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Eames Insights: Advice from top compliance professionals on how to progress your career

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 year ago
  • Author:by Vincent Yao

Taking the next step in your career can involve a number of decisions, and understanding what development you may need to progress is key. Carving out a career in compliance is an exciting prospect with plenty of opportunity for growth to build a successful compliance career. 

I spoke to five senior compliance leaders within financial services across Singapore, who shared their thoughts on the key traits to develop their career and if it is better to be a specialist or generalist as one progresses into a senior capacity.

Key traits to develop your career
  • An understanding of the business that you are supporting is key. You should be able to communicate well with your stakeholders, understand their needs and really speak their language.  Trust really underscores what we do, your stakeholders must trust you to give good advice. - Benjamin Ma, Managing Director, Graticule Asset Management Asia

  • Traits like keenness to learn, willingness to operate outside comfort zones and taking on bigger tasks without fear of failure will help all professionals have a better chance of succeeding in their careers.- Managing Director, Group Compliance, Regional Bank

  • In addition to having relevant experience, the ability to manage stakeholders (internal and external), articulate and present risks and solutions in a simple manner is important. Strategic thinking, as well as the ability to consider risks (not just compliance risks) holistically, is also important. - Regional Financial Crime Director, Anti-Financial Crime certification organisation

  • In my opinion, the key traits to have would be focus, longevity, strategic mindset, coupled with the ability to connect well with the business. Being focused over time, ensures that you achieve a certain degree of specialisation in order to be able to support the business, as well as gain relevant domain knowledge and credibility. This gives the business confidence knowing that they have a safe pair of hands to help them navigate the dynamic and challenging regulatory environment.  A strategic mindset is a must, as well, to be able to see a couple of steps ahead of the business, in order to help them anticipate the regulatory issues and offer the appropriate solutions. - Regional Compliance Director, International banking and financial services company

  • Any professional must have relevant technical expertise, and practical hands-on experience, at a bare minimum, to demonstrate competence. In order to be the trusted business partner to the top management and have a seat at the table, the professional must be able to actively listen and respond to the request for advice, with a win-win outcome mindset and clear solution-oriented counsel. - Senior Legal & Compliance Director, International Fintech organisation

Is it better to be a specialist or a generalist as you progress into a senior capacity?
  • I am going to borrow a phrase from my time in the public service, “helicopter quality”.  I think we always need our own specialty areas, and building a team is not about hiring junior people but complementing the skillsets that the existing team has. But that being said, it is essential for a young compliance professional who is looking to move to a more senior capacity to start in one particular area, but also gain exposure to other aspects of the compliance function. This ability to develop broad, generalist skills is definitely harder today in larger firms where there are huge teams performing specific sub-functions. - Benjamin Ma, Managing Director, Graticule Asset Management Asia

  • It depends on each individual’s ambition and aspirations, really. Some prefer to be a specialist and so they can remain in roles that allow them to provide superior technical knowledge, however, there may be a limit to how far they can progress in their ranks. Those that are open to and actively take on managerial responsibilities and leadership roles will see them moving into relatively more senior roles, including becoming managers of senior subject matter specialists. - Managing Director, Group Compliance, Regional Bank

  • That depends on the function. Certain functions require specialist skills e.g. investigation, but others may require more broad base experiences. What is important is the ability to understand and operate in the wider arena as one progresses into a senior capacity. - Regional Financial Crime Director, Anti-Financial Crime certification organisation

  • It really depends, as there are always benefits to either option, albeit for different stages of a Compliance career. Being a generalist allows one to be exposed to, and conversant with a variety of business types and models, and this would be great for someone starting out in Compliance. This would allow one to understand, over time, where their strengths and preferences lie. Over time, as one becomes senior in their role, being a specialist allows you to gain a deeper domain knowledge, which is essential to becoming an integral partner to the business. Once you have decided which compliance career/sector path to take (e.g. Buy-side, Sell-side, Fintech, Retail, Insurance, Financial Crime Compliance, etc.) make it your area of focus and commit to it. That said, in an ever-changing environment, even for senior-level specialists, one should always retain some degree of generalisation, so that you are able to quickly adapt or pivot, and this will allow you to remain structurally relevant in the wider Compliance market. - Regional Compliance Director, International Banking and Financial Services Company

  • It depends on the business fit. Being the right talent that fits the company’s compliance needs at the time of hiring is the best. Senior capacity varies a lot in definition, as many Chief Compliance Officers, in title, in start-up companies, may be mid-level Compliance Officers in more established global companies. In general, start-up stage companies need experienced generalists to shape the Compliance function and be comfortable as sole contributor. Specialists can grow to leadership roles in companies that have the scale of products and countries that can support them. - Senior Legal & Compliance Director, International Fintech organisation.

Should you wish to speak further on any of these topics or have a confidential chat about your next career move or business objectives, please don't hesitate to contact me at: