We examine the role of the ESG compliance officer, the skills and experience required for the job, how to get into the profession, and where it can take you
This article was first published in the January 2020 International edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Corporate compliance is the process of ensuring a business and its employees follow the laws, regulations, standards and ethical practices that apply to them and their sector, including environmental, social and governance (ESG) compliance. It also covers the internal policies and rules that help a company run smoothly.
‘An interest in ESG issues is now high on the agenda for many investors,’ says Laura Grenier FCCA, finance, compliance and operations manager at WHEB Asset Management. ‘ESG is integrated into every aspect of our business, which focuses on the opportunities created by the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable global economy.
‘Accountants have strong analytical and reporting skills developed through their studies, particularly ACCA members, who have the opportunity to develop a wide skillset and as such are strongly positioned to drive the momentum in improving the CSR [corporate social responsibility] function and ESG integration in corporations across a broad range of sectors.’
Grenier’s role involves applying a broad range of skills, including the technical expertise she learnt during her ACCA studies, along with focused knowledge obtained from development opportunities such as regulatory compliance seminars. She also relies on her soft skills to develop relationships with colleagues and third parties – her role involves interaction with key service providers at all levels of seniority. Managerial skills are important in terms of her own progression and development, as well as for the supervision and development of her two direct reports.
To help with the sustainability focus of her specific role, she says there is now a wealth of resources fully accessible in terms of content and availability to both financial professionals and the general public, including online information and focused networking or development opportunities. ‘They represent a valuable source of information for anyone interested in ESG and sustainability more generally – I hesitate to say field, as ESG/sustainability issues are integral to many different sectors of the economy,’ Grenier says.
Getting in and getting on
Compliance is sometimes described as more of a mindset than a profession, and there are no specific qualifications for entry. However, the International Compliance Association runs courses, which may be required by employers as part of a CPD programme.
With critical problem-solving, analysis and project management skills key to the role, ACCA members are well positioned and the qualification is well regarded in the profession. A shortage of compliance experts only enhances the opportunity for ACCA members.
Promotion can be rapid, with progression from junior to senior officer taking between two and four years. Compliance managers typically have more than five years’ experience, and senior managers more than 10.
Finance, government, technology or the environment are possible specialisations, and audit, cybersecurity and risk consulting are related areas.
Neil Johnson, journalist