May 28, 2021

Compliance officers must develop an agile vision in shaping the future: 2021 Cost of Compliance Report

Thomson Reuters report finds financial services firms continue to experience competing pressures, leading them to adopt changes in strategic direction, culture, governance, and staff management 

TORONTO – May 28, 2021 – Thomson Reuters today released its 2021 Report on the Cost of Compliance, finding that radical change may well emerge from post-pandemic reviews of and by financial regulators. With some financial services firms changing strategic direction, the report highlights a need to support wider cultural, operational, and staffing requirements through future investment and resources.

While the pandemic presented many challenges, it also presented the financial services industry and compliance officers with opportunities. In shaping the future, compliance officers must now build on the changes the pandemic necessitated. About one-third (34%) of firms outsource all or part of their compliance functionality — its highest rate since the question was introduced in 2016. This can be attributed to: additional assurance on compliance processes, a lack of in-house compliance skills, and the need to access third-party know-your-customer functionality. Firms will need to ensure their approach is strategically aligned with that of their organization, particularly with regards to the adoption of digital solutions and outsourcing compliance functions, the report states.   

Following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, boards cited cost and operational obstacles as the main challenges they faced in the past year. Financial limitations present a barrier to successful change and in the aftermath of the pandemic, firms will seek ways to reduce cost and maximize revenue. Compliance officers are also having to keep up with more stringent regulatory demands and expectations — political changes in the United States and Brexit added further uncertainty.

Other key findings include:

  • 78% of respondents expected the amount of information published by regulators to increase in 2021 — the highest percentage since 2013. The expectation for this volume of change was particularly driven by a new administration in the U.S. and the aftermath of Brexit.
  • Financial services boards identified their biggest challenges as: the volume of regulatory change, instilling a culture of compliance, and meeting regulatory expectations. Meanwhile, the biggest compliance challenges were: keeping up with regulatory change, increasing regulatory demands and expectations, and a lack of skilled resources.
  • In the 12-year history of the survey, Thomson Reuters saw the lowest percentage of respondents who expected the cost of senior compliance staff to increase (47%). The potential reasons given for the significant decrease were due to budget cuts and remote working. Furthermore, 68% expected the turnover of senior compliance officers to stay the same in the next 12 months.
  • Risk-aware culture is perhaps the single most valuable asset that a firm can develop, especially in a changing environment, and while boards have responsibility for culture, survey respondents found that installing a culture of compliance remained high on the list of challenges that boards foresaw in 2021. When asked what the single biggest challenge to managing culture and conduct risk, respondents cited balancing competitive pressures and managing a remote team as the top two reasons.

“Without sufficient resources, management will be unable to achieve the organization’s objectives and the same can be said of the compliance department,” said Susannah Hammond, Senior Regulatory Intelligence Expert, Thomson Reuters. “The underlying drivers for changes made within a firm during the pandemic are important. Compliance officers must now consider the future of those changes and assess directionally what should be maintained and which are due for revision post-pandemic. Part of this analysis is understanding the limitations of what can, and cannot be, changed.”

To learn more, visit the Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence (TRRI) website and click here to download the full 2021 Cost of Compliance Report. You can also subscribe to TRRI’s weekly podcast Compliance Clarified here.


The survey reflects unparalleled interaction with the financial services industry and the frank concerns shared by practitioners, which provide a unique insight into the conditions under which compliance officers are working. The survey focused on the challenges the compliance functions at financial services firms expect to fact in the year ahead.

The 12th annual cost of compliance survey generated responses from more than 720 practitioners worldwide, representing global systemically important financial institutions (G-SIFIs), banks, insurers, asset and wealth managers, broker-dealers, and payment services providers.  Over the lifetime of the report there have been more than 7,000 participants and more than 50,000 downloads in more than 120 countries by financial services firms as well as regulators, law firms, governments and consultancies.

About Thomson Reuters

Thomson Reuters is a leading provider of business information services. Our products include highly specialized information-enabled software and tools for legal, tax, accounting and compliance professionals combined with the world’s most global news service – Reuters. For more information on Thomson Reuters, visit and for the latest world news,


Denise Lam
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