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When I first started working in recruitment (too many years ago to admit to!), trade compliance did not enjoy the profile it does today. In 2020, trade compliance is a hot topic and – at least prior to the current pandemic – experienced and talented professionals working in the field have been in great demand. The re-imagining of Europe and President Trump’s somewhat idiosyncratic approach to trade controls are just two of the pressures to have put trade compliance squarely in the eye of the media – which makes it officially important!

As a firm that specialises in recruiting trade compliance experts globally, we enjoy a particular insight into the market direct from the source. During every hiring project we work on, we speak to a good number of trade compliance professionals, discussing many of the main challenges of the job. And today there are many. It’s fair to say that ten years ago, our discussions with companies and candidates would have recognised the then-widely-held bias that trade compliance was a burden on the smooth running of a supply chain; adding complications, time and cost to delivering the end product or service. And with so many in-house trade compliance experts sitting within the Supply Chain functions of multinationals, this meant a real internal conflict of (short-term) interest. But fast-forward a decade and the thinking has changed dramatically, and more often than not Supply Chain leaders now look to hire a proactive and forward-thinking trade compliance expert who can help them avoid big fines and delays in production and transportation, as well as help in developing a long term compliance strategy. As was noted in last month’s issue of this journal, today the trade compliance function can be so much more than fire-fighter. And that is equally true for individuals.

Increasingly, our clients ask us to find individuals who can review how trade compliance is dealt with across the entire business and have experience in implementing harmonized processes. In many cases, clients are looking to centralize the function and utilize IT tools to automate wherever possible. The thinking is that in the future compliance should aim for a significant reduction in risk and delays, less time should be spent fire-fighting, and more time on strategy, advising senior management on commercial decisions. Supporting this reimagining will be increased automation and better compliance tools and solutions. Trade compliance is expected to work – and is working – smarter. As has been seen in VAT and indirect taxation departments in recent years, smaller, more proficient teams, backed up with better tech is the way forward. Expect AI to feature strongly.

With this in mind, the “most-wanted” list for trade compliance hires has at the top the manager who has experience in trade-management solutions, can implement developing tools throughout the company, and, importantly, can get everyone in the business to adhere to these processes. Tomorrow’s trade compliance director will need to be technical subject guru, project manager, trainer and great negotiator. I think of this person as ‘a bridge’ between departments as he or she will provide the means for connecting the disparate elements of the business. And being so useful means getting paid better. Even today, we see a big difference in what a company will pay for the type of individual with the skillset I’ve described, compared with someone in a pure fire-fighting or operational role. For the ambitious, forward-thinking compliance professional who succeeds in acquiring these skills and experience, the rewards will be significant.