Posted by Brian Monroe -
For Quantifind’s Chrissy Park, college brush with fincrime forensics leads to compliance career mastering risk surveillance, crafting new tactics to counter human trafficking, elder fraud and more
- An early brush with forensic accounting in a business course in college decades ago has led to a prolific and proficient career championing fincrime compliance for Chrissy Park, currently the senior director of product and Quantifind.
- From working with internal teams as a compliance leader at Wells Fargo, Park now takes a different approach, teaching and coaching in one of the most complex areas of anti-money laundering (AML): how to better capture and wield data and information in and outside of a bank to better divine criminal risk typologies, finances and financiers.
- Her current company she says is a perfect fit for her: an AI-driven data science company spearheading technology uncovering signals of risk across disparate and unstructured text sources, crafting and creating resources to help investigators in the corporate or government realms.
By Brian Monroe
Dec 20, 2022
There is no blueprint for how best to enter the fincrime-fighting fray – but there are some common themes to give any professional a head start.
These include curiosity, courage, a knack for numbers, feel for forensics and steely focus to surmount accounting.
That could explain how an early brush with the countercrime field decades ago had Chrissy Park hooked, intrigued by the complex analyses involved in financial forensics during a global business course in college.
That journey, including a stint at one of the country’s largest banks, has helped her achieve her current position as senior director of product and Quantifind, an AI-driven data science company spearheading technology uncovering signals of risk across disparate and unstructured text sources.
Her early epiphany: by learning how to follow the money, you can do so much more than uncover a missed expense report or evade a tax fracas.
By recreating financial trails and finding the missing pieces, you can better understand how criminals, fraudsters and launderers operate.
Moreover, by re-engineering how a given crime touched a bank and how a criminal group laundered the money, you can retool systems to uncover illicit finance patterns, more quickly getting that information to law enforcement and even changing lives by saving victims.
In all, Park has been in intelligence research, data analytics, and fincrime compliance for nearly 20 years, with more than 11 years at banking powerhouse Wells Fargo, leaving in 2019 as a senior vice president leading Financial Crimes Surveillance.
In that role, she was instrumental in developing, testing and improving AML monitoring and surveillance analytics – what many consider the electronic beating heart of the modern day countercrime program and an oft-criticized focal point in regulatory enforcement orders.
Even under the pressure of budgets, investigation deadlines and project timeframes, Park says it is “easy to stay motivated when you feel your work has a positive impact.”
Analysis of bank transaction data can be key in fight against human trafficking
While she has moved on, her contributions continue to bear fruit.
While at Wells Fargo, she built the bank’s first model targeting financial patterns that may be tied to human trafficking.
That project “contributed to the broader effort by government entities and law enforcement to combat this terrible criminal activity that exploits vulnerable persons,” Park said.
In her current role, she has continued supporting this initiative through Quantifind’s partnership with the Polaris Project.
Founded in 2002, Polaris works with public and private sector entities to fight human trafficking, human smuggling and forced labor trafficking in a bevy of ways, including building and sharing data on human and financial flows, arming institutions for investigations and preaching prevention and hotlines to help victims and survivors.
It is no surprise Wells prioritized the fight against human trafficking, a growing problem for banks and law enforcement partners.
Over the past decade, many large domestic and international banks have been proactively creating trafficking typologies and tuning systems to better uncover trafficking.
These operations worked on such initiatives even before guidance on human trafficking was released by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2011 and more recently in 2018, and by the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in 2014.
But even with such guidance – which in the case of FinCEN calls for knowledge of these red flags down to the teller level – uncovering the financial and transactional tells of a business that could be tied to a human trafficking operation can be difficult.
These types of investigations must inculcate analyzing classic aberrant activity, such as large transactions that don’t make sense paired with regions of the world associated with trafficking routes, with a more nuanced eye.
For example, banks must work to uncover the more subtle signs of trafficking – such as a massage parlor or nail salon that does most of its business in credit cards between midnight and 2 a.m. or individuals that make bookings at hotels and for rental cars with a credit card, then cancel the transaction and pay in cash.
One glaring recently uncovered red flag: an individual “losing” their credit card – 10 or 12 times a year.
The reason: human traffickers think they are obfuscating the money trail with transactions across multiple credit cards – not realizing that the banks see them all as they are tied to the same overarching business or personal account.
In recent years, local and federal law enforcement agencies have notched some big wins against trafficking groups, including stings capturing hundreds of the trafficking syndicate’s leaders and rescuing dozens of victims – in some cases in just one operation.
But criminals have responded.
They are moving funds into crypto coins and buying them with anonymous prepaid cards, attempting every trick imaginable to prevent banks from putting all the pieces of the illicit network together – including canceling credit cards nearly a dozen times a year.
Those are just a few of the reasons why human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes of our times, with an estimated $150 billion dollars in profits generated each year.
