ACFCS Member Spotlight: For Diana Arreluce, curiosity, adaptability, key to learning, rising in fincrime compliance field

By Brian Monroe
bmonroe@acfcs.org
February 1, 2020

For Canadian resident Diana Arreluce, breaking into the financial crime compliance field could either be viewed as an accident – or an incredible stroke of luck.

Over the past decade, the native Peruvian has dedicated herself to mastering a variety of skills critical to better understanding the array of counter-crime threats a financial institution could face, including risk rating customers, analyzing monitoring systems for aberrant transactions, the expansion and constriction of global sanctions, changing compliance regulations and the potentially pernicious nature of politically-exposed persons (PEPs).

Arreluce graduated with a B.A. in economics and international studies from University at Buffalo (NY).

After graduation, she moved back to Peru, where she worked for her family’s company for about a year before starting work with ASR – a subcontractor of the WoldCompliance (WCo) division of LexisNexis Risk Solutions (LNRS) – in 2010.

Arreluce’s work with ASR was “my first introduction to compliance, a subject that despite my academic background I had never learned much about,” she told ACFCS. “You could say that Margaret (Maggie) Sims, then Director of Global Content for WCo became a mentor on my path to learning about the world of compliance.”

Through her work with ASR, she became familiar with a wide range of financial crimes, growing from a research role to a supervisory position, spending her last year with ASR in the role of Operations Manager, overseeing a team of over 40.

In May 2018, Arreluce relocated to Canada and chose to go back to school, taking part in Seneca’s Financial Services Compliance Administration program (FCA). 

Those experiences have led to her current position as Senior anti-money laundering (AML) Analyst with Scotiabank, one of Canada’s largest banks.  

Apart from the explicit hard skills, Arreluce also acknowledges that vital to being successful in a field so dependent on gathered knowledge and informed decision-making is an inquisitive mind always looking for new paradigms to tackle current obstacles and historical dilemmas.

“Something I’ve learned through my career is that curiosity is a good thing, especially in this profession, and should be celebrated in young professionals,” she told ACFCS. “Asking questions, learning, and showing interest in new things will get you much further in your career than simply listening to others.”

Even so, such an asset must be paired with a malleability and fluidity to rise and overcome new challenges, a firm foundation for success.  

“All the positions I’ve held in this industry have had certain things in common,” she said.

“Those to me represent the skills and attributes needed for success. First, adaptability, after all this is an evolving and ever-changing environment. Second, the willingness to keep learning, and finally the ability to problem solve. I like to tell people ‘don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions,’ and this one in particular is a rule I like to live by.”

The ability to morph and grow to become whatever a bank needs to counter current criminal trends, address regulatory focal points and present compliance vulnerabilities can be challenging for professionals as the field is undergoing near constant change.

Just in the last decade, the role of the compliance officer has “expanded and gained more importance in financial institutions’ organizational structures,” Arreluce said. “The impact compliance professionals have now a days is much greater than what our peers had 10 years ago – this is in part thanks to changes in the regulatory environment and as a response to the 2008 financial crisis.”

As well, fincrime compliance professionals have had to better understand the more arcane pieces of the sector, including technology, systems and the innovative tech tactics used by illicit groups.

“Technology is a two-sided blade for crime fighting professionals,” Arreluce said. “As technology provides us with more tools to fight crimes, it also provides criminals tools to hide and increase their activities, such as the increase in cybercrime we have experience in the past two years.”

While there are many professionals looking forward to getting into the financial crimes field, the challenge is “finding those with the right balance of skills and passion for fighting financial crimes.” 

To provide an example, right now there is a “need for individuals who are capable of closing the gap within compliance and technology,” Arreluce said.  

But if she could give one piece of advice to those starting out, it would be to never stop learning,” she said. “Do your homework, research the market, the regulators, and the players, and keep up to date with current events.”

Financial crime compliance is an “everchanging field and knowing what is happening will put you one step ahead of the competition,” Arreluce said. “Be a sponge and take in as much as possible. It will come in handy sooner than you imagine.”

Arreluce was kind enough to share some of her insight in our latest ACFCS Member Spotlight:

What do you do in your current role?

As a Senior AML Analyst, part of my job includes analyzing transactional data to identify risks, trends and potential suspicious activity. Doing so requires that I keep up to date with new AML trends and typologies and keep improving my skills.  

What does your career trajectory in financial crime look like?

This is a tough one for me. For most of my career, I’ve been on the outskirts, working consulting, and mostly with the same company – until the last year after I relocated to Canada.

As I mentioned earlier, I started in the field by what can only be described as [a willingness to embrace] change [and take on new challenges] (or perhaps good luck).  I moved up to Team Lead and stayed in that position for quite a bit of time.

