual processers.

But developments in technology have brought change. A number of different technology suppliers are marketing solutions that utilize big data, machine learning, or artificial intelligence to help combat trade-based money laundering.

These developments cannot operate in a silo. It takes a lot of hard work in a number of areas within an organization to bring change to life. If compliance professionals stay in a fixed mindset, thinking “this is how something is currently done and anything else isn’t really possible,” innovation won’t happen.

If you have worked in compliance long enough, you will likely remember the unfair reputation the profession had of being a “preventer of business.” The traditional perception of the compliance officer was the gatekeeper of regulatory rules. The business would approach the compliance team with ideas for new business or products, and the compliance team would explain the applicable rules and (mostly) outline how the latest idea wasn’t possible.

This archaic view of compliance is firmly in the past. An effective compliance professional today needs to be both a generalist and a specialist. Innovation is the future. Being curious can allow us to adapt to market conditions better, explore alternatives, and be open to new ideas.

However, knowing where to start to expand your knowledge can be difficult. A simple way to begin is to follow your curiosity:

  • Ask more questions.
  • Encourage people in your team to ask why and challenge the current way of thinking.
  • Be interested in what other people in your business are doing.
  • Attend a workshop or read a book on a topic that you are curious about.
  • Explore new concepts that are outside of the compliance world and consider how they can be linked to your daily role.

Albert Einstein is often attributed as saying, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Let’s embrace that mindset and follow our curiosity—who knows where it could take us?

The International Compliance Association is a sister company to Compliance Week. Both organizations are under the umbrella of Wilmington plc.