Posted by Brian Monroe - firstname.lastname@example.org 06/28/2021
ACFCS Member Spotlight: For Louie Vargas, success in sanctions compliance means never stop learning, adjusting to outfox evaders
By Brian Monroe
June 28, 2021
For Louie Vargas, getting into the field of financial crime and compliance did not just fall into his lap. He fought for it.
After several years as an executive administrative assistant for a large bank, he started to push, bite and scratch into a field that more suited his intuitive, inquisitive and analytical nature: financial crime compliance – eventually landing in one of the most complex, nuanced regions of the space in the form of global sanctions programs.
Vargas has worked in different types of anti-money laundering (AML), sanctions and investigations units in different stages of maturity over the last decade, leading him to an unassailable conclusion in a sector in constant motion, adapting and reacting to illicit entities of all stripes looking to cleanse ill-gotten gains: complacency is a trap.
“Criminals are always ahead of us,” he said. “IT, data, and continual training are key aspects that all firms need to continue to invest in and be proactive about. Let’s not just figure out solutions for today’s issues but look forward and try to be as forward thinking as possible. If not, we will continue playing catch up.”
These tenets are even more relevant from the perspective of compliance with U.S. and international sanctions regimes, where great agility is required to keep pace with an undulating sea of blacklisted entities, at times expanding, and others constricting, depending on which way the geopolitical winds blow.
Staying nimble has been a hallmark of his career.
In recent years, Vargas has responded to requests for information from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and looked for buried, blacklisted entities designated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), groups allegedly linked to organized criminal narco cartels, grand corruption, terror finance and more.
He began his career at JPMorgan as a Name List Screening (Customer Screening) analyst and was the FinCEN Patriot Act Section 314(a) team lead, a program that broadly queries the whole of the banking sector on certain risky or illicit entities.
After JPMorgan, Vargas wore many hats at the Agricultural Bank of China, including engaging in OFAC Analyst/Transaction Monitoring/SAR writing/FinCEN314/Trade Finance reviews.
At Deutsche Bank, he conducted Sanctions Quality Assurance reviews and worked on the Sanctions Transaction Review Desk, including filing OFAC regulatory reports.
Now, as Principal Compliance Officer on the Sanctions Controls and Technology team at Danske Bank in Copenhagen, Vargas spearheads several key sanctions-related change program initiatives with a focus on controls and technology-related issues and enhancements.
Central to his success is not just being a powerful ally to law enforcement, but sharing knowledge broadly and liberally to empower the next generation of fincrime compliance fighters – efforts that feed the passion purpose feedback loop.
“I very much enjoy the challenge in helping prevent it, helping others get up to speed in this effort, and feeling like I have a hand in protecting our financial institution and society,” Vargas said.
“I have worked in different industries in the past and have worn many different hats but cultivating a career in the compliance/financial crime field was an unexpected blessing. It has given me a sense of purpose/satisfaction I have not felt in other roles. I truly feel this is a career, not just a job.”
Vargas was kind enough to share some of his insight in our latest ACFCS Member Spotlight:
Who inspires you?
My family inspires me the most to always do my best and uphold and display integrity.
I am also inspired by some former and present coworkers, managers and my current mentor. I won’t mention any names to avoid putting anyone on the spot.
What is one thing - industry-related or not - that you learned in the past month?
I had fun learning and testing out two new investigation tools that allow us to search more than one search engine at a time and review search results against current customer and transaction data.
What is something about you that not many people know?
I suffer from general anxiety, so sometimes all this fun can be overwhelming. But I have been taking steps to learn how to address this in hopes to reduce and address negative effects.
What do you do in your current role
What does your career trajectory in financial crime look like?
I very much enjoy the challenge in helping prevent it, helping others get up to speed in this effort, and feeling like I have a hand in protecting our financial institution and society.
I have worked in different industries in the past and have worn many different hats but cultivating a career in the compliance/financial crime field was an unexpected blessing.
I have been able to see different types of programs in different stages of maturity having begun my career at JP Morgan as a Name List Screening (Customer Screening) analyst and was the FinCEN (314a) team lead, at the Agricultural Bank of China where I wore many hats that included OFAC Analyst/Transaction Monitoring/SAR writing/FinCEN314/Trade Finance reviews.
At Deutsche Bank, I conducted Sanctions Quality Assurance/worked in the Sanctions Transaction Review Desk/filed OFAC regulatory reporting.
Today, I am currently driving a few Sanctions-related change program initiatives and focus on controls and technology related issues and enhancements.
I hope to continue learning and growing with the hope to one day take on a supervisory role within Sanctions or other Financial Crime units. Here we are also now living abroad. I did not think that would ever happen.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Do not stretch yourself too thin.
What is the worst advice you have ever received?
Slow down, you don’t have to work that hard or “that is not suspicious activity, it is normal course of business.”
What would you say are the most important attributes for someone in your position to succeed?
Humble, willingness to learn, learning how to deal with and work in the ‘gray’ area, and teamwork/collaboration is important.
How has (compliance, investigations, etc.) changed and evolved during your career?
What do you see as the key financial crime challenges in your role or in the sector overall?
What motivated you to become a financial crime compliance professional?
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
As I mentioned earlier, it feels good to know you have an impact on creating a better compliance culture around the bank and helping protect the financial institution and society.
Is there anything that surprised you about your current role?
Why did you join ACFCS or get CFCS-certified?
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.
For professionals with 5-10 years of experience, what advice would give to help them rise in their careers to the next level?
See What Certified Financial Crime Specialists Are Saying
"The CFCS tests the skills necessary to fight financial crime. It's comprehensive. Passing it should be considered a mark of high achievement, distinguishing qualified experts in this growing specialty area."
KENNETH E. BARDEN
"It's a vigorous exam. Anyone passing it should have a great sense of achievement."
(CFCS, Official Superior
de Cumplimiento Cidel
Bank & Trust Inc. Nueva York)
"The exam tests one's ability to apply concepts in practical scenarios. Passing it can be a great asset for professionals in the converging disciplines of financial crime."
(CFCS, Royal Band of
"The Exam is far-reaching. I love that the questions are scenario based. I recommend it to anyone in the financial crime detection and prevention profession."
(CFCS, CAMS Lead Compliance
Trainer, FINRA, Member Regulation
Training, Washington, DC)
"This certification comes at a very ripe time. Professionals can no longer get away with having siloed knowledge. Compliance is all-encompassing and enterprise-driven."
CFCS, CAMS, CFE, CSAR
Director, Global Risk
& Investigation Practice
FTI Consulting, Los Angeles