The chief compliance officer of 2030

By Matthew Van Buskirk

Anyone working in compliance today will be aware of the rapid changes affecting the financial industry. A related development receiving less attention, however, is the fact that these changes are creating an entirely new set of skills and responsibilities for compliance leadership. It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that the CCOs in the not-so-distant future will bear little resemblance to their contemporary counterparts.

Today’s CCOs already stretch the limits of traditional job descriptions. Responsibilities have expanded to include management of an ever growing number of partners, vendors, and products and are being rewritten to include still-evolving areas such as crypto compliance. From here, the pace of change can only accelerate.

So it’s worth asking the question: What does the CCO of 2030 look like? What skills will CCOs need to have, and where will their responsibilities begin and end? What challenges will they face? How will they find success?

Here’s how we see 2030 playing out:

The job description: no longer a compliance encyclopedia but instead a systems architect

Today’s CCOs reach the top of their field through hard work and the accumulated knowledge of an entire career’s worth of regulatory expertise. The compliance teams at large financial institutions today are an inverted knowledge pyramid, in which issues and questions are funneled upwards through the ranks, with each new personnel layer representing the next step in compliance savoir-faire.

The need for knowledgeable SMEs—in any compliance role—isn’t going away. Far from it. But CCOs of 2030 will act less as a compendium for regulatory knowledge and more as implementation managers for a wide array of interconnected tools and services. They will be tasked with designing a program capable of giving their teams the speed and interconnectedness required by tomorrow’s financial marketplace.

This is a far cry from today’s model, in which CCOs often inherit legacy systems, requiring compensating for shortcomings of outdated technology with increased headcount. Even CCOs who know the problems of scaling through headcount rather than technology are often stymied by a lack of effective alternatives: The vendors they have contacted are offering a “one size fits all” approach that has little appeal in 2022. And which they know will never stand in the compliance world of 2030.

The successful CCO of tomorrow will look for more than manpower to overcome the challenges of a heavy workload. They will instead carefully build and lead a program specifically designed to allow teams of analysts, regulatory bodies and vendor-partners to all work in concert. The CCO, acting as bandleader, will help them stay connected and in sync, guiding them toward a common goal: enabling growth and innovation while protecting their institutions and their customers.

Work expectations: the end of the department and the birth of cross-disciplinary compliance

It’s a well-known problem that today’s financial institutions tends to place different groups, such as compliance, legal and IT, into monolithic siloes. But the fast pace of change affecting compliance is quickly pushing roles such as software engineer, product manager, and other formerly far-removed professions directly into the compliance orbit. This has changed what’s required from leadership, and the compliance leaders of tomorrow will be comfortable not always being the top subject matter expert in the room. Rather, they will oversee and help coordinate a diverse team of regulatory experts, data scientists and engineers. It will be the CCO’s job to build a program that uses technology to directly incorporate regulatory expertise into new and existing products.

And speaking of technology, many of today’s compliance teams depend on an IT department to help them orchestrate the technological aspects of their program. If the course charted in the fintech world is any example, however, the future will see programmers and other tech professionals housed directly underneath the compliance umbrella. The top CCOs of 2030, then, will be those compliance professionals who already recognize that tomorrow’s banks cannot afford to be financial institutions with an IT department, but instead must be technology companies that build and provide financial products.

Finding success: the ability to work at scale, And still get a good night’s sleep

Is the wave of change sweeping over the financial industry making successful compliance leadership harder than ever? It’s a valid question. The CCO/CRO position is already a difficult one, a pressure-cooker environment where individuals are held personally liable for organizational deficiencies and a single oversight can lead to millions of dollars in fines. Folks in leadership positions are always on the lookout for ways to minimize risk and keep their program secure. But the increased demands on the horizon can make the entire endeavor feel like nothing but a recipe for sleepless nights and constant stress.

So how does the CCO of 2030 find success, and not stress 24/7? The answer lies in a conceptual shift. The successful CCO of 2030 will need to embrace a “compliance by design” model of leadership, abandoning the traditional “three lines of defense” model of today. In practice, this means constructing a team that effectively blends regulatory, product and technological expertise.

The unseen benefit of this approach is that it takes advantage of the increasing number of compliance metrics that are rapidly becoming quantifiable. A team of diverse practitioners housed under a compliance department umbrella has the strength to build out a modern compliance platform, capable of breaking the black box and showing a program’s performance diagnostics in real-time. With the benefit of these added metrics, the doubt and uncertainty that keeps the CCO of today up at night will be replaced by the sense of well-being that comes from a full, in-depth understanding of program health.

The pace of change affecting compliance isn’t going away. But even as the responsibilities list for a CCO/CRO continues to grow, there is ample room for qualified practitioners to find success. In a way, the changes are exciting: they prove compliance—as an industry—is more essential than ever. The CCO of tomorrow, moving with this wave of changes, has the potential to build and lead an entirely new type of team. One capable not just of success, but of entirely new business value.

Matthew Van Buskirk is the co-founder and co-CEO of Hummingbird, a regtech company. He can be reached at [email protected].