Posted by Brian Monroe - email@example.com 09/27/2022
ACFCS Member Spotlight: For Moody’s Katie Conroy, fincrime analytics, compliance problem solving mirrors holism approach of anthropology, study of ‘how’ to learn, not just ‘what’ to learn
- For Katie Conroy, fincrime compliance problem solving is more than just analyzing rules, ruminating on regulations, digesting data and settling on a defensible risk plateau. It’s about the history of human problem solving itself: anthropology to amplify strategy.
- In many ways, the tenets of the anthropologist mirror the need for fincrime compliance professionals to see past history and current trends through a variety of lenses: the schemes, scams and crimes generating illicit finance. The flow of tainted funds around the world also ebbs and moves, acting and reacting to global power shifts, conflict and vacuums.
- Being able to understand humans, good and bad, cross-reference trends and data and chart possible outcomes is a powerful skill that has helped propel Conroy to her current position as Content Innovation Strategist at Moody’s Analytics, a nearly $4 billion firm specializing in financial intelligence and analytical tools to rein in a range of risks.
For Katie Conroy, fincrime compliance problem solving is more than just analyzing rules, ruminating on regulations, digesting data and settling on a defensible risk plateau.
It’s about the history of human problem solving itself: anthropology to amplify strategy.
It’s not just about what bad humans have done, are doing or could do in the future – fraud, corruption and money laundering aren’t new, but they continue to evolve and adapt – it’s about who we are as humans and weighing the totality of broad financial and geopolitical shifts against regional risk wrinkles to divine the future.
That mindset has helped propel Conroy to her current position as Content Innovation Strategist at Moody’s Analytics, a nearly $4 billion firm specializing in financial intelligence and analytical tools to bolster corporate growth while also reining in a range of risks, including financial crime and compliance.
In many ways, the tenets of the anthropologist mirror the need for fincrime compliance professionals to see past history and current trends through a variety of lenses: the schemes, scams and crimes generating illicit finance.
Anthropology, at its core, is the study, analysis and cataloguing of what makes us human.
Anthropologists take an expansive, but also detailed and painstaking, approach to understand the nuanced and diverse aspects of the human experience, a dynamic dubbed holism.
That stratagem bears striking similarities to fincrime teams in recent years taking a convergent, holistic approach to merging formerly disparate and siloed anti-money laundering (AML), fraud and cyber teams.
These groups are also cognizant that criminals won’t just launder money through a bank one way or just victimize a bank with one kind of fraud scheme: they will use old and new tactics, classic cash and newer crypto coins to cleanse sullied funds.
The takeaway for the modern day fincrime fighter: taking an anthropological approach to understanding illicit acts and actors can help refine and re-define the compliance defenses to stop them.
Anthropologists consider the past, even including archaeology to look for the physical markers of societies and individuals, to see how human groups lived throughout known history.
The goal: to glean what was important to them, yielding vital insight as well on how overarching problem sets throughout time could have solutions relevant to today.
“Being a strategist is like being an anthropologist – you will never meet an anthropologist who specializes in the same area, uses the same tools, or even defines anthropology the same way,” Conroy said.
“In my opinion, what unifies strategists is the ability to analyze a complex range of variables across different constraints to identify the most impactful way of solving a problem.”
At Moody’s, Conroy works with cross-functional teams identifying key opportunities to craft technologies that better harness and wield data, the lifeblood of banks, regulators and law enforcement in the fight against all forms of illicit threat actor.
Over the past two years, she has led discussions in high-profile webinars, podcasts and blogs on such topics as modern-slavery, wild-life trafficking, identity matching and the correlation to evolving due diligence and compliance.
Spending her undergraduate years across Tulane University in New Orleans, University College of Dublin and Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Brazil, Conroy earned her Bachelor of Science in Anthropology and International Development with multi-lingual research foundations in human rights and environmental justice.
Before joining Moody’s, she worked in tech sales, media broadcasting, and political campaigning.
One of the secrets to her success is opening the aperture on herself, understanding that by unlocking and realizing how you learn, retain and operationalize information – and merging that knowledge with the skills and experiences of top thought leaders – can be a valuable asset to any firm.
So how did she break into the fincrime compliance field?
Conroy’s most direct “in” was her research background, which included advanced multi-lingual writing skills along with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) expertise and an understanding of multilateral frameworks.
“This set me up as a great candidate for interpreting data on a global scale, especially with adverse media, and easily adopting new analysis tools,” she said.
“Driven by my passions for both language and socio-environmental rights, I translated this to financial risks by talking to experienced compliance and RegTech professionals.”
Not surprisingly, one of her best pieces of advice for others trying to get into the field or advance their career is to focus on learning.
“Know how you learn and find out how others learn,” Conroy said. “Financial crime connects to every industry and risks are constantly evolving, so you can always apply your expertise to make a unique contribution to this industry.”
Conroy was kind enough to share some of her insight in our latest ACFCS Member Spotlight:
Who or what inspires you?
I admire those who break the status quo and establish new standards of empathy.
Here are a few of the inspirations I think of daily and quotes that capture why:
- Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
- Jane Goodall: “Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.”
- Banksy: “There’s nothing more dangerous than someone who wants to make the world a better place.”
What is one thing - industry-related or not - that you learned in the past month?
You can respond ‘bitte’ to almost anything in German.
What is something about you that not many people know?
In the past five years I’ve lived in nine different places, across four states and two countries, and learned three new languages.