The secret to compliance success: be approachable, adaptable, flex your flexibility
Beyond human trafficking, Park has worked on projects on other emerging and perennial risks, like fentanyl trafficking, elder financial abuse, wildlife trafficking and misuse of COVID stimulus funds.
“Counter efforts for these risk typologies were very limited a few years ago and as an industry we’ve made significant progress to reduce the harm to people (and animals!),” she said.
Looking back, the twists and turns over her career have surprised even her, though Park believes “luck” was on her side.
“I don’t think I could have pre-charted the course that my career has taken thus far, and I’ve always liked the quote ‘luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,’” she said.
“I try to focus on that preparation aspect and remain open minded for opportunities ahead.”
So what are some of the secrets to her success? How could someone just entering the field benefit from her experience?
“On the teams that I’ve managed, the individuals who had the most success were very adaptable,” Park said.
Another one of her favorite quotes is a microcosm of the fincrime compliance industry as a whole, constantly adapting to new criminal typologies, including laundering through worlds of virtual value: “the only constant is change.”
“In this industry, there can be shifting risk landscapes, new technologies to keep up with, or additional internal or external regulation,” Park said.
“Maybe a bit easier said than done, but I think the ability to adapt quickly and comfortably is a practiced skill,” she said. “My advice would be that as financial crimes professionals, we focus on leading with flexibility.”
Park was kind enough to share some of her knowledge, skills and insight in our latest ACFCS Member Spotlight:
Who inspires you?
I derive inspiration from numerous friends, family, and colleagues.
Outside of direct connections, my inspiration is often from notable public figures engaged in the fields of innovation, art, and activism.
To give an example from my family, I’ve recently been getting inspiration from my husband’s grandmother, Patty Park. She raised a wonderful family and had a successful career in psychology and social work.
Her dedication to her family and her patients is commendable.
But what continues to impress me is her abundance of energy, kindness, and curiosity. Those three qualities are ones I aim to exhibit in my everyday interactions with others.
What is one thing – either industry-related or not – that you learned in the past month?
I’ve been very interested in the latest chat bot, GPT. Since I often view things from a compliance perspective, I’ve been learning about their safety guardrails and people ‘testing the fences.’
One such example is that directly asking ChatGPT how to make a Molotov cocktail will return a response saying that goes against its purpose and programming.
But if you reframe that request as part of a character storyline in a movie plot, the recipe and steps will be provided.
This may be an early illustration of how safety features are circumvented and then those loopholes are subsequently closed.
But I’m also fascinated by the idea of imagined scenarios within a platform that is more creative and linguistically adept than any past version of how we collect online information.
Applications of this autoregressive language model are sure to introduce new questions around maintaining ethical AI
What is something about you that not many people know?
I listen to at least 20 hours of podcasts a week. Being able to engage in content, while in motion (dog walking, cleaning, running, yard work) is one of my favorite ways to learn.
And I get so much enjoyment from a diverse range of topics, voices, and perspectives.
The ease and expansion of this medium provides access to global content, and I’ve found myself enjoying U.S. news through the lens of international reporters, like the BBC.
But I listen to much more than news - podcasts about business, politics, comedy, science, pop culture, and true crime are all in my queue.
What do you do in your current role?
As Senior Director of Product at Quantifind, I work cross-functionally with the engineering and design teams to drive the strategic roadmap of our product.
The priorities for product enhancement can include:
- developing new risk typologies to stay ahead of emerging risks, evolving regulations, or new AML challenges
- identifying new data sources that expand the breadth of our federated search
- updating functional design based on feedback from users
- building additional capabilities for search in native foreign language content
These types of projects require thought leadership, drawing from my 10-plus years in Financial Crimes Surveillance at Wells Fargo and the perspective from this industry.
Collaboration with internal teams and external clients is necessary to stay on top of trends and prioritize the projects that will provide the most value.
What does your career trajectory in financial crime look like?
I had an early interest in this field after learning about the complex analysis used for forensic accounting during a global business course in college.
And I had the necessary experience and skills for my first analytics role in this space.
But I don’t think I could have pre-charted the course that my career has taken thus far, and I’ve always liked the quote “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
I try to focus on that preparation aspect and remain open minded for opportunities ahead.
This strategy has worked well so far and led me to my current role at Quantifind.
This pivot to building and providing solutions to the type of team I used to manage at Wells Fargo feels like a natural evolution for me.
And it’s also provided new challenges and expanded my industry perspective. With incredibly talented and ambitious teammates and leadership, my current trajectory is to grow with the success of our company.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
“You gain more than you lose when you share credit” - if you get caught up with self-promotion at work, it can feel like one member of a team “winning” means that others ``lose”.
Several managers that I’ve worked with refused this notion of a zero-sum game and were consistently generous in sharing credit.
