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Member Spotlight: Passion to fight crime, train next generation of compliance drives Ian Messenger

Monday, May 13, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brian Monroe
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By Brian Monroe
bmonroe@acfcs.org
May 12, 2019

For Ian Messenger, the spark of fighting financial crime started early in his career when he was investigating fraud causes against the elderly and vulnerable and realized the incredible difference he could make both crushing criminal networks and protecting innocent victims.

“It’s very motivating,” he told ACFCS.

From investigating complex fraud and money laundering cases with the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA), to analyzing human intelligence and suspicious activity reports (SARs) in Afghanistan and reviewing critical intelligence for Interpol, Messenger brings a deep skillset to HSBC Canada as the Team Lead/Manager - External Investigative Reporting, Financial Crime Threat Mitigation (FCTM).

Messenger, however, realizes the uniqueness of the lens through which he sees the world – the eyes of a seasoned investigator who can pick up on the complex nuances of transactions to better realize the underlying criminal activity, a viewpoint highly sought after by financial crime compliance professionals.

That’s why Messenger is equally passionate about sharing knowledge gained over more than a decade of experience with his financial crime compliance team at HSBC in Canada and enlightening the next generation of investigators, anti-money laundering (AML) analysts and counter-fraud professionals by teaching at two universities.

“As I progressed through my career, I focused more attention on the training and development of the 'next generation' of financial crime investigators,” he said.  “It has been very encouraging to see how many students are considering a career in financial crime – my focus to is to ‘bridge the gap’ between student and financial crime professional.

One of his most important lessons?

“Believe in the work you are doing,” he said. “Financial crime is not a 9-5 or process-orientated job. Critical thinking, an open mind, and treating every investigation on its own merits are key. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to financial crime.

But just as important as teaching students and young professionals what to do is teaching them what not do, a piece of very bad advice Messenger got and has been sure to not put into practice: “Just do what the policy or procedure says.”

“There is a big difference between doing the 'minimum’ and doing the ‘right thing,’” he said, adding that in the business of compliance, where your actions, or inactions, reflect on the broader perception of the bank, “reputation is everything!

He also believes in the mission of ACFCS and is taking a convergent, holistic view of financial crime, rather than the keeping teams siloed.

“I am lucky to have a strong team that is constantly looking to develop themselves and become better investigators by increasing not only their knowledge and understanding of money laundering, fraud, and terrorist financing typologies, but also understanding the customer and their potential motivations for conducting certain transactions – not everything is suspicious!

Messenger believes that training, as in investigations, should be broad, deep and relevant, infused by the ever-changing patterns of criminal groups to ensure compliance teams are given the best chance for success.

“ACFCS is a great organization with one of the most relevant certifications in the form of the CFCS” designation, Messenger said. “Financial crime is not limited to AML or Fraud and the CFCS covers a wide range of content relevant to the modern financial crime professional.

He feels ACFCS is the “most forward looking” association and is constantly developing new content and materials.The CFCS is the certification that I recommend to my colleagues.

Here are some of his thoughts in our latest ACFCS Member Spotlight:    


What do you do in your current role?

I manage a team of financial crime investigators in Toronto as part of HSBC Bank Canada’s Financial Crime Threat Mitigation and Compliance function.

Coming from a career in law enforcement where I focused not just on money laundering but also on investigations into the predicate offence, I spent a lot of my time on the training and development of my team members and sharing my investigative experiences with others in the department.

I am lucky to have a strong team that is constantly looking to develop themselves and become better investigators by increasing not only their knowledge and understanding of money laundering, fraud, and terrorist financing typologies, but also understanding the customer and their potential motivations for conducting certain transactions – not everything is suspicious!

Outside of HSBC Bank Canada, I also teach Police Leadership and Management Development at Dalhousie University as well as White Collar Crime at Wilfrid Laurier University.

What does your career trajectory in financial crime look like?

After studying criminology and criminal justice at university, I joined the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), where I conducted international money laundering and fraud investigations.

During my career I also held a series of capacity building, liaison, and strategy roles before moving into drug trafficking and money laundering investigations.

In 2016 I moved from the UK to Canada and, like many former colleagues, transitioned into the private sector working for a financial institution. A very different experience. At this point I also started teaching and in 2018 started teaching White Collar Crime to undergraduate students.

As I progressed through my career, I focused more attention on the training and development of the “next generation” of financial crime investigators.

