Association for compliance professionals launches in Cayman

The International Association of Certified Compliance Specialists (IACCS) is a professional organization that offers a training and certification program for compliance specialists. The Journal spoke with founder and executive director Karen O’Brien about the aims and benefits of the new association.  

With an ever-increasing amount of laws and regulations, compliance has become a growth industry in recent years, and the areas that compliance professionals are supposed to cover have widened considerably. 

Yet professional certifications in the field have so far focused mainly on individual compliance issues, such as anti-money laundering or fraud detection. 

Karen O’Brien, founder and executive director of the IACCS, said she started work on creating a new association because she saw the need for a meaningful certification for compliance officers. 

“In the past 10 years, the role of compliance has expanded and the function of the compliance officer does not just mean AML anymore,” she says.  

Now a compliance officer needs to have multidisciplinary skills and experience encompassing anti-money laundering, risk management, ethics and compliance, as well as fraud prevention and detection. 

“We have developed a curriculum in all four areas. In order to become a certified compliance specialist, you are going to have to pass the curriculum in all four areas and have three years’ experience in a compliance or risk management related role,” she says. 

The idea is that the professional qualification will certify both academic achievement and practical experience. Holders of certificates, such as certified anti-money laundering specialists or certified fraud examiners, do not have to retake the respective section of the curriculum. 

“We are not diminishing the other qualifications out there,” O’Brien says. 

The self-directed course of study is based on an international curriculum, meaning it is not based on any particular jurisdiction or legislation. It is aimed at giving the compliance professionals the skill set to find what is relevant in each jurisdiction and pre-emptively perform their function, instead of simply highlighting individual pieces of legislation. 

This is necessary to keep up with the permanently changing compliance landscape, which over the past decades has had various priorities, including drug money, terrorism financing, corruption and now transparency. 

While the targets are constantly shifting, there is a common compliance-related thread that runs through all transactions in terms of who the involved parties are, what the transaction represents ethically, whether there is a criminal element and ultimately, how risk-tolerant the organization is. 

Compliance people are known as particularly risk-averse, as opposed to salespeople, who are the most risk tolerant. The qualification will teach the risk management principles that can be used to bridge the gap and ensure that the compliance function is included in the process and not just seen as a hurdle that has to be cleared. 

O’Brien says she wants the curriculum to be driven by the industry. To this end, the association is looking to bring on strategic partners from each sector of the financial industry who will shape the curriculum to meet the evolving needs of the compliance profession.  

Interest from individual compliance professionals is already high, she says. The benefits of the new certification include the furtherance of one’s career by having a broader qualification and the potential to branch into new fields, for example from anti-money laundering to risk management. 

O’Brien estimates that depending on the level of dedication, all four segments of the course can be completed within 18 months, though two years is the time normally allotted. 

The new association is launching locally first, but it aims to achieve global reach as it strives to be jurisdiction-neutral and to foster international issues in compliance in all jurisdictions, O’Brien notes. 

For a limited time, IACCS is offering a founding membership to 200 individuals who wish to show their commitment to and support of the goals of the association.  

In addition to receiving a 10 percent discount on the certification program, founding members will be eligible to join the IACCS advisory board and participate in special working groups.  


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