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Crumbling in compliance: How the middle office became one of the most stressful finance jobs

Compliance professionals in banking are hot property. They can name their price (to an extent) when taking new jobs and pay is spiralling as banks struggle to meet demand for the thousands of extra staff they’re taking on. But compliance professionals are also leaving in ever-greater numbers.

“There’s a lot more pressure than when I first started out,” says one director in compliance advisory who quit last year to start his own entertainment firm. “Expectations are higher, visibility is greater and internal resistance to enforcement adds to the stress.”

Compliance teams were always viewed internally as the ‘police’, but increased scrutiny internally has only added to the pressure of the job. This is being borne out in in two ways – increased churn among compliance professionals and a rise in people seeking psychological counselling for stress and burnout.

Dr Michael Sinclair, managing director of the City Psychology Group, says that rather than front office employees, it’s stressed-out compliance professionals who are seeking guidance and counselling in bigger numbers.

“On the one hand the issues are an increase in workload without adequate resourcing, which obviously adds to the stress of the job,” he says. “But there’s also the issue of meaningfulness – you need to feel valued in your job and if compliance professionals are increasingly being view unfavourably internally, that reduces career longevity and increases burnout.”

Research by headhunters Pure Search suggested that churn among senior compliance professionals is particularly high. In asset management, 48% of UK firms changed their heads of compliance in the past two years, it says.

Our own analysis suggests that investment banks are also losing senior compliance professionals. Most recently, Lionel Smith, head of compliance for EMEA at Credit Suisse, signed up to Royal Bank of Scotland. This follows a series of compliance exits at RBS including Chris Campbell, its general counsel, and Carolina Garces-Monterrubio, head of financial crime, who left for HSBC.

Recruiters suggest that compliance professionals, particularly those on the advisory side of the business, need to be able to handle the “biggest divas in banking” without upsetting front office staff and also communicate complex new rules to the business in a way they can understand.

Despite the pressures, the market for compliance professionals remains as robust as ever, which is contributing to the increased churn. “Firms need to provide compliance professionals with a competitive remuneration and benefits offers, and quickly, or they could risk losing top candidates to the competition,” says Luke Davis, vice president of Robert Half Financial Services. “This also means that joining an organisation already under pressure will undoubtedly cause more pressure to deliver.”

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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