How compliance is changing

Compliance. You keep an eye on the latest developments, draw up the regulations so you can check all the boxes and you’re ‘good to go’. Right?

Of course, as a Compliance Officer, you know that this is not the case at all. However, until a few years ago, the profession did look like this for the most part. For the outside world at least … compliance would consist of screening the legislation, drawing up procedures, and ensuring that employees were familiar with them. For example, by organizing awareness training courses and (bi-)annual testing of knowledge. If this was well organized and the regulations were followed, then your job was done. If not, you had to act like a schoolteacher and point out people who did not follow the rules. After all, all boxed needed to be checked. Fortunately, the profession is undergoing a transformation and there is a growing focus on compliance. What is happening in the world of compliance?

Compliance is gaining ground

Compliance is becoming increasingly important. This is partly thanks to (or rather due to …) several recent scandals that have fuelled the discussion. One example is ING, which had to settle with the Public Prosecution Service in 2018 because it did not sufficiently investigate suspicious money laundering practices. Network failure at energy companies. Or customer service employees who put their employer’s reputation at risk because they don’t adhere to the script. Partly as a result of these scandals, regulators are more strict and compliance is given a more crucial role within organizations. In addition, laws and regulations are tightened up and new laws are added, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Screening legislation, drawing up policy, ensuring that employees are aware of this, and reporting to the board will become more important than ever before. However, the question remains: do more rules also ensure that they are better complied with?

Organizational culture and behavioral change

Many Compliance Officers will answer that question with ‘no’. Compliance is no longer just about checking boxes and reports. After all, how well everyone knows the rules says little about actually following them. And if it is (deliberately) ignored, then procedures are of no use at all. It may seem innocent but this may have major consequences. Think of something as simple as mechanics who lend their company tools to their neighbors at weekends for a quick job. Employees know it’s not allowed, but they still do it. Perhaps because they don’t see the seriousness of the rules, because they dismiss the risks, or simply because colleagues display the same wrong behavior. If many employees within the organization ignore the rules, it is very easy for others to follow this example. In that case, dodging the rules is part of the organizational culture. Therefore, real enforcement of compliance and integrity is never easy.

Away with the ‘check-box culture’

Rules that are not complied with despite all the compliance efforts, that’s often where the problem lies. It creates ‘fake check marks’. That’s why your role as Compliance Officer changes. Issues go from ‘Does everyone know the rules?’ to ‘Are the rules actually complied with?, and more importantly: ‘Why are they not complied with?’ and ‘How can I ensure that they will be complied with’. If you want to solve this problem, you increasingly have to deal with behavioral change and organizational culture. You want to create awareness and involvement for your compliance and integrity program: the consciously competent actions of employees in all layers of the organization. This requires a connection with several departments that are important in terms of culture and behavior, such as HR and IT. Compliance can be achieved together and this requires an understanding of each other’s field of expertise. This will expand your range of tasks. In addition to drafting and informing, you also need to connect, convince, and inspire.

In this article you can read more about the ‘tick-box culture’
and why it is a problem for compliance.

Soft skills to the rescue

In order to do this, an arsenal of soft skills is required. As a Compliance Officer, you need to have the power of persuasion, communication skills, and coaching skills. The profession splits into two directions: the hard side of reporting, screening, and monitoring, and the soft side of connecting and convincing. This is the only way to ensure that the rules are not only known but also that they are respected throughout the entire organization. So you are increasingly confronted with duality in your role. How will you divide your time and attention?


Interested in reading more about compliance? Click here to download our Dutch whitepaper about the changing role of the Compliance Officer.