Fincrime Career Tips and Tricks: A ‘happy accident’ opens door to countercrime compliance career, fueled by ‘What If’ scenario to stop Ponzi powerhouse

The Skinny:

  • In this new initiative, ACFCS engages the fincrime compliance community for wisdom and practical insights on how to enter and rise in a fulfilling but demanding and everchanging field. For this tip, we travel to the United Arab Emirates, to see through the eyes of a professional in the high-pressure, high-stakes world of international sanctions compliance.
  • Getting into the field of financial crime compliance was, to phrase the eminent artist Bob Ross, a “happy accident,” with the unlikely genesis of an entire career being sparked by a single question: In the case of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, Bernie Madoff’s more than $50-billion-dollar fraud, what should’ve been done better to prevent it?
  • The answer has started a learning journey, that, in less than a decade, has gone from focusing on fraud in the ecommerce space, to the foundational prongs of anti-money laundering to crafting training to address criminal trends, regulatory focal points and compliance gaps – and currently battles with brigands on the blacklist. 

By Brian Monroe
bmonroe@acfcs.org
August 30, 2021

In this new initiative, ACFCS engages the fincrime compliance community for wisdom and practical insights on how to enter and rise in a fulfilling but demanding and everchanging field.

We are asking minds across the spectrum and around the world of compliance officers, regulators and investigators to share some of their secrets to success.

Some of the questions: How can you take the first steps launching a career in the midst of a pandemic? And for those already working, how can you continue to develop professionally and take it to the next level?

For this tip, we travel to the United Arab Emirates, to see through the eyes of a professional in the high-pressure, high-stakes world of international sanctions compliance – an area that has seen record enforcement actions in recent years, with penalties in the billions of dollars for longstanding and egregious failures.

Getting into the field of financial crime compliance was, to phrase the eminent artist Bob Ross, a “happy accident,” with the unlikely genesis of an entire career being sparked by a single question: deceptive in its simplicity, but earthshaking in its power.

The query that started the quest: In the case of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, Bernie Madoff’s more than $50-billion dollar fraud, what should’ve been done to better to prevent it?

Though he didn’t land that particular job, the desire to learn more about the tactics to find and fight frauds and their scheming scammers led to the opening of a door to the interlinked field of anti-money laundering (AML), a rapidly expanding universe of rules designed to prevent illicit groups from legitimizing their tainted profits.

“From then I started actively following AML and compliance events and learned a lot,” he said, adding that although he didn’t have any prior experience, his innate passion and growing knowledge helped land a job at banking behemoth HSBC on its customer due diligence (CDD) team.

In less than a decade, he has gone from focusing on fraud in the ecommerce space, to the foundational prongs of AML to crafting training to address criminal trends, regulatory focal points and compliance gaps – and currently the ever-changing, expanding and contracting regions, companies, groups and individual brigands on burgeoning blacklists.  

But while many would crumble in a space where mental agility and program fluidity are a must, that could actually be considered a perk of the job.

“No two days are same here in the AML industry and that’s what keeps me here!” he said. “You get to learn new things every day and the work we do here has a huge impact on the financial sector and the world in general and hence I love to contribute!”

Even so, that puts more pressure to work even harder to see the big picture – and through the eyes of others with higher levels of knowledge, experience and skills.

“Go above and beyond the role by actively following the external events that are relevant to the industry,” he said. “Try volunteering for projects that are outside of your daily responsibilities since the amount of knowledge and exposure you gain is invaluable!”

Name: Abhilash Varma Lakkamraju

Organization: Emirates NBD      

Title: Group Compliance Screening Officer Emirates NBD

Country: United Arab Emirates

What initially attracted you to the world of financial crime prevention? What keeps you here now?

To be honest, financial crime prevention and AML is a ‘Happy Accident’ for me!

While working as a Risk Analyst at Google in 2014, a friend informed me about an interview for an AML role in a big four firm and I attended it without any prior knowledge or working experience in AML.

Guess what’s the first round of that interview?

It’s a five-page document about Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and I was asked to write a narrative about what should’ve been done to better to prevent the scheme.

Although I didn’t clear the interview, it gave me a chance to do some research about the scheme and understand how it took place and the impact it had on millions of common people.

From then I started actively following AML and compliance events and learned a lot. Although I didn’t have any prior experience, my passion and knowledge helped me in landing a job in HSBC in their customer due diligence (CDD) team.

No two days are same here in the AML industry and that’s what keeps me here! You get to learn new things every day and the work we do here has a huge impact on the financial sector and the world in general and hence I love to contribute!

How did you overcome the experience gap for those new to their industry, field or country?

I have overcome my lack of experience with existing skills that are transferable to AML and also my passion to learn new things quickly.

I have recently moved to the UAE and landed a job here in a large bank and it’s really fascinating to learn about new processes and regulations.

What’s your advice to someone just starting out in the industry and wondering how to chart their career path?

Invest in your own career, learn and gain as much as possible from your peers and managers and do certifications from institutions like ACFCS.

Go above and beyond the role by actively following the external events that are relevant to the industry. Try volunteering for projects that are outside of your daily responsibilities since the amount of knowledge and exposure you gain is invaluable!

Any advice or suggestions for job-seeking during the pandemic?

Virtual networking meetings act as the best option to interact and share new knowledge.

As well, when institutions create remote job profiles, they should detail the skills and experience needed, ranking them from basic to advanced fincrime tasks, which would promote the hiring of specialists.

Any other thoughts or guidance on getting started in fincrime careers to share?

If you’re willing to learn every day, have passion for preventing financial crime, compliance is the right industry for you and don’t forget that we’re making a positive impact on millions of people by stopping crime!

Get involved in sharing your career tips: How It Works

Each quarter, ACFCS is asking its members for advice on various aspects of fincrime careers, from getting your foot in the door to finding a mentor.

This quarter, we’re focused on guidance for launching a career – everything from what motivated you to seek out a role in fincrime prevention, to where you’re seeing hiring opportunities and more.

We’ll gather responses and share them back with our member community. Three participants will receive one year of complimentary ACFCS members (added to your existing membership for current members).

To learn more and submit your tips, click here