ACFCS Member Spotlight: For NICE Actimize’s Adam McLaughlin, fincrime fight has turned from kicking down doors as London cop to busting down silos as compliance tech titan

The Skinny:

  • NICE Actimize’s Adam McLaughlin, a self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie,” is just as comfortable throwing himself headlong into the abyss – and the unknown – in the real world as he is leaping into the cavernous maw of a beastly compliance technology challenge in a virtual realm.
  • But there is a reason his passion is tangible in everything he does, even after more than 16 years in the field. 

    Whether on a breakneck pace tearing through a forested glen on a mountain bike or working to better link fincrime compliance teams and government investigators, he has come face to face with the criminal element he is fighting against.
  • Before McLaughlin’s roughly six years in financial crime compliance, he spent 10 years as a Police Detective in the UK. He takes the adage of “know thine enemy” to heart — along with sharing to help public and private sector fighters. 

By Brian Monroe
bmonroe@acfcs.org
June 27, 2022 

Which one of these statements doesn’t belong?

Teaching and training on financial crime compliance tactics and trends. Learning about advanced technology to increase investigative effectiveness. Soaring toward the heavens in a paraglider, like Icarus on waxen wings, with life and death hanging in the balance.

If you said paragliding, normally you would be right.

But then you don’t know NICE Actimize’s Adam McLaughlin, a self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie” who is just as comfortable throwing himself headlong into the abyss – and the unknown – in the real world as he is leaping into the cavernous maw of a beastly compliance technology challenge in a virtual realm.

Luckily for McLaughlin, the Global Head of anti-money laundering (AML) Strategy and an AML subject matter expert (SME) at NICE Actimize, he didn’t fly too close to the sun and his wings never melted.  

But there is a reason his passion is tangible in everything he does, even after more than 16 years in the field.

Whether on a breakneck pace tearing through a forested glen on a mountain bike or working to better link fincrime compliance teams and government investigators, he has come face to face with the criminal element he is fighting against – not just in an esoteric way looking at transactions and sending reports to the government.

Before McLaughlin’s roughly six years in financial crime compliance, he spent 10 years as a Police Detective in the UK, with the last three years managing a Financial Crime investigation team in the City of London Police, the UK’s national lead force for Economic Crime.

He was also an operational member of the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce (JMLIT) in the UK and on the Money Laundering through Capital Markets experts working group.

What fuels him today is the same fire and fury that made him want to become part of law enforcement at the beginning of his career.

“Quite simply it was to help make a difference, stop criminals and bring them to justice,” he said. “I hate the fact that some have become extremely rich based on the suffering of others or the destruction of the environment.”

“It’s not right that they should live in luxury whilst those around them suffer, so I work to stop using their ill-gotten gains so law enforcement can seize their wealth and use it for good.”

Convergence urgency: Busting silos, empowering partners in, outside of bank

However, McLaughlin also knows that criminal groups are adept at working together – in some cases sharing how to game fincrime compliance systems or maximize their illicit hauls from frauds and scams.

Which is why he preaches so fervently on the importance of breaking down silos in and out of organizations – helping AML, fraud and cyber teams better see larger illicit networks touching their institution – and better swim that data with law enforcement in the form of public-private partnerships.

“There is often very little information sharing between different lines of business or compliance departments, meaning each hold a little bit of information about entities which individually may not be suspicious, but when brought together could be identified as suspicious activity,” he said.  

Capturing new information, knowledge and skills, and sharing them, are also key tenets of career success – including growing in areas you are weak.

One motto I have lived by is – ‘it is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all,’” McLaughlin said. “Life is too short to live with regrets so I would rather give something a go and find it doesn’t work, rather than bypass on an opportunity and think ‘what if.’”

With ever more creative and aggressive criminals, new areas of financial crime and compliance, including crypto, always moving and evolving, it is vital for any professional in this space to remain agile – and informed.

“Don’t be afraid to jump out of your comfort zone to learn new skills, work in different areas of financial crime and organizations to gain a new perspective,” McLaughlin said. “Investigation skills, resilience, decision making, and integrity are all critical skills to have in this field.”

McLaughlin was kind enough to share some of his insight in our latest ACFCS Member Spotlight. 

Who inspires you?

There are two people who inspire me.

The first has to be Bill Gates, and the fact that he had an idea and then built it into a multi-billion-dollar empire through hard work and determination. Not only that, but he is now using his wealth to do good through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fight inequality.

The second is David Lewis, who until recently was the Executive Secretary of FAFT.

In my opinion he has made great strides in helping to push the agenda to fight financial crime globally and has not been afraid to say what needs to change, so we can all be increasingly effective at fighting and hopefully stopping financial crime. 

What is one thing - industry-related or not - that you learned in the past month?

Having attended my first face-to-face AML conference in two years, I have learnt that there is nothing better than face-to-face interaction, whether it’s with colleagues, friends, family or clients. 

What is something about you that not many people know?

I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

In my spare time I like to paraglide, jump off hills or cliffs, racing down hills on my mountain bike, or something equally fun and exhilarating. 

What do you do in your current role

I currently manage the AML strategy for NICE Actimize. I use my expertise in AML to understand the future direction of the industry and ensure that we as a company can meet the needs of the industry both today and tomorrow.

I also make sure our message is on par and resonates with the industry.

I am the AML spokesman for NICE Actimize, speaking at conferences and events and often write blogs and whitepapers.

