‘No time to breathe’: Compliance professionals facing burnout

compliance Kaizen Recruitment Assured Support Sean Graham regulation

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Two experts have shed light on the burnout risk of compliance professionals working in financial services due to higher workloads and the ever-changing regulation.

Earlier this year, recruitment manager Robert Half identified compliance officers and managers as the most in-demand roles in the financial services sector this year, particularly due to increased regulatory activity.

While demand for compliance support climbs higher, the shallow pool of risk and compliance talent has translated to supply challenges and placed heavy pressure on existing staff.

Amanda Chisholm, director of legal, risk and compliance at Kaizen Recruitment, spoke with Money Management on how these external challenges are driving higher workloads for compliance professionals.

“There’s no end; regulatory change just keeps coming. What I’m finding is teams are not upping their resourcing and bringing in consultants or temporary contract workers to alleviate some of that stress. You almost don’t have time to breathe before the next thing comes up, so people are just burnt out,” she described.

Chisholm especially observed this within executive roles, including compliance heads and general managers, who are stretched too thin with all-encompassing changes to financial regulation.

Sean Graham, managing director at advice compliance consultancy Assured Support, noted that compliance staff reaching burnout has been a long-term issue, yet firms are not providing enough support in response to ease the workload.

“One of the things about financial services regulation is that it’s been constant. Financial planners complain about it, for obvious reasons, but the people who are left having to do the heavy lifting of trying to interpret ambiguity and satisfy uncertain regulatory expectations are the compliance people,” he told Money Management.

For example, additional resourcing for existing compliance staff has remained the same due to the costs associated, he noted, even when advice firms are becoming more profitable than ever. Firms detail that the rising cost pressure on running their business means extra compliance resourcing is out of budget for them.

“If you look at some of the bigger advice firms recently, they’ve acquired new licensees but there’s been no change in their numbers of compliance people. That means existing compliance staff are forced to step up and do more, which is not a long-term solution.”

The majority of advice practices have between one to five compliance staff, according to data from law and compliance firm Holley Nethercote. Even for businesses with more than 100 employees and representatives, over three-quarters have 15 or less compliance staff.

“Everything seems to be going up, so there’s not a lot left in the kitty for another compliance person,” Graham said.

Moreover, Chisholm acknowledged the difficulties that staff have in staying afloat with their workloads amid ever-changing advice regulation, while simultaneously communicating the changes to other stakeholders.

She described: “It’s really challenging as a compliance professional within these wealth management businesses because they’re having to interpret legislation that is quickly changing and can sometimes be vague or nebulous.

“Then they need to have the people skills to digest very technical information for all different types of understandings and levels of stakeholders, such as paraplanners and advisers. It’s about trying to bridge so many different requirements in one human being, which is really hard.”

Despite their adaptable skills, a contributing factor to the potential burnout that compliance professionals face is the lack of positive recognition for their work, Graham underscored.

“Anytime most licensees think about compliance is when something goes wrong. ‘Why didn’t you stop this from happening?’ employers say, without fully appreciating the regulatory complexity and resourcing issues as well,” he said.

The impact of burnout has even driven many to take a break from working in compliance altogether, Graham added, highlighting the importance of work/life balance for these positions.

According to the Kaizen director, financial services companies with the best compliance staff retention focus on keeping workloads manageable and clearly articulating guidelines around working hours.

Chisholm explained: “They also try not to let work flexibility creep into overwork. Particularly in a risk role, where there are so many incidents or breaches – it’s a 24-hour role, but people work just eight hours.”

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