March 7, 2019 / 2:37 PM / 2 months ago

Scandals turn compliance staff into 'rock stars' of Nordic banking

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Compliance and anti-money laundering staff are in hot demand in the Nordic financial sector following tougher regulations and a string of scandals involving the region’s top banks Danske Bank, Nordea and Swedbank.

FILE PHOTO: General view of the Danske Bank building in Copenhagen, Denmark, September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen/File Photo

Compliance officers ensure banks meet industry regulations that have mushroomed since the financial crisis a decade ago, and most global financial hubs have been through a hiring boom.

The recruitment drive in the Nordic region, however, has been given extra impetus by a money laundering scandal at Denmark’s Danske Bank, which has spread to some other lenders in Sweden and Finland.

“We’ve become the new ‘business rock stars’,” a Copenhagen-based compliance professional told Reuters.

He saw a 50 percent jump in wages the last time he changed job to almost 1.2 million Danish crowns ($182,000) per year and is regularly contacted by headhunters.

“Money-laundering was the buzzword of the year last year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if compliance officer became the buzzword this year,” he said.

The highest paid 10 percent compliance managers in Copenhagen’s financial sector now earn more than 1.2 million crowns per year, almost twice the average for law and economy graduates, figures from trade union DJOF show.

Danske Bank said last month it would take on an extra 600 compliance and anti-money laundering staff this year. It has already quadrupled the number since 2015 to 1,200.

“There is great competition for the skilled employees, and we can feel that,” said Ole Bech-Petersen, head of Joining & Leaving at Danske, adding it would be impossible for the bank to find enough trained staff in Denmark.

The bank is expanding its search to include new graduates from many different fields of study, experienced customer-oriented bankers, and compliance experts who could be recruited outside Scandinavia, he said.

BROAD DEMAND

Compliance professionals are also in demand in other industries, such as drugmaking, software development, law and manufacturing, as regulations proliferate and companies seek to reduce legal risks.

“The perception has been that we can just get someone from outside the financial sector. But they’re not there. Many companies need these people,” said Michael Budolfsen, president of Nordic Financial Unions, a labor group for financial staff.

Jobindex, a major Danish job site, posted almost 1,500 job adverts containing the word “compliance” last quarter, up from less than 200 per quarter a decade ago.

“Many companies are interested in these employees, so the recruitment process often happens very fast, especially for young, well-educated people,” said Soren Billeschou Christiansen, partner at Proselection, a large recruitment specialist within accounting and finance.

Finland-based Nordea, the largest bank in the Nordics, said it had invested more than 730 million euros ($825 million) in the last three years in areas such as fighting financial crime and compliance, and now has over 1,500 staff in such fields.

Because of local skills shortages and rising wages, Nordic banks are looking at alternative ways to manage risks.

Sweden’s Handelsbanken, for example, said that as well as hiring more people banks could develop IT systems and use artificial intelligence in areas such as fraud prevention.

The largest Nordic banks have in recent years also increasingly moved administrative and service tasks to Baltic countries, where wages are generally lower.

Danske’s Bech-Petersen said most of its 600 new jobs would be in either Denmark or Lithuania, where the bank set up a service center in 2012 that has more than 2,300 employees.

But such steps have so far done little to temper demand for local compliance specialists, as some of the region’s financial regulators can testify.

“Ironically, when we ask the banks to bolster anti-money laundering we know that they start looking at our personnel,” said Erik Thedeen, head of Sweden’s Financial Supervisory Authority

“This has been a major problem ... We are a state agency, we can’t pay the kind of wages they pay in the private sector.

Additional reporting by Johan Ahlander in Stockholm, Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Mark Potter

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