I am passionate about fighting financial crime and use my position in NICE Actimize to try and make a difference, sharing my perspective and experience with the industry. 

What does your career trajectory in financial crime look like?

I am continually progressing and looking to better myself. I do this by staying informed about current trends, threats and regulatory or legislative changes in financial crime.

As mentioned before, I’m here to make a difference, having unfortunately witnessed the effects financial crime has on innocent people. I have seen the greed of the criminals who will stop at nothing to achieve and maintain their lavish lifestyle, surrounded by luxury goods.

I do not believe this is fair or just and want to do what I can to stop the criminals from profiting from their crimes.

I am in a position to help make a difference, however small.

Who knows what the future holds?

But one thing I do know is I want to be in a position where I can make decisions to help organisations or the industry make it harder for the criminals to move and hide their illicit wealth. 

What is the best advice you have ever received?

“Follow your instinct” is probably the best advice I have received.

If it feels right, it probably is.

One motto I have lived by is – “it is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.”

Life is too short to live with regrets so I would rather give something a go and find it doesn’t work, rather than bypass on an opportunity and think ‘what if.’

What is the worst advice you have ever received?

This is a tough one. I don’t think I have ever received a bad piece of advice that I can recall.

Advice is just that: it’s someone else’s opinion on what has worked for them and is based on their experiences.

Take it onboard and apply it to your circumstances.

Not all of it will be relevant or suitable, but you may be able to take something from it which can help you to grow or develop as a person.

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

Firstly, to do the role properly, you have to care. You must want to make a difference and apply 100 percent to everything you do to try and turn the tide, however small.

This job and working in this industry is not about taking your pay cheque or ticking a few boxes – it’s about wanting to make a positive change. 

The second attribute is knowledge. Financial crime is fast moving and evolving.

If you are going to help fight, you have to understand what to look for and how to manage the risks.  By keeping up to date with what’s happening in the industry, you can apply this to your day-to-day work to achieve effective outcomes.

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

In short, it has not changed. Most of the typologies and challenges have remained the same.

Little has changed in how criminals are laundering their illicit wealth – they are continuing to get away with laundering vast sums of money. The old adage, ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind.

What I have seen change is attitude. When I first got into this industry, a large proportion of the industry was about – have I done enough to comply and not to get fined?

There was a lack of passion to really make a difference and go above and beyond, which I see today.

New FinCrime professional communities and partnerships have been set up, such as the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce (JMLIT) public and private partnerships, which are making a tangible difference. 

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

We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go. One of the key challenges I see is that we still operate in silos, which does not support our efforts to fight financial crime.

Criminals work together for the benefit of each other. They do not care about rules or regulations such as GDPR, and they do not care about jurisdictional borders. They do what needs to be done to further their criminal empires.

The regulated sector, although there are gateways to share information, are pretty restricted in what information they can share and who they can share it with. Even within their own organizations, siloes still exist.

There is often very little information sharing between different lines of business or compliance departments.

The result: it means each area holds a little bit of information about entities which individually may not be suspicious, but when brought together could be identified as suspicious activity. 

What motivated you to become a financial crime professional?

Quite simply it was to help make a difference, stop criminals and bring them to justice.

I hate the fact that some have become extremely rich based on the suffering of others or the destruction of the environment.

It’s not right that they should live in luxury whilst those around them suffer, so I work to stop using their ill-gotten gains so law enforcement can seize their wealth and use it for good.

Is there anything that surprised you in your current role?

Taking on a global position, I was surprised at how small the financial crime community really is.

Also, how passionate most of the professionals I engage with are in wanting to do the right thing, no matter where they are in the world.

This is not necessarily a surprise, but having seen different perspectives in fighting financial crime, from law enforcement to working in the regulated sector to working for a vendor, it has opened my eyes to how interconnected each part of the industry is and how critical it is that we all work together.

At the end of the day whoever we work for, we are all trying to achieve the same end goal – to stop financial crime. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

In my existing job, the most rewarding part is to know our software, where I have a helping hand in defining the strategy, is used by the regulated sector around the globe to identify suspicious activity, report this activity and help authorities prosecute criminals and recover their illicit wealth.

I have spoken with a number industry professionals who have told me stories as to how our solutions have identified patterns that uncovered criminal activity or networks. It’s good to know that my efforts are helping to make a difference.  

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?

I actually started in the Police, and my first job out of university was as a Police Officer. I later moved into financial crime investigations where I remained until the end of my police career.

I then moved into the regulated sector as an AML compliance manager, which kicked off my private sector career in financial crime.

If this is your first position in financial crime, I would recommend understanding the role requirements and look at what transferrable skills you have from your existing employment.

Investigation skills, resilience, decision making, and integrity are all critical skills to have in this field.

Show you are serious about pursuing a role in this industry by completing a professional financial crime qualification – there are a number which exist. Also, becoming a member of an industry body such as ACFCS will help build your network and show your interest in this field. 

For professionals with 5-10 years of experience, what advice would you give them to help advance to senior management roles?

Continue to strive to be better. There is lots to learn in this industry, you can never stop learning.

Take professional qualifications, attend industry events and conferences to hear from other professionals. My top piece of advice is to have a goal, know what you need to do to achieve it, break it down into a 1-year, 3-year goal and a 5-year goal to keep you on track.

Don’t be afraid to jump out of your comfort zone to learn new skills, work in different areas of financial crime and organizations to gain a new perspective.

Being a well-rounded financial crime professional will give you the skills required to accelerate your career and help you become a well-respected financial crime professional.