Dealing with an Unreasonable Compliance Department

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I am in a very successful advisor practice within a B/D. We have grown our business by being creative and treating our clients well. The firm brought in “new guns” to oversee our compliance. I got along fine with our old team. Now everything we do is scrutinized and most of the time we are told “no.” I do understand the need for a watchdog, but this is hurting my business. How should I deal with an unreasonable compliance officer?

Seth N., Ohio

Dear Seth,

This is the common refrain in our industry – the salesperson sees “possibilities” where the compliance person sees “rules.”

Who is right? They both are! It’s an issue of behavioral style, too. Some people have honed the art of seeing what’s wrong and what could get them into trouble, while others are artful about seeing what could be and what needs to be changed or improved. One of the ways to work more effectively with this person is to respect their viewpoint and talk their language. Even the idea of thinking about them as “watchdog” means you automatically approach them in this manner. Do you think your demeanor is collegial and professional or do you think you mutter under your breath, “Here we go again….”?

The compliance person serves an important function and can be annoying at times, but will also save you at other times from your own ideas! Pitch them as if they were a valued prospect. Think about how they like to receive information (data, analytics, facts, etc.) and show them why your idea is a good one, in their terms not yours.

I realize it is more work, but if you take more time to prepare on the front end, you will likely save yourself a lot of angst on the back end. You can work with them. You just need to understand their point of view, get into their shoes and learn to talk their language when you need something from them.

Behavior disconnects are at the root of many difficult relationships – in both our business and personal lives.

Dear Bev,

I work with a great team of people. The problem lately is that we have hired in a couple of new people and the chemistry just isn’t there. There is more friction than needs to be in getting things done. What can I do as manager of the group to bring back harmony? It is hampering our group’s ability to be successful.

Pat D., NY

Dear Pat,

One of the reasons I write this column is that behavior issues, relationships and individual quirks are at the root of so many business problems. It’s great you are recognizing it as a relationship disconnect rather than blaming your new employees and looking to fire them! Too many times a practice or firm thinks they just need to get rid of someone and harmony will return. It’s often not that simple, as you know by writing to me.

A few things you can do:

  1. Sit the group down together. It may be time to revisit goals, ground rules and communication approaches within the team. See if you can open a dialogue about what the group wants in working together, what success looks like and how they want to deal with one another.
  2. Have an outside facilitator. Sometimes an objective third party can guide the conversation in a way that you might not be as comfortable doing.
  3. Record agreements, commitments and next steps. Have people publicly commit to working with one another in new ways and assign someone the role of updating and circulating these agreements.
  4. Be sure there is clarity in role definition, processes and how people need to interact. Much of the time when people don’t get along it is because of confusion and dysfunction within the group as to how they should operate together.
  5. Lastly, look at communication style and values. Much of the disconnect between people, as I noted in the other question I received today, happens because we expect our colleagues to be like us, think like us and care about what we care about. When that doesn’t happen, we think there is a problem with the person! We need to learn about differences – and where possible – embrace them.

Good luck.

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal,, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

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