Compliance department spending plateaued in 2020

A study of 117 organizations in the second half of 2020 showed that compliance department spending was projected to plateau in 2020 after several years of rapid growth, according to Gartner.


In the period from 2017-2019 total compliance spend per 1,000 employees grew more than 42%, from $114k to $162k. However, due to the widespread economic disruption of COVID-19 that figure remained the same in 2020.

“Like many business functions, compliance spending has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Brian Lee, managing vice president in the Gartner Legal and Compliance practice. “However, the pandemic has significantly increased the workload faced by legal and compliance teams as they grapple with new risk issues and a more remote work environment.”

In fact, the pandemic has heightened a slew of organizational risks that compliance leaders have needed to monitor more closely.

The median compliance department decreased its headcount

A deeper look into compliance department spending found that the median compliance department decreased its headcount between 2017-2020 from 12 to 10 full-time employees.

“One reason for the decrease appears to be a shift in spending away from headcount to technology and outside spending,” said Mr. Lee. “Many compliance functions were allocating more spend in 2020 to external experts, training and communication vendors and compliance technology expenses than in 2019.”

While compliance departments only planned to increase their personnel spending 1.6% in 2019-2020, the median compliance department planned to increase their spending on external experts and services by 30%. Similarly, compliance technology expenses were projected to increase 15% and compliance training and communication vendors spending to increase 13%.

“Compliance’s mandate has expanded and organizational risks have been heightened by the pandemic,” said Mr. Lee. “These spending trends indicate that compliance leaders intend to look for more scalable ways to handle the burgeoning workload rather than simply increasing headcount.”

Managing new and existing risks within a remote workforce

Experts recommend that compliance leaders evaluate current technology offerings that enable communication and collaboration and improve efficiency in an increasingly hybrid and remote work environment.

“It’s also critical to work more closely with other functions, including legal and privacy, to better manage new and existing risks within a remote workforce and establish clear guardrails around risk,” said Mr. Lee.

Compliance leaders who are facing an increased workload without any increase in staffing should also evaluate technology offerings that offer insight into an expanded compliance risk universe and control for threats to ensure a strong compliance culture.

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