After a few years, I was given the chance to take on a new challenge and take over the role of Team Lead for the sanctions team, which was a whole new learning experience on its own and from which I learned much. 

And finally, during my last year with ASR, I became Operations Manager, handling day to day operations for the entire Lima office, all of this with the same company.

You could say I’m starting over in Canada. I however see it as a new chapter in my professional development.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

There is no such thing as a stupid question (Maggie Sims).

Something I’ve learned through my career is that curiosity is a good thing, especially in this profession, and should be celebrated in young professionals (and that in fact patience is a virtue which I sometimes lack).

Asking questions, learning, and showing interest in new things will get you much further in your career than simply listening to others.

What would you say are the most important attributes for someone in your role to be able to succeed?

All the positions I’ve held in this industry have had certain things in common. Those to me represent the skills and attributes needed for success. 

First, adaptability, after all this is an evolving and ever changing environment; second, the willingness to keep learning, and finally the ability to problem solve, I like to tell people “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” and this one in particular is a rule I like to live by.

How has (compliance, investigations, etc.) changed and evolved during your career?

There are two main areas were changes have occurred in the last decade that have had a direct impact on our profession.

First is the role of compliance professionals itself. It has expanded and gained more importance in financial institutions’ organizational structures.

The impact compliance professionals have now a days is much greater than what our peers had 10 years ago – this is in part thanks to changes in the regulatory environment and as a response to the 2008 financial crisis.

Second, the role of technology, a two-sided blade for crime fighting professionals. As technology provides us with more tools to fight crimes, it also provides criminals tools to hide and increase their activities, such as the increase in cybercrime we have experience in the past two years. 

What do you see as the key challenges related to financial crime in your role or in the sector overall?

This is a question I like to ask people, and I keep getting the same answer, which I agree with.  The greatest challenge for the sector is getting the right people for the right jobs.

While there are many professionals looking forward to getting into the financial crimes field, the challenge is finding those with the right balance of skills and passion for fighting financial crimes. 

To provide an example, right now there is a need for individuals who are capable of closing the gap within compliance and technology. 

What motivated you to become a financial crime professional?

My case is a bit different since I did not actively pursue a career in the financial crime profession to begin with, I landed on this field by a combination of factors.

Nevertheless, and after landing my first job with ASR, I developed a passion for compliance, and AML in particular, and have continued to grow in this field, motivated by the knowledge that my work does make an impact and a difference in our community. 

Is there anything that surprised you about your current role?

Many things, but the one I would pinpoint is the fact that regardless of the time I’ve been in the field, I continue to learn something new almost every day. 

Why did you join ACFCS and/or become CFCS-certified?

As a professional, I always look for a new challenge and to continuously learn more about my field.

ACFCS allows me the opportunity for both, while opening new doors and providing opportunities for connecting with other like-minded professionals. 

How did you get your first job in the field and what advice would you give other job seekers to help land their first position?

I tend to tell this story during interviews. When I started in this field, compliance wasn’t thought of as part of most school curricula, and although I graduated with an economics degree, financial crime was not a topic discussed in the classroom. 

I probably would had never considered a job in this sector on my own if it wasn’t for the opportunity I was provided.

When I got a call for an interview with a new company in Lima, my pre-interview preparation became my initial introduction into financial crimes, and most precisely compliance, and I haven’t really stopped learning ever since. 

For those looking to get started in the financial crimes field, that would be my first piece of advice: never stop learning.

Do your homework, research the market, the regulators, and the players, and keep up to date with current events. This is an everchanging field and knowing what is happening will put you one step ahead of the competition.

Be a sponge and take in as much as possible. It will come in handy sooner than you imagine. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I like to think that I’m doing my part to help law enforcement stop crimes that harm our society. 

You’ll hear it time and time again, the work you do, the information you collect, the reports you write, the STRs (or SARs) you write allow law enforcement to save people’s life and protect the community, but to some this seems like a very out-there notion. 

However, when you see the numbers, it puts things into perspective.

For example, Canada’s Project Protect (a partnership between Fintrac, law enforcement, and Canada’s financial institutions) clearly shows the impact of our work on the detection, enforcement, and prosecution of human trafficking cases. http://www.fintrac-canafe.gc.ca/emplo/psr-eng.pdf

For professionals with 5-10 years of experience, what advice would you give to help them rise in their careers to the next level?

I’m on this group, so the best thing I can do is repeat the advice that was given to me. If you are bored in your current position, then it is time to find something different, something that challenges you.

This may require you to take some classes, learn a new skill, or get out of your comfort zone, but at the end of the day it will be worth it in both a personal and professional level.