(Bloomberg) -- European financial firms catering to crypto companies are competing for top compliance staff as they manage a wave of demand following the collapse of US heavyweights Silvergate Capital Corp and Signature Bank. 

Companies including Greengage Global Holding Ltd, BCB Group Ltd, Blockbank and Fiat Republic Ltd. need to bulk up their compliance teams to make sure the new clients meet anti-money laundering and regulatory standards. In some cases, firms have increased salaries as much as 20% to lure experienced personnel, they said.  

Notoriously poor corporate controls and a swathe of bankruptcies in the crypto industry have focused watchdogs’ attention. Good compliance staff now come at a premium as companies throughout the industry bid for the comparatively small pool of specialists with the appropriate skills and a knowledge of crypto.

“Finding good compliance officers comes at a cost, and compliance now has a premium attached to it,” said Natasha Powell, chief compliance officer at BCB. The London-based payment service provider has seen requests from potential clients double since February, and Powell plans to expand her client onboarding compliance team by half in the next five months.

Read: Hong Kong Moves to Address ‘Hardest Position to Fill’ in Crypto

The checks are critical to companies like BCB. The company soon plans to launch its BLINC instant payment service in the US in a bid to fill the gap left by Signet and Sen, the now-defunct 24/7 service run by Silvergate and Signature.

According to headhunters, a newly hired specialist working on account-opening and compliance will make between £55,000 and £75,000 a year in the UK. Chief compliance officers will be paid around £200,000 or more at established firms. That’s around 10% to 20% more than before the crypto slump that began in late 2021. 

“It’s like post-2008 in the financial industry — compliance is king,” said Mark Weclawek, chief executive officer at recruitment firm MWek Solutions. 

Unwanted Attention

Most traditional lenders have long given crypto a wide berth, concerned that its tarnished reputation will automatically draw unwanted regulatory attention. 

Instead, a constellation of small payment and financial middlemen has sprung up, offering their customers services including accounts for day-to-day operations like paying staff, or ways to enable their users to swap fiat currency for crypto, and vice versa.

Sophie Guibaud, the co-founder of Fiat Republic, a London-based company that allows crypto firms to access corporate banking services and accept payments in fiat currencies from their users, says the trick is finding sales and compliance staff with experience of both payment and crypto firms.

“It’s key that they have both of those understandings because we are selling to crypto platforms,” Guibaud said. “They are specific operations, with specific risks.”

Lithuania-based Blockbank has seen increased applications from potential clients, including blockchain development firms, and is hiring analytics and anti-money laundering experts to cope with the influx, said Chief Executive Officer Anastasija Plotnikova.

“It’s more than just scanning someone’s passport, there’s a learning curve to train people internally,” she said.

‘Unique Risks’ 

UK-based digital merchant banking provider Greengage hired former Binance executive and UK regulator Lynn McConnell as its head of compliance recently, and has plans to bolster the department further. The company estimates each employee can process about five new accounts per week.

“You need to know all the traditional regulations, plus what are the unique risks for the crypto exchange market and even the weaknesses in blockchain analytics services,” said Greengage CEO Sean Kiernan.

For some, the solution is to hire contractors. MWek’s Weclawek said he set up a pool specially for compliance roles late last year to give companies more flexibility.

Others are looking to poach from the old-fashioned financial sector. That’s got tougher to do in the past year as the wave of company collapses and scandals in crypto makes the switch less appealing for some candidates, recruiters said.

Compliance specialists are also being recruited by foreign companies looking to establish a home base in the European Union to take advantage the bloc’s new, sweeping set of crypto rules. 

“There is this huge demand in Europe for compliance officers,” said Denis Spearman, head of the compliance and financial crime practice for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, at recruitment firm Danos Associates.

“There are always more jobs than there are candidates.”

--With assistance from David Pan.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.