If we were to stage a "Best of" show about the year's impact on job prospects, Eliot Spitzer would be a good choice to serve as our affable host. And you, as a compliance professional, would no doubt have a chance to walk up to the stage, collect your trophy, and give the New York Attorney General your personal thanks for improving your job prospects tenfold.
Your job has now moved from the relative obscurity of a support function into the spotlight. You can be sure that any CEO will be interested in your opinions about any aspect of the company's business. Companies cannot afford the financial risk of a compliance failure, but most importantly, they cannot afford the risk to the company's reputation or its relationship with the fund trustees
A review of Internet job boards shows no less than 50 open compliance positions available to you. There's reason to think money managers will be staffing up their compliance departments for some time to come for the following reasons.
Trustees will have compliance professionals reporting to them. This does not mean management companies will cut back on their own compliance teams. Far from it. They will need their own compliance departments as a form of insurance, to serve a liaison role with the trustees' staff and to handle such functions as sales literature review and annual compliance certification -- not functions likely to be moved under the trustees' purview.
Compliance professionals are expensive as compared to people in key operations, sales and marketing functions. It is still possible today to hire three compliance experts for the price of one experienced wholesaler.
Many companies have retained law firms to conduct independent investigations. Eventually, they will bring this investigative capacity in-house.
Companies will create ombudsman positions, to ensure that any potential whistleblowers have a place to air their complaints before they turn to the SEC or the likes of Mr. Spitzer. Who is better equipped for the ombudsman role than a lawyer or a meticulously fussy compliance expert?
Compliance is not the only category with strong career prospects. Other jobs that will assume a higher profile include retirement plan, Section 529 college savings, separately managed account, hedge fund and product development experts.
The retirement plan area is in the middle stage of a strong growth surge and will continue to be such as Baby Boomers reach their retirement years. Saving for college is a perennial concern, and, again, demographic trends ensure that it will remain a growth area. Both will benefit if new legislation creates universal, tax-deferred savings accounts.
Separately managed accounts are gaining prominence, albeit slowly in relative terms. Despite the whispers about the pending demise of the $7 trillion mutual fund business, SMAs have a long way to grow if they are to capture a greater percentage of investors' wealth. But any money manager needs to count an SMA program among its product offerings. The same case applies to hedge funds, which will gain prominence as barriers to entry (i.e. investor net worth requirements) are lowered and as investors seek higher returns than traditional investments can provide.
And while product development experts have often been the poor stepchildren of the sales department, that is about to change. Product innovation has often been driven by a follow-the-leader strategy. Money managers will now likely take a more proactive approach to developing products that will offer good value and the potential for better returns to shareholders.
On the Losing End
Fund wholesalers and, for that matter, any sales and marketing people who have only been in the right place at the right time, are not likely to fare well in the current business environment. Operations managers may find themselves under pressure as companies move to outsource processing and IT functions. Even call centers will be vulnerable to displacement as companies examine the relative costs of supporting an operation in the continental U.S. versus overseas.
For that matter, also add to the list of losing job seekers anyone who cannot survive in a meritocracy. Companies know they can afford to be highly selective.
As a final note: In the new business environment, if you are not among the best and the brightest at whatever it is you do, it may be time to consider an alternative career. Maybe, if you are lucky, you can find a job with Mr. Spitzer's gubernatorial campaign team - not that there's anything wrong with that.
Charlie O'Neill runs Diversified Management Resources, an executive search and marketing consulting firm. He was once a managing director with Putnam, head of marketing for Colonial/Liberty.
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