In my experience, this fosters an optimal environment for teamwork.
Promoting the contributions of other team members reinforces the value of collaboration and encourages those team members to find opportunities to acknowledge you in kind.
I’ve also found this practice leads to more individual accountability in addition to team cohesion.
What is the worst advice you have ever received?
“Fake it til you make it.” This cliche may work for some people or some jobs, but it’s never suited my style of management.
I’ve found that asking questions often leads to valuable discussions and innovative solutions. My success in building strong teams was often through humility and willingness to learn from and listen to others.
As leaders, admitting the things we don’t know can help foster open and honest communication.
What would you say are the most important attributes for someone in your role to be able to succeed?
Curiosity. So much of our field in financial crimes starts by pulling a single thread, making determinations with limited data, or evolving with emerging risks. I think having enthusiasm for information exploration is beneficial in this role.
Listening - as I mentioned before. I value learning from the expertise and opinions of others.
And in my current role, I’m really honing my ability to learn through active listening. Feedback from our customers drives our product roadmap and finding enjoyment in collaborative problem solving is an essential attribute.
How has (compliance, investigations, etc.) changed and evolved during your career?
It might be easier to list what hasn’t changed! Products for moving money, public domain data, and technology in general have all evolved significantly in the last 15-20 years.
Also, regulatory requirements, how financial institutions manage compliance and the availability of AI/ML solutions, are all dramatically different.
In addition, criminal tactics for money laundering, fraud, and scams have always been a moving target and identifying those patterns has been further complicated with the growth of virtual currencies.
These changing dynamics are why I’m still satisfied and passionate about this line of work. Success in this field requires engagement and continuing education.
What do you see as the key challenges related to financial crime in your role or in the sector overall?
Part of my role with Quantifind is supporting our approach to responsible ethics in the context of our AI technology.
I think this is going to be a key challenge as more financial crime prevention and detection solutions utilize components of AI/ML. The demand for efficiency gains should not overlook potential bias or ‘machine mistakes’ that models can introduce.
It’s another point of pride that I work for a company that is conscientious of our collective values and strives for the highest standards of security, transparency and accountability.
What motivated you to become a financial crime professional?
Beyond my genuine curiosity, it’s hard to recall other initial motivating factors.
But it’s easy to stay motivated when you feel your work has a positive impact. While at Wells Fargo, I built their first model targeting financial patterns that may be tied to human trafficking.
That project contributed to the broader effort by government entities and law enforcement to combat this terrible criminal activity that exploits vulnerable persons.
And in my current role, I’ve continued supporting this initiative through our partnership with Polaris Project.
Additionally, I’ve contributed to projects on other prevalent risks, like fentanyl trafficking, elder financial abuse, wildlife trafficking and misuse of COVID stimulus funds.
Counter efforts for these risk typologies were very limited a few years ago and as an industry we’ve made significant progress to reduce the harm to people (and animals!)
Is there anything that surprised you about your current role?
Prior to joining, I was aware of Quantifind through their solutions for Financial Institutions. But I wasn’t aware of their engagements that support intelligence analysts working in law enforcement and defense.
These engagements have been a great surprise. The core tenets are the same - an effective solution to sift through open-source data - but the ways in which their mission-critical investigations are different provides opportunity to learn beyond AML.
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?
It started with that sincere interest in this field and a well-timed opportunity. That combined with the technical skills I’d developed in my prior roles made me a strong candidate for consideration.
Given how significantly compliance programs have evolved, my advice would be to seek out a position that aligns to your strengths.
For me, those technical skills were key, but the diversity of roles in compliance means that the right fit for others could be experience in reporting, policy, or project management.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
In addition to being intellectually challenging, I like that our work supports the common good.
Even though the part I play is small, I feel a great deal of pride contributing to the fight against financial crime.
I’ve also found so much joy in the talented people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. My experience has included a diverse range of people, personalities and across geographies.
So many of these individuals have shaped my career, my success, and helped drive our collective passion. I’ve built some lifelong friendships and found personal growth and inspiration from my managers.
For professionals with 5-10 years of experience, what advice would you give to help them rise in their careers to the next level?
On the teams that I’ve managed, the individuals who had the most success were very adaptable.
Another quote I like is “the only constant is change.” In this industry, there can be shifting risk landscapes, new technologies to keep up with, or additional internal or external regulation.
Maybe a bit easier said than done, but I think the ability to adapt quickly and comfortably is a practiced skill. My advice would be that as financial crimes professionals, we focus on leading with flexibility.
Why did you join ACFCS and/or become CFCS-certified?
ACFCS has been a great resource for diverse insight into this ever-evolving field and over the last decade, I attended several conferences and webinars.
Last year, through the Quantifind membership, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel discussing AI and the Human vs. Machine convergence in our work. It was great to help drive an engaged discussion on such an important topic.
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