In many cases this is crystal clear: a legal counsel will require a law degree, a doctor a degree in medicine, an auditor a degree in economics, etc.
When it comes to AML compliance professionals, however, the required academic background isn’t that straightforward. In Belgium there is no dedicated bachelor or master program in (AML) compliance. Sure, there exist various compliance trainings and programs (for example the ones organized by Febelfin) but these are aimed at people who are already working in or with compliance rather than at students.
For compliance officers in financial institutions the Belgian FSMA does require a master’s degree (unless the person has equivalent experience), however they do not specify which master degrees can be considered.
We checked the academic background of over 200 AML compliance professionals in Belgium (a random sample gathered on LinkedIn, from analysts to directors and head of’s) and managed to gather the following data:
To many it may come as no surprise that law graduates are the most represented among Belgium’s AML compliance professionals. At its core, AML compliance helps to make sure the company adheres to the applicable AML legislation. Law students learn how to find, read and interpret legislative texts making them a suitable candidate for an AML compliance position.
Economists, who have a solid background and interest in finance, are a close second, as AML is about financial flows, and is especially important in the financial services industry and often related to internal or external audit and related reportings.
Criminologists and linguists are also a frequent sight among AML compliance professionals; the former because AML compliance prevents (financial) crime and the criminology master program shares similarities with the law master program, the latter because AML rules need to be explained in understandable language to the various internal stakeholders (moreover, being able to work in multiple languages is also an asset in compliance).
The variety of academic backgrounds in AML compliance doesn't make things easy for a hiring manager when putting together the ideal candidate profile. So how do you approach this?
Before setting out a degree requirement it is important to determine what you’re expecting of the candidate and how you expect the role to evolve in your business. Do you want your AML specialist to follow-up on legislation, do due diligences, develop policies, and/or be responsible for the implementation? Do you expect the role to take up more responsibilities regarding other compliance domains in the (near) future and which ones?
Which specific skills are you looking for and are those exclusive to or more commonly found in certain academic or professional backgrounds? (In that regard, also check out our previous article!)
In a candidate driven market it would be a shame to reject a candidate merely based on a degree requirement that wasn’t given much thought in the first place.
Larger compliance teams may also want to take diversity into consideration. It could be preferable to have a compliance team with people of various academic backgrounds rather than a compliance team whose members all share the same degree. This will give the compliance team a broader skillset which means they’ll be able to tackle the various challenges from different perspectives.
A compliance team may appreciate the input of a law graduate when a new legislative text is coming into force, a linguist when a company policy needs to be drafted and an economist when the policy needs to be implemented in the business. On top of that, a diverse compliance team will more easily understand the various (internal) stakeholders’ needs and questions regarding compliance.
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