Chief Compliance Officer: A Career Overview

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A career as a company's chief compliance officer (CCO) is centered around one central task: making sure that all of the company’s financial, logistical, and operational doings are meeting regulatory requirements and industry standards. This sounds much simpler than it often turns out to be as the chief compliance officer must manage all issues dealing with compliance and even those which are only very broadly related to the issues of compliance. The chief compliance officer usually reports directly to the company CEO.

The primary responsibilities of a CCO include the following:

  • Managing corporate compliance efforts


  • Ensuring compliance with federal, state, local, and internal standards and laws
  • Overseeing audits and investigations
  • Dealing with regulatory officers and compliance auditors
The chief compliance officer has been a long-standing and vital position in industries where rules and regulations abound, particularly the financial, healthcare, and manufacturing industries. These officers have been crucial to the launch and survival of many companies in recent decades as industry standards have become more stringent and companies worldwide have moved production facilities overseas in a bid to increase profitability, moves that have brought both risk and scandal as evidenced in the recent toy and pet food recalls originating with Chinese-made goods.

The rise in such high profile scandals, which have left both consumers and industry watchers wary of corporate disclosures, has led to a noted spike in the number of CCO appointments in recent years. Scott Cohen, editor and publisher of Compliance Week, dates the increase in compliance officer positions back to 2002, when SEC commissioner Cynthia Glassman gave a speech in which she called on all companies to create a position she referred to as the ''corporate responsibility officer'' with the intention of making corporate operations more transparent to outsiders.

In spite of the overall agreement that such positions are needed in all industries, especially in the wake of headline-making scandals at Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco, there is a surprising amount of debate as to whether certain types of companies should have a chief compliance officer. After all, C-level positions are not without their own history of corruption, and one has to wonder what type of system can effectively monitor the behavior of compliance officers themselves, particularly when at least some of them have not been without their own share of dubious undertakings.

Because of this, most companies will hire compliance officers who have a thorough and long-standing knowledge of the industry in which they are working. In many instances, a chief compliance officer has been recruited from within the company itself, though the individual may have had little or no compliance experience. A large number of compliance officials are hired from corporate legal departments that already have a working knowledge of what is expected in terms of meeting regulations. The general counsel is often given the dual responsibility of managing all compliance issues as doing so is often viewed as an extension of the counsel’s primary duty. The paramount criteria in hiring quality compliance officers are often that the individual has demonstrated good business judgment and that he or she has a lucid understanding of company compliance goals.
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 industry standards  chief compliance officer  Compliance Week  investigations  methods  CEO  responsibility  manufacturing


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