Compliance roles can be isolating. While compliance activities contribute to the success of an organization, in some firms, they are performed by a small team or single individual.


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.

Depending on the business’ culture and people involved, there can be tensions or even conflict between the aspirations of some functions that might view governance as a cost and burden. This perspective calls for resilience among compliance professionals, who need influencing and negotiation skills to translate requirements and to collaborate to explore optimum solutions.

Dealing with the challenges

In compliance, no two days are the same. This variety is part of the role’s appeal. Occasionally, though, there are higher-profile events (e.g., enforcement actions, disciplinary hearings, and high-risk clients) that force the compliance professional center stage. These are potentially stressful experiences, leading to what one might call a “bad day at the office.”

Bad days differ for everyone, but there are steps we can take to make them less likely or easier to cope with when they arise.

We all experience fluctuations in mood and states of mental well-being. This situation is normal. Individual circumstances, sleep, diet, exercise, levels of hydration, coping mechanisms, and the availability of support networks all play significant roles.

But organizational culture has a role to play, too. The following six tips are intended to help the professional and perhaps even the business as a whole. While they might seem obvious, they serve as a useful reminder.

1. State of mind

We are more likely to perform at our best when in good physical and mental health. It is important to ensure we sleep well and maintain a good diet and exercise. These will help with clarity and agility of thought for decision-making and resilience.

2. Preparation

While visits from regulators might be unannounced, often they are signaled in advance. Similarly, hearings and meetings are usually scheduled. This notice allows for preparation of information and the chance to explore material with relevant stakeholders.

In some situations with regulators, the compliance professional will be the (subject matter) expert and more familiar with processes and requirements. A key skill is the ability to speak the language of the regulator and business leaders. Knowing management systems and business processes and being proactive in compiling information, won’t go unnoticed.

3. Integrity

Acting with integrity is critical for the compliance professional. It is vital to remain calm under pressure and avoid emotional responses. Everyone should always be treated with respect. It is likely many conversations will be recorded in one format or another and might be used as evidence at a later date. Corporate values should live through these activities. Interactions with regulators and potential clients, for instance, are still a reflection of the brand and reputation.

4. Believe in yourself

Each of these scenarios can potentially bring about serious consequences for the business as a whole. Enforcement action could result in fines, prosecution, and reputation damage, while a failure to take on a high-risk client could harm the balance sheet.

These are relatively rare events, so it might be the first time a professional is in this position. Yet, they can be instrumental in presenting the business to the regulator, articulating a clear understanding of requirements and a plan for action. It’s an opportunity to exude confidence and assurance—to inspire credibility in the eyes of the regulator.

Similarly, if the professional cannot endorse the proposed onboarding of a high-risk client, it is imperative to clearly show the business the options and consequences to inform decision-making. There might be times when the professional has reason to doubt themselves, and it is important to draw on experience and professional development to cultivate self-belief.

5. Clear and concise communication

Enforcement, disciplinaries, and client approvals can include reference to language and information that is unfamiliar to the stakeholders involved. There is also potential for jeopardy, which can make even the most confident executives feel vulnerable. Compliance professionals need to put themselves in the shoes of each of the stakeholder groups. For each of the internal stakeholders, they need to tailor language and simplify roles and requirements.

6. Reflect and learn

We can grow and learn through our experiences. This process needs to be a conscious activity, to leverage value and to help shape the future success of ourselves and others. Irrespective of the event outcomes, it is beneficial to reflect on the circumstances, the approaches used, and their relative effectiveness.

Seeking feedback from other stakeholders will also be valuable. Collectively, these might also lead to the compliance team and others refining processes to make them more agile and adaptable.

At an individual level, it could highlight areas for development. These include training in dealing with difficult situations or resolving conflict, spending time in other parts of the business to understand their challenges or opportunities for support from a mentor.

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

Jonathan Dempsey, MBA, is the director of Red Laces, a management consultancy unraveling the mystery and requirements of risk, safety, and compliance to empower business leaders toward success. Jonathan is a member of the ICA Panel, a body of leading industry thought leaders and subject matter experts who work in partnership with the ICA to support the compliance community.