It is often said the only constant in life is change, but in the 21st century change itself is evolving, becoming quicker and less predictable.


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Technological advances that seemed like science fiction only 20 years ago have become staples of modern life. There are employees entering the workforce now that don’t know life before smartphones—colleagues who weren’t born before the advent of the Web.

How do we address and understand such changes? One attempt is the acronym VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Coined in the U.S. military, it has been adopted by businesses as a response to the world’s increasing unpredictability.

Taken on their own, these nouns arouse feelings of unease. Taken together, they can amount to anxiety. In effect, they sum up the new terrain in which we today find ourselves, the gnawing feeling of not knowing what’s around the corner. What lies ahead in 20 years’ time? What about the next 10, or even five?

The fertile ground of the Internet provides a veritable forest of competing predictions, but the simple truth is no one knows for sure what lies in store. We can only focus on what we do know: The fast pace of change will continue, and technology will be the center of that change.

Technology: Opportunity and risk

With this in mind, let’s focus on technology, for it is this in particular that is raising questions around the world for its potential impact on jobs.

Earlier in 2019, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore (IBF) commissioned a study on how both automation and data analytics are likely to transform or augment jobs in the financial sector of Singapore. Of the 121 jobs studied, they found all would be affected in some way, with individuals having more responsibility for tasks involving judgment and creativity.

Associate director of the ICA David Robson recently chaired a panel at Compliance Week’s European conference on “The Compliance Officer of the Future,” and one of the discussions from this was the focus on technology—both as an opportunity and as a risk.

The potential for technology to change or even replace some roles within the workplace—a topic addressed previously on ICA Insight—is a recurring point of discussion. But artificial intelligence and robotics are just two developments that have the potential to change our future landscape; other technologies, such as blockchain and virtual currencies, have also been flagged as having the potential for disruption.

While it’s easy to focus on the disruptions, it’s worth remembering there are abundant opportunities opening up too, as evidenced by the power of technology to help combat serious crime, such as human trafficking.

Skills to prepare for the future

There may be many aspects of the future outside our influence, but something we can control is our ability to invest in our knowledge and skills to better prepare us for the opportunities and challenges we may be presented with.

There are six key areas to consider:

  • Depth and breadth: The T-shaped compliance professional is a topic currently being discussed within the ICA community. By having an area of specialism, you bring a great depth of knowledge and experience to a situation. A generalist, on the other hand, has knowledge over a wide breadth of areas. Both have their strengths, but we are increasingly seeing a combination of the two: Compliance professionals with a broad understanding of a variety of issues while still having deeper knowledge in a key area. This approach allows connections to be made by drawing on different information and also enables varied functions across a business to communicate better, as they understand each other’s language.
  • Adaptability: Being able to respond to an event or new piece of information and taking your existing knowledge and applying it to the current, potentially unexpected situation is key when facing challenges that haven’t been experienced previously. Being open to change, including how and the way in which you work and who you work with, will be important in the future.
  • Embracing life-long learning: Set aside time for deliberate learning, whether it be reading a book, conducting research on a new topic, or even undertaking a professional qualification. We are increasingly working within a knowledge economy, built around ideas and intellectual capital. Time spent learning needs to be considered as investment. Closely related to developing a real interest in learning is fostering your own sense of curiosity. Explore new ideas and ask questions. Think outside the box: Consider concepts outside the compliance world and how they could be linked.
  • Critical thinking: Being able to consider new ideas or unexpected events and make sense of new information is vital in a world defined by complexity and volatility. While computers are able to analyze huge chunks of information, there are still skills that can’t be engineered. These can be considered higher-level cognitive skills. The Institute for the Future (IFTF) calls this “sense making” and highlights that while data-mining tools can find connections, “it takes a human being to assemble data and correlations and then meaningfully translate them into rich stories that garner attention.”
  • Interpersonal skills: Collaboration and working effectively in teams will continue to be an important part of the compliance officer’s role. Being able to communicate effectively to C-suite and junior employees alike is a fundamental part. Looking at this from a different angle, how people interact with each other—and wider human behavior—is critical when considering conduct risk. The U.K.’s conduct regulator has looked at creating an environment of psychological safety for a compliance culture and behavioral bias in consumers when selecting products.
  • Managing your cognitive load: Cognitive load is like RAM in a computer: It’s our working memory. The noise from the outside world can be constant; add this to the estimate of upwards of 50,000 thoughts our own minds generate in any given day, and the potential to feel overwhelmed is very real. Being able to focus on a task and manage day-to-day stressors is vital for well-being and performance. Learning how to manage the input of information and filter out what is most relevant to us is paramount to success.

As we come to the close of a decade and look forward to the 2020s, we must consider what we need in order to succeed. The best way for compliance professionals to confront the challenges the future will present is to become adaptable lifelong learners with a broad depth of understanding. These twin concepts will help the future become something we participate in, rather than something imposed upon us.

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