What Is Regulatory Compliance and Why Is It Important?

What is regulatory compliance? Regulatory compliance is when businesses follow state, federal and international laws or regulations relevant to operations.

December 22, 2020

Article highlights

No matter the industry or company size, all businesses must adhere to certain laws and regulations as part of operations.

Regulatory compliance, in fact, deals with a set of guidelines that the law requires organizations to follow. It might involve, for example, observing rules set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure a safe work environment for employees.

Or it could mean following the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to ensure discrimination-free hiring practices.

Regulatory compliance also pertains to specific industries as well.

For instance, some standards outlined for the food industry focus on the entire supply chain to ensure product safety. These would differ from the requirements for the financial services industry, some of which focus on how to handle sensitive data and cybersecurity.

Where to begin?

For starters, it helps to take a look at a regulatory compliance definition to understand what it is and how it differs from other aspects of compliance.

Regulatory Compliance Definition

What is regulatory compliance?

Simply put, regulatory compliance is when a business follows state, federal, and international laws and regulations relevant to its operations. The specific requirements can vary, depending largely on the industry and type of business.

Some examples of regulatory compliance regulations include The U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation of 2016 (GDPR).

Regulatory compliance (adhering to government laws) differs from other aspects of corporate compliance (such as following internal policies and rules).

While both are important to ensure integrity, safety, and ethical behavior in businesses, it helps to understand the difference.

Regulatory compliance involves following external legal mandates set forth by state, federal, or international government. In contrast, complying with company policies and procedures involves following internal requirements set forth by the business. Both, however, help drive accountability in the workplace.

Why Is Regulatory Compliance Such a Big Deal

Over the last one hundred years or so, the sheer volume of laws, regulations, standards, and guidelines has increased dramatically.

Compliance isn’t just for the financial services or healthcare sectors – it touches every industry and has become a vital part of operations.

Constantly changing regulatory environment

With the regulatory environment constantly evolving, the compliance target is always moving.

You might find that, just when you’ve achieved full compliance, something shifts and you’ve got to tweak your approach to stay in compliance. Your business needs to be able to adapt; otherwise, you put your business at risk.

This is also what makes it so difficult.


Failure to comply

When your business fails to comply, you open yourself up to potential lawsuits and financial liability.

According to a recent study of cyber breach cases in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, the number of cases and total losses (penalties and settlements awarded) associated with those cases are rising sharply. In just one year (2017-2018), the average cost per case jumped nearly two-thirds, from $4.4 million to $7.2 million.

Case(s) in point: In a few high-profile, 2017 data-breach examples, Hilton Hotels paid $700,000 to state regulators, Nationwide Insurance paid $5.5 million in fines, and Target paid $18.5 million to settle regulatory actions and claims.

Regulatory compliance helps you protect your business’s resources and reputation. It takes time to build trust with customers, prospects, and vendors, and a big part of that centers on your ethical behavior.

Compliance lays the foundation on which you build your company’s reputation. Sometimes, all it takes is one compliance misstep and you’ve broken the trust it has taken years to build.

By not following compliance regulations, you might even risk losing access to certain segments of your customer base. For example, if you violate HIPAA regulations, you could lose access to certain insurance companies or risk your license with the state.

Finally, think of the time your business will need to spend following a compliance violation, such as handling an E. coli outbreak traced to one of your growers or a security breach because someone hacked into your database.

Protects your company

The regulations are there for a reason – they help protect your business, your employees, and your customers.

Failing to adhere to regulatory compliance requirements can open you up to risks beyond just fines.

For example, security regulations exist to help protect against data breach, financial regulations are there to protect against fraud, and safety regulations are designed to keep workers safe.

These compliance regulations aren’t put in place to make life more difficult (although, in reality, they often do). But compliance with regulations benefits your company as well as internal and external individuals.

How to Implement an Effective Regulatory Compliance Plan

Because regulatory compliance is such a big deal, your business needs to take a comprehensive, intentional approach to creating an effective regulatory compliance program.

Thorough training should accompany the program’s implementation to ensure employees understand the importance of regulatory compliance and how it impacts their day-to-day jobs.

Follow these guidelines to establish a regulatory compliance program:

Conduct a compliance audit

Your first step to regulatory compliance starts with a comprehensive audit to determine a compliance baseline and identify where any problem areas lie.

You’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of everything from security policies to risk management procedures.

Assessing risks, for example, allows you to not only identify them and their likelihood for occurring but also their potential impact on your business.

Once you identify your weaknesses, compliance gaps, or problem areas, then you can put best practices in action.

If you don’t already, you should be reviewing and tracking how much compliance violations have cost your business. Doing so can help when it comes time to ask for budget to mitigate these compliance issues.

How? By enabling you to prove out how much per year the violations are costing your company.


Compliance officer

The designated role of a corporate compliance officer (CCO) is gaining prominence in many businesses.

The CCO serves as the point person who champions corporate integrity, accountability, and ethics.

With the time-intensive oversight involved in implementing and monitoring a compliance program, the CCO’s sole focus is to stay on top of the ever-evolving regulatory landscape and make the necessary compliance decisions.

Establish and maintain your policies and procedures

It isn’t enough to simply have policies and procedures. They need to address the specific compliance areas identified in the audit listed above.

Plus, they need to be reviewed regularly to stay current with the always-changing regulatory landscape. Again, that’s why it’s helpful to designate a CCO.

In addition to having targeted policies and procedure tied to compliance, a key component of policy management involves the need to track when employees have read and signed your policies.

This plays a huge role in being able to prove compliance down the road, if necessary. If you can show the employee knew the policy, read and acknowledged it, and violated it anyway, then the company’s liability significantly decreases.

This provides a much strong position to take action against that employee.

A policy management software like PowerDMS can help you easily maintain records of all of these policy signatures.

Regulatory compliance training

Just like having your policies and procedures tied to compliance issues, you want to “train to your policies.”

If the policy is written to address specific compliance issues, then your training should reinforce that behavior and ensure employees comprehend what they are supposed to do.

Employees at every level need to adopt the philosophy that compliance is “everybody’s business” – even if you have a designated CCO to oversee your corporate compliance program. (That’s a key part of your training, as well.)

When your entire workforce understands the importance of compliance (and their role in making it happen), it distributes the knowledge broadly.

Compliance isn’t about a handful of people who know the latest regulations and what that means for operations. Rather, everybody is up to speed on the latest changes and they’ve been trained on how it impacts them.

Continual improvement

Compliance is not a one-and-done program.

Your company needs to build in regular review periods and audits. Plus, your organization should seek input from subject-matter experts (ideally, the CCO) who can track regulatory changes and understand their impact on your business.

This allows you to continually assess the effectiveness of the program and be proactive in your actions.

It helps to automate this review process so nothing falls through the cracks. That’s one of the powerful benefits of regulatory compliance software like PowerDMS.

It allows you to set workflows and reminders to route it to the appropriate people who need to review and make changes.

Now that you understand the critical importance of regulatory compliance (and the challenges you might face), you can use the above guidelines as your action plan.

These steps will help you create an effective regulatory compliance program in your business that protects your resources, your reputation, and your internal and external audiences.

Related Article

Footer CTA Image

Download your copy of the report

Download The Future of Policy & Compliance Management report.

How does your organization compare? Get your copy today.

Download the Report

Schedule a Consultation!

Everything you need to train, equip, and protect your public safety employees in a single system – from the moment they’re hired until they retire. Schedule a consultation to learn how PowerDMS can benefit you.