This article was written by Angi Harben, director of communications at GCUA.
Compliance officers oversee the regulations, policies and procedures of an organization. In the highly regulated credit union environment, where non-compliance can come with a heavy toll, compliance officers are crucial to protecting credit unions and their members. According to NationalCalendarDay.com, SAI Global created the concept of National Compliance Officer Day to fall on Sept. 26 every year in appreciation for the important role compliance officers play in global business.
“Compliance officers are critical to financial institutions – they help advise, oversee and train staff on consumer financial procedures and give guidance when a credit union is starting new products and services. They’re generally folks who enjoy problem solving and teaching others,” said Cindy Connelly, senior vice president of government influence at Georgia Credit Union Affiliates, the trade organization for credit unions in the state. “It takes a person with a strong curiosity and good analytical and researching skills, who finds enjoyment in reading about laws and rules, to help institutions ensure they stay compliant with state and federal laws and regulations.”
It also takes people who enjoy staying on their toes.
“There is never a typical day,” said Laura Titak, compliance manager at Delta Community Credit Union. “Each morning brings new challenges and I am constantly learning and tackling something new. On any given day our compliance team may be writing disclosures for a new marketing promotion, testing for compliance with one of the many regulations that impact our credit union, trying to understand how those old regulations apply to some new technology the credit union is implementing, the list keeps going. I love the variety of work and people within the credit union.”
Connelly described how GCUA’s compliance officers can help credit unions “wade through the compliance tsunami.”
“For the last 16 years or so, GCUA has hired, trained and the leased out various credit union staff that are kept up to date with the current compliance issues impacting financial institutions,” Connelly said.
Credit unions aren’t the only institutions relying on compliance officers. Businesses, non-profits and government agencies look to compliance officers to help them set, enforce and evaluate policies and procedures.
“Maybe call it the ‘goody two shoes’ in me, but I have always been a rule follower, so when I started in the financial services industry I was always looking at policies and procedures to make sure I was doing things right,” said Gober, a 20-plus-year compliance veteran who is vice president of compliance services at GCUA. “From there my career path automatically took me in the compliance, audit, enterprise risk management direction.”
SAI Global notes on its website that to succeed as a compliance professional, it’s important to be comfortable with the fact that culture and behavioral change takes time. It goes on to advise compliance professionals to view their work with a big-picture perspective that includes long-term goals for attaining objectives and shaping the culture of an organization.
Compliance officers who have been in the trenches for any length of time understand that nothing stays the same. When Shree Garrett and Amanda Carter – who have a combined 14 years of compliance experience with Peach State Federal Credit Union – were asked about the biggest difference in compliance now compared to when they started, they both only half-jokingly said, “Paperwork!”
Garrett and Carter both said, especially in the mortgage lending arena, regulations have been implemented that have created additional steps and critical deadlines. Although both appreciate that these procedures are designed to protect consumers, they have drastically slowed down the process.
When Titak started in compliance 18 years ago, the rules were fairly clear, and regulations said you could do something or you couldn’t.
“As (Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010) enforcement by regulators and litigation risk has increased, we are often in gray areas and needing to make risk-based decisions,” she said. “I think we spend a lot more time seeking clarification from regulators and attorneys than we did in the past.”
Another huge change in compliance is being driven by technology. With so many service delivery channels that weren’t even on the horizon when many of the current regulations were written, compliance officers are constantly trying to figure out how rules written decades ago apply to emerging platforms.
“One size does not fit all financial institutions, and the regulations tend to come out that way sometimes,” noted Gober. “Sometimes it can be challenging with all the regulations out there to help credit unions stay in compliance while finding new ways to help their members. But working together, it can be done.”