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Earning a Masters Degree focused on Financial Compliance with Cynthia Scott

Kelli Rodriguez Currie, the Director of International and Graduate studies at Seattle University School of Law, is a 2014 alumna who earned her JD in sports administration and leadership. She comes from a compliance background, specializing in collegiate athletics compliance, and approaches with an academic perspective.

Guest Speaker Cynthia Scott, however, approaches with a practical perspective. The Internal Audit Manager at Seattle Bank, she previously worked as a Compliance Monitoring Officer–where she realized she didn’t know what she didn’t know, and to fill in the gaps, needed an advanced education. She settled on an MLS and “It has been really the best thing for my career that I could have ever asked for,” she proclaims. She’s also been in banking for over 35 years, and has experience in mortgage banking, treasury, capital markets and policy procedures, and quality control. 

The Many Components of Financial Compliance 

Cynthia says that financial compliance is two-pronged. First is cybersecurity, where factors like the General Data Protection Regulation and privacy notices come into play, keeping consumer data secure. Second: are financial institutions following regulations? Are they doing their error disputes correctly? Are you keeping records for the appropriate amount of time? 

It’s amazing how many gray areas there are. “You have to be aware of the nuances, and be able to answer and research what those nuances are. And that’s where the legal writing portion of this program came in so handy for me. It really taught me how to do the legal research that I needed for my job. I can get the right answers for my boss and board of directors.” Seattle U has been in the top 10 for legal writing programs for over a decade, and the course awards its students expert skills. 

Every Day is Different

Some Seattle U students are in these fields already, and some are looking to get into them. But there are many components of financial compliance, from accounting and lending to fraud. So what does a day look like for Cynthia as she puts it all together?

With many shifting regulations to keep up with and many employees to manage, plus job duties that include anti-money laundering and vendor management, “What’s exciting about this job is that every day is different.” On a day like today, she’s doing testing for internal audit, making sure her loan servicer is complying with all the required regulations, and mediating conversations between her compliance officer and sales team. Oh, and also meetings. Lots of meetings. 

She and her company have the autonomy to do much of this on their own, but whenever they do need legal advice, they’re quick to attain it. “Seattle U’s MSL program does not make you an attorney–but it gives you the knowledge to know when to consult an attorney,” she says wisely. 

Take Those Skills to the Next Level

Cynthia knows exactly how, and where, her education factors into her now-everyday duties. “The Legal Writing course was actually my favorite. It taught me how to think, and what questions to ask of those critical thinking skills.” An English major, she already had the basics. “It really took those skills to the next level, and I was immediately able to utilize them in my work. I was so shocked at how I was able to use what I learned in the writing courses. As I went through the course, I was able to gain a better understanding of the regulations: why I was looking at them, how to look at them, how to apply them.”

In fact, Cynthia even created a brand new program at Heritage Bank for compliance monitoring that they still use to this day–and the FDIC said it was excellent. “That’s what the Legal Writing course did for me. I use it every single day, and I’ve used it since day one. Every course I was in felt like serendipity. Something would come up in my business and I’d think, ‘Oh. I learned that.’” 

An Unbelievably Practical Program

Cynthia credits much of her success to the MLS from Seattle University. “This program helped me get this job that I have now, and it’s also increased my pay exponentially, because I’ve been able to apply the skills that I’ve learned in this program. I’ve been elevated in my career to places where I wouldn’t have been able to before. So again, I didn’t know what I didn’t know–and now I know it. This is a great program.” Kelly agrees, and even adds that, “This program is so fundamentally different in that it’s unbelievably practical. There are things that our students do every day in the classroom that our JD students could not do and have not been trained to do.” 

Cynthia isn’t alone in this experience. She had two cohorts who received promotions in their jobs as well. “They directly attributed it to what they were learning. They could apply it to their current career, and their managers saw the improvement, and so it wasn’t just me.” She reiterates Kelli’s point–there are other paths to career advancement than strictly a JD program. It really helps to have that credibility and have those credentials behind you, but there are a myriad of ways to get there. The MLS might be yours. 

Know Your “Why”

Seattle’s program gets to the heart of compliance, Cynthia says, because “It provides the ‘why’, and that was what was so essential to me.” From that core understanding, you can go anywhere. “If you’re not set up with a really great foundation for how to read, write and analyze the law in the long term, you’re only ever going to learn the law as it is today,” Kelli warns. “We really want to set you up with a foundation that’s going to teach you how to learn the law in five years from now, in ten years from now, and teach it to yourself right so you know where to go.”

So don’t worry about how useful a compliance degree is for your career. Cynthia recently had a coworker say she would hire somebody with a compliance background over anybody else. “Like I said before, it tells you the ‘why’, so if you know compliance, you can basically figure out anything else. I’m of the mindset to never stop learning.”

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