Compliance Testing

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on July 11, 2023

Are You Retirement Ready?

What Is Compliance Testing?

Compliance testing, also known as compliance audit or regulatory testing, is a crucial process in the financial industry. It involves assessing and evaluating an organization's adherence to relevant laws, regulations, policies, and industry standards.

In the context of retirement plans, compliance testing is an essential component of maintaining plan compliance with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Labor (DOL) regulations.

The primary objective of compliance testing is to identify potential risks, gaps, and weaknesses in a company's compliance program and to ensure ongoing regulatory compliance.

For example, retirement plans are subject to various compliance tests, which aim to prevent discrimination and ensure that plan benefits are adequately distributed among all eligible plan participants.

Compliance Testing Methodology

Risk-Based Approach

A risk-based approach to compliance testing allows organizations to focus their resources on high-risk areas, ensuring efficient and effective testing.

This approach entails identifying, assessing, and prioritizing regulatory requirements based on the potential impact on the organization.

Design and Implementation of Compliance Testing Programs

  • Identification of Regulatory Requirements: A comprehensive understanding of the relevant regulations, laws, and industry standards is crucial for developing a tailored compliance testing program.

  • Risk Assessment and Prioritization: Assessing the inherent risks associated with each regulatory requirement allows organizations to prioritize their testing efforts on high-risk areas.

  • Test Plan Development: Creating a detailed test plan that outlines the scope, objectives, methodology, and resources required for each test.

  • Execution of Tests: Implementing the test plan, including conducting substantive and control tests and utilizing appropriate sampling techniques.

  • Reporting and Remediation: Documenting the test results, identifying areas of non-compliance, and developing a remediation plan to address any gaps or weaknesses.

Types of Compliance Tests

  • Substantive Testing: Assessing the accuracy and completeness of financial transactions and disclosures to ensure compliance with relevant regulations

  • Control Testing: Evaluating the effectiveness of an organization's internal controls, policies, and procedures in ensuring compliance with applicable regulations.

  • Sampling Techniques: Employing various sampling methods to select a representative subset of data for testing, which may include:

a. Random Sampling: Selecting a random sample of items from the population.

b. Stratified Sampling: Dividing the population into subgroups (strata) and selecting a sample from each stratum.

c. Haphazard Sampling: Choosing items from the population without any specific pattern while avoiding bias.

Key Components of Compliance Testing

Compliance Policies and Procedures

Establishing and maintaining robust compliance policies and procedures that reflect the organization's commitment to regulatory compliance and provide clear employee guidance.

Training and Awareness Programs

Implementing comprehensive training and awareness programs to ensure employees understand their compliance responsibilities and the consequences of non-compliance.

Monitoring and Surveillance

Conducting ongoing monitoring and surveillance activities to identify potential compliance breaches and evaluate the compliance program's effectiveness.

Internal Controls and Governance

Establishing strong internal controls and governance structures to support the organization's compliance efforts and ensure accountability at all levels.

Reporting Mechanisms

Developing transparent and timely reporting mechanisms to communicate compliance testing results, findings, and remediation actions to relevant stakeholders, including senior management and regulatory authorities.

Challenges in Compliance Testing

Technological Advancements and Emerging Risks

Adapting to rapid technological advancements and the emergence of new risks, such as cybersecurity threats and data privacy concerns, may necessitate changes in compliance testing methodologies and approaches.

Evolving Regulatory Landscape

Keeping pace with the constantly changing regulatory landscape may require organizations to update their compliance testing programs and invest in ongoing employee training.

Integration of Compliance Testing With Other Assurance Functions

Ensuring effective coordination and integration between compliance testing and other assurance functions, such as internal audit and risk management, to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of compliance efforts.

Resource Constraints

Addressing resource constraints, such as limited budgets and staffing, which may pose challenges in conducting comprehensive and effective compliance testing.

Ensuring Data Quality and Integrity

Maintaining the quality and integrity of data used in compliance testing is critical for producing accurate and reliable test results.

Best Practices for Effective Compliance Testing

Continuous Improvement and Monitoring

Implementing a continuous improvement culture and ongoing monitoring ensures the organization's compliance program remains up-to-date and effective.

Collaboration With Regulatory Authorities

Establishing strong relationships and open communication channels with regulatory authorities to stay informed about regulatory changes and expectations.

Comprehensive Training and Development Programs

Investing in comprehensive training and development programs to equip employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to meet their compliance responsibilities.

Transparent and Timely Reporting

Ensuring transparent and timely reporting of compliance testing results, findings, and remediation actions to foster accountability and maintain stakeholder trust.

Ensuring Data Privacy and Security

Implementing robust data privacy and security measures to protect sensitive information and comply with applicable data protection regulations during compliance testing processes.

Best Practices for Effective Compliance Testing

Compliance Testing and Retirement Plans

Compliance testing is an essential component of retirement plan management, as it helps ensure that plans comply with applicable regulations and operate fairly for all participants.

Retirement plan sponsors and administrators are required to conduct various types of compliance testing to ensure that their plans meet the non-discrimination rules set forth by the Internal Revenue Service and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Two of the most critical compliance tests are the Actual Deferral Percentage (ADP) test and the Actual Contribution Percentage (ACP) test.

These tests are designed to ensure that the contributions and benefits provided to highly compensated employees (HCEs) are proportional to those provided to non-highly compensated employees (NHCEs).

In addition to the ADP and ACP tests, other compliance tests are used to ensure that retirement plans comply with regulations regarding contribution limits, vesting requirements, and minimum coverage standards.

Conducting these tests regularly is crucial to identify any compliance issues or risks and take corrective action promptly to avoid penalties and legal liabilities.


Compliance testing involves assessing and evaluating an organization's adherence to relevant laws, regulations, policies, and industry standards to identify potential risks, gaps, and weaknesses in a company's compliance program and ensure ongoing regulatory compliance.

Compliance testing methodology involves a risk-based approach that identifies, assesses, and prioritizes regulatory requirements based on the potential impact on the organization.

The compliance testing program includes the identification of regulatory requirements, risk assessment and prioritization, test plan development, execution of tests, reporting, and remediation.

The key components of compliance testing include compliance policies and procedures, training and awareness programs, monitoring and surveillance, internal controls and governance, and reporting mechanisms.

However, challenges in compliance testing include technological advancements and emerging risks, evolving regulatory landscapes, integration of compliance testing with other assurance functions, resource constraints, and ensuring data quality and integrity.

Best practices for effective compliance testing include continuous improvement and monitoring, collaboration with regulatory authorities, comprehensive training and development programs, transparent and timely reporting, and ensuring data privacy and security.

Compliance Testing FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

Meet Retirement Planning Consultants in Your Area