My best skateboard trick is a hill-bomb.
What do you do in your current role
As a content innovation strategist, I…
- Identify opportunities for content alignment across business operations
- Analyze and predict global risk trends driving new demands or technologies
- Design and test data-driven risk solutions
What does your career trajectory in financial crime look like?
I want to change the way financial crime is understood and how people invest, both time and money, for a more sustainable future.
Because of this, I want my career to develop through a wide variety of experiences, from field research around lived impacts of financial investing to applying cognitive philosophy for developing accurate, intuitive and informative technology that allows positive sustainable decisions to be made.
I believe that through collective industry action, appropriate access to information and efficient solutions, we can drive a more equitable financial environment for industry resilience against financial crime.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
“Often times innovation is about saying no.”
There are a lot of great ideas, but there will be failures – the trick is to identify the failures early.
What is the worst advice you have ever received?
“Be a big fish in a small pond.”
I would rather challenge myself with other big fish.
What would you say are the most important attributes for someone in your position to succeed?
Being a strategist is like being an anthropologist – you will never meet an anthropologist who specializes in the same area, uses the same tools, or even defines anthropology the same way.
In my opinion, what unifies strategists is the ability to analyze a complex range of variables across different constraints to identify the most impactful way of solving a problem.
Communicating how to solve it, however, is critical – both in listening and intriguing listeners in unique ways.
How has (compliance, investigations, etc.) changed and evolved during your career?
What constitutes ‘reputational risk.’
When I started, reputational risk was more of a narrative about predicate crimes and generally not an essential component to compliance.
But many of the topics that were considered ‘reputational risk,’ like modern slavery, are now a growing part of compliance regulation thanks to their recognition as financial crimes from pieces of guidance by groups like FATF and FinCEN.
Therefore, I tend to see reputational risk less as a sidebar to compliance but an indicator of compliance regulations to come.
What do you see as the key financial crime challenges in your role or in the sector overall?
Privacy trends, both regulatory and behaviorally, are a balancing act.
While I myself want the right to privacy, it is difficult to navigate “knowing your customer” when they have the right to remain obscure either by legal justification, media standards or via new pseudonymized technology.
What motivated you to become a financial crime professional?
It was an accident – my parents were in finance, so I never wanted anything to do with it. Most of it was realizing what I didn’t want to do.
For example, when I was younger, I wanted to be a fashion designer. As I got older, I didn’t want to subscribe to the industry’s beauty standards and later became more aware of the forced labor and environmental risks of the industry.
Not wanting to perpetuate demand, I was turned off from shopping completely. I decided rather than buy anything new, I’d take from my closet what I didn’t wear and try turning it into something I would – low risk, rewards unknown.
I found that I loved being creative by working with the resources in front of me, plus I made some pretty cool slow-fashion garments and have expanded how I repurpose materials to this day.
It was similar with financial crime – I wasn’t sold on ‘wearing’ finance, but I realized through becoming a financial crime professional how critical financial institutions are as mediators of risk data behind financial crimes, and the imperative of efficient technology in effective regulatory enforcement.
Ever since, I’ve been driven to develop low-risk, creative and evolving solutions that get ahead of financial criminals.
Is there anything that surprised you in your current role?
I feel like I am constantly surprised at the fragmentation of data, period. Whether between regulators and financial institutions or across media outlets, there is a wild amount of variation in how data is collected, stored and integrated.
Making data mesh in a way that makes sense takes an impressive amount of brain and computing power.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Recently, I met a coworker who I had never spoken to before and they told me, “I learn so much from you.”
My heart swelled.
I consider the ability to learn my most valuable essential, so seeing myself have an impact on others in a way that has been so significant to my own success is incredibly rewarding, especially when it’s catalyst for risk-based approaches to financial crime.
How did you get your first job in the field and what advice what you give other job seekers to land their first position in compliance?
My most direct “in” to the field was my research background, which included advanced multi-lingual writing skills along with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) expertise and an understanding of multilateral frameworks.
This set me up as a great candidate for interpreting data on a global scale, especially with adverse media, and easily adopting new analysis tools.
Driven by my passions for both language and socio-environmental rights, I translated this to financial risks by talking to experienced compliance and RegTech professionals.
Thus, my advice would be to focus on learning – know how you learn and find out how others learn. Financial crime connects to every industry and risks are constantly evolving, so you can always apply your expertise to make a unique contribution to this industry.
For professionals with 5-10 years of experience, what advice would you give them to help advance to senior management roles?
From the perspective of a professional with just under three years of fincrime experience, my advice to more advanced professionals would be to learn from the newly initiated members in your industry and look for skillsets that leverage emerging technologies.
High-stakes financial criminals are some of the earliest adopters of new technology and it’s essential that we constantly bring in new perspectives to catalyze our industry approach as effective leaders against financial crime.
Why did you join ACFCS and/or get CFCS-certified?
ACFCS was the foundational core of my financial regulation and fincrime knowledge – and they’ve always stayed on the cutting edge of emerging risk landscapes by bringing in unique and diverse perspectives.
ACFCS is also my favorite group to present with because they keep the energy light and engaging without denying the weight of fincrime risk, and they make a point of delivering practical skills that you can walk home with immediately while keeping on the pulse of industry evolution.
Plus, they have never shied away from thought-provoking topics and have always allowed me to present my creative and authentic self to their community. Thank you!
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