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December 12, 2016 Q&A

Higher-ed takes on corporate, regulatory compliance

PHOTO | Contributed Robert C. Bird, professor of business law, Eversource Energy chair in business ethics at UConn

Q&A talks with Robert C. Bird, professor of business law, Eversource Energy chair in business ethics at UConn, about the school's new certificate program in corporate and regulatory compliance.

Q: The UConn School of Business and School of Law have partnered to create a certificate program in corporate and regulatory compliance. What does the program involve?

A: Compliance is a rapidly growing domain. Firms are struggling to manage complex regulation from state, federal and international authorities while at the same time remaining viable in a competitive global marketplace.

UConn's certificate in corporate and regulatory compliance provides the tools and resources to not only stay on the right side of ever-changing regulation, but also how to build a culture of compliance and integrity that pervades the organization. Certificate graduates will learn how a firm that understands compliance will not only respect the rules, but generate opportunities that build a competitive advantage for their organization.

Students will complete four graduate-level courses. For most students, two of the four courses will come from business faculty who teach about compliance and legal rules from the perspective of the organization and its ethical values. The other two classes will be taught by law school faculty skilled at unraveling the key regulatory challenges that organizations face in compliance. The certificate is open to businesspeople, business students, law students and attorneys.

Q: Why the partnership between the schools of law and business?

A: Compliance is too often presented as just a business problem fixed by culture change or a legal matter delegated to attorneys. Neither model works. In these classes students will learn how firms manage legal issues in a business environment and be given tools on how to implement compliance initiatives and promote an ethical culture of integrity. Then students take two courses in the law school where they learn about pressing legal and regulatory compliance challenges facing the modern organization.

Businesspeople learn how lawyers think, how rules are interpreted, and how to smoothly manage regulations to meet required standards. Lawyers get a deeper understanding of how businesses function, the organizational impacts of compliance, and how compliance can positively influence the strategic goals of the enterprise.

Q: What's driving the growing demand for risk-avoidance expertise? And, with a new administration focusing on cutting regulations, does that demand decrease at all?

A: Rapid changes in regulations do not necessarily make compliance easier. Firms will have to pivot quickly to adjust to their new regulatory reality. That may mean reevaluating established compliance systems and processes in a short period of time. This takes the time and expertise of compliance professionals who can manage regulatory shifts in either direction.

Firms also cannot let their guard down even if regulatory obligations decline. If a firm relaxes its compliance standards in anticipation of a new rule, that rule may return in a different form either by the same or a different authority responsible for monitoring that conduct. There are 50 states with regulatory bodies in addition to federal regulatory authorities. Sudden changes in legal rules create turbulence for the organization, which demands a steady hand of a compliance expert to manage. Firms that fail to remain vigilant will pay the price when the winds of policy change again.

Q: Which industries are active in compliance-officer hiring?

A: Compliance is big business, and the demand for it is significant. A Wall Street Journal article called compliance a 'dream career' and a field that employers are engaging in a 'hiring spree' to fulfill. Banks of course have significant demand for compliance personnel. Other industries hiring compliance personnel include insurance, manufacturing, law firms, health care, government and tech companies. 

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