Career spotlight: Chief compliance officer

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Compliance officer standing in a conference roomThe average number of openings created for data professionals each year in the U.S. is on the rise. According to a new report by IBM, yearly openings for data and analytics jobs are expected to increase by 364,000 by 2020, reaching 2.7 million open positions listed annually. This rising demand reflects a workforce inundated by growing amounts of big data across most every field in the country, from entertainment to financial services.

One of the areas that is especially affected by this increase in data is the healthcare industry. Hospitals, pharmacies and other care organizations are hiring a wide variety of professionals such as data scientist or analysts, to fill jobs that deal with mass quantities of information. Those with expertise in information management have proven to be particularly valuable in using data to improve the area of compliance – an internal department that ensures that its own company plays by the rules.

For those professionals who use their HIM expertise to transition into risk management or compliance roles, the position of chief compliance officer may be the terminal goal of their career.

What is a chief compliance officer?

Chief compliance officers are members of the C-suite who are found in most every industry, from banking to software companies. In any field, a CCO leads a team of compliance officers to ensure that companies follow rules set by both internal and external regulations. That can include guidelines such as government mandates or agreements made with external stakeholders.

The American College of Healthcare Executives specifically defines the role’s responsibilities as “ensuring that the Board of Directors, management and employees are in compliance with the rules and regulations of regulatory agencies, that company policies and procedures are being followed, and that behavior in the organization meets the company’s Standards of Conduct.”

From day-to-day, CCOs may develop and implement procedures to ensure compliance, work with other departments to investigate problems, respond to any existing violations and analyze areas where potential vulnerabilities exist.

In recent years, the role has grown in both popularity and importance. Looking to the future of the position, Sally Bernstein and Andrea Falcione of PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that by 2025, ethics will be front and center in the business world, bringing the CCO position into greater prominence.

“[The compliance officer will be] the one who enables sustainable growth. The one who champions organizational ethics for the betterment not only of the company but also of society,” wrote Bernstein and Falcone. “The one who steers the business clear of future problems. The one who helps business managers take the right risks.”

By 2025, the pair predict that the CCO will fill the following roles within an organization:

  • Business partner: CCOs may be called upon to help make business decisions, due to their intimate knowledge of business operations.
  • Source of information: Using analytic tools, CCOs will collect risk data and analyze the information, creating opportunities for proactive – rather than reactive – responses.
  • Strategic facilitator: CCOs will not only be responsible for making a plan that meets current needs, but for one that predicts future risks as well.
  • Efficient operator: To ensure efficiency, CCOs will encourage compliance teams to work closely with risk management, crisis management and other related functions.
  • Conscience: The business-side of an organization can be difficult to navigate, but it will continue to be the CCOs responsibility to remind decision-makers to act responsibly and ethically, honoring the trust of stakeholders.

CCO career projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for top executives is expected to grow by about 6 percent between 2014 and 2024, adding 147,000 jobs to the market. Many industry leaders believe that the CCO position will experience particular growth within this trend. PwC’s State of Compliance 2016 survey demonstrated the growing importance of compliance, reporting that 98 percent of organizations surveyed have senior leadership committed to ethics and compliance and 72 percent have dedicated business area compliance officers or units.

Legal expert John G. Browning, in an article for D Magazine, attributed this growth to a number of factors including high-profile scandals, like Enron and WorldCom, as well as new laws and regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and Federal Sentencing Guidelines. In more recent years, Bernie Madoff and Mark Stanford Ponzi have also made investors and other stakeholders hesitant about trusting large-scale organizations, increasing the importance of demonstrating compliance to both internal and external players.

Though working as a CCO carries great responsibility, professionals working in this role are very well compensated for their troubles. The 2015 Health Care Chief Compliance Officers Salary Survey reported that the average base salary of all 669 respondents was $122,311 annually. The total average compensation was $133,677, with those in the 75th percentile earning $167,500 each year.

The survey additionally found that experience had a significant impact on the annual earnings. The average salary for professionals with only one year experience managing a compliance department was $91,057, while those with 16 or more years in the role increased their annual earnings to nearly double that figure, with an average of $177,465.

Your career as a CCO

Landing a position as a chief executive is typically not an objective you can make happen overnight. It requires both time and dedication to obtain the proper education and on-the-job experience.
You can begin a career as a CCO in a variety of ways. To specifically work in the C-suite of a medical organization, you will typically need to have experience working in compliance in the healthcare field. This may mean starting as a risk analysis officer, compliance associate or similar role.

In the healthcare setting, some chief compliance officers begin their career working in health information management. A thorough knowledge of working with healthcare data, coding and reimbursement, patient databases and other digital strategies gives professionals deeper insight into the functions of an organization, preparing them well for a career in compliance.

Though there is not a standard educational requirement to work as a CCO, there are certainly degrees that will increase your chances of earning one of these positions. For instance, many earn a Master of Business Administration to gain a better understanding of the business side of healthcare organizations.

A degree specifically in data related to healthcare, such as Health Information Management, can also be especially beneficial. In the online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management  or Post-Bacc Certificate in Health Information Management through the University of Illinois at Chicago, students gain the data education they need to better understand healthcare in the modern era en route to a position in compliance.

With a deep understanding of health information management combined with work experience in the healthcare setting, you will be well on your way to a career in compliance and, with hard work, may earn the opportunity to serve as a CCO.

Recommended reading:

How to begin a career in health information management

7 leadership qualities developed in an HIM program

Current trends in the health information management field 


Why Chief Compliance Officers Are More Important Than Ever