My career path has been unconventional and has included stints working for HM Revenue & Customs, dealing with VAT frauds and drugs importation cases, as well as a period working as part of the UN Mission in Kosovo as a Human Rights Legal Adviser.
I’ve always let my life choices dictate the direction of my career, rather than the other way around, and felt that while in my 20s I should have fun and experience jobs I may not be so keen to do once adult responsibilities beckoned.
This is how I ended up working in the Professional Conduct Department of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAI) – my first proper ‘compliance’ type role – after following an Irishman there. The gamble paid off and I now have a career in compliance, and a husband (although one is not a prerequisite for the other).
Working in regulation
Circumstances contrived to make our stay in Dublin fairly short, and a move back to London saw me take a job at the Financial Services Authority (FSA), where I stayed for just under three years. I worked as a lawyer in the Law, Policy & International Co-operation group, which is part of the Enforcement Division, and loved every minute.
The FSA is a fascinating place to work and I really got to grips with the nitty gritty of financial services regulation, which in itself is an interesting discipline, full of grey areas and seeming contradictions (and political motivations that may not always be immediately apparent).
A new move
I left the FSA to take up a position with a niche compliance consultancy in the City of London. After years of being on the side of the regulator – be it Customs, the ICAI or the FSA, I was keen to work in a client-facing role.
After a couple of years with CCL, I decided it was time to take the plunge and set up my own compliance consultancy, Compass Compliance, offering assistance to a variety of financial services firms.
I had nearly a dozen client firms, whom I helped with a variety of compliance issues. My legal background helped, but perhaps just as important were commercial awareness and common sense.
Back to the law
14 years into my career I decided I’d like to return to a more legal role, especially since the UK regulatory architecture is undergoing a significant restructure. I now work as a ‘professional support lawyer’ for Lexis PSL Financial Services – an online guide to all aspects of financial services law and regulation, aimed at lawyers both in private practice and in house. In time the client base is likely to expand to include compliance staff. At this stage in my career it’s interesting to use my practical experience as a consultant and as a regulator to produce user friendly guidance that is legally accurate, but still engaging.
Working on the compliance and legal side of financial services is never boring – the continued pace of change, and the shifting political landscape – both nationally and internationally – keep me on my toes. There is no better avenue for a varied and stimulating career.
Advice for new graduates
The main bit of advice I’d give to new graduates is that some sort of professional qualification really does help. Most of my colleagues when I worked in compliance had legal or accountancy qualifications.. Those who had not, ensured their professional development by sitting industry exams. In fact many firms now expect their senior compliance staff to have industry or other recognised qualifications. I’ve found that my legal qualification has given me a huge variety of opportunities, and opened many doors.
It may be a bit of a slog to train, or to think about sitting more exams when you’re fresh out of university, but, in my view, a bit of extra effort at the early stages pays off, and can give you more options later on.