It has been very encouraging to see how many students are considering a career in financial crime – my focus to is to “bridge the gap” between student and financial crime professional.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Your reputation is everything.”

As an investigator, when you put your name on a piece of work, you own that work (for better or worse!).

What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?

“Just do what the policy or procedure says.”

There is a big difference between doing the “minimum” and doing the “right thing.” As above, reputation is everything!

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

Hard work, belief in the work that you are doing, critical thinking and an open mind.

As a manager, you set the tone and expectations for the rest of the team. As a result, you have to live these attributes and values rather than simply pay lip-service to them. You’ll be surprised what your team can achieve.

Financial crime is not a 9-5 or process-orientated job. Critical thinking, an open mind, and treating every investigation on its own merits is key. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to financial crime.

Finally, an eagerness to learn and self-reflect. Financial crime is constantly changing and we have to try and stay one step ahead of the criminals – this means continually learning and keeping up to date on new typologies and developments.  Self-reflection is key – we can always do better!

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

There are more tools available to assist our investigations. As investigations become more complex and time-consuming, we have to become more time efficient – without taking short-cuts – and better IT is always a good move.

When I started my career, there were close to 30 different databases and systems which had to be accessed to get a complete picture. This was time consuming and frustrating (especially when it was time to change passwords).

Over time, this number was reduced, which meant I could spend more time investigating rather than simply collecting data.

There is also more focus on learning and development. Certifications and ongoing training – and ownership of your own development is key.  

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

Resources: Volumes of work are constantly increasing and it can be hard to maintain a handle on these. We just have to look at the AML failures of 2018 and backlogs that many financial institutions experience.

Fintechs: There is so much potential in the Fintech space, but at the same time, we need to ensure investigators fully understand the new products, services, and technologies being offered and how they would be used legitimately by customers and exploited by criminals.  

What motivated you to become a financial crime professional?

At the start of my career, I investigated a number of fraud cases which targeted the elderly and vulnerable. Working in a profession which gives me the ability to “make a difference” is very motivating.

Over my career I have been exposed to so many different financial crime typologies and it is rare that two cases are the same. I enjoy the variation in work.

Is there anything that surprised you about your current role?

Every day I am pleasantly surprised how much passion and enthusiasm my team has to develop themselves as financial crime professionals. In spite of the ever-increasing workloads, there is such a motivation to take the extra step and “do the right thing” and go above and beyond.

Why did you join ACFCS and/or become CFCS certified?

ACFCS is a great organization with one of the most relevant certifications in the form of CFCS. Financial crime is not limited to AML or Fraud and the CFCS covers a wide range of content relevant to the modern financial crime professional.

Whilst I am a member of other financial crime organizations, I have found ACFCS to be the most forward looking and constantly developing new content and materials.

The CFCS is the certification that I recommend to my colleagues.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The ability to make a difference. Either by protecting a customer from being a victim of financial crime, or through seeing my team members develop as investigators through coaching and mentoring.

How did you get your first job in the field and what advice would you have for job seekers to help land their first position?

I was fortunate enough to be hired into a law enforcement agency straight after university. That said, I had put a lot of work into getting relevant and transferable skills on my resume in preparation.

For job seekers looking for their first position, I would say that whilst you may not have financial crime experience, there are a number of transferrable and soft skills that you can demonstrate – such as critical thinking and communication – and which employers are looking for.

Training courses and certifications also help demonstrate your knowledge of financial crime concepts and typologies.

For professionals with 5-10 years of experience, what advice would you have to help them rise in their careers to the next level?

Start “paying it forward.”

After 5-10 years of experience, an individual is likely to have a strong investigative background and subject matter knowledge.

With so many individuals wanting to enter, or progress, in this field, there are so many opportunities to coach or mentor individuals either in the workplace or through your local ACFCS chapter

Opportunities like these can be great to develop coaching, mentoring, and leadership skills for your own career.


Member Profile

Ian Messenger, CFE, CAMS, CFCS, has more than 10 years of experience in intelligence analysis and investigation management at the international level. He has extensive professional knowledge of organized crime and money laundering activities in Europe and Middle East region.

Messenger is also highly experienced investigations manager and researcher with track record of producing in-depth analytical products. He has extensive written and verbal communication skills, delivering strategic and thematic assessments to a wide range of audiences.

He is currently the Team Lead/Manager - External Investigative Reporting, Financial Crime Threat Mitigation (FCTM), for HSBC in Canada.

Messenger is also an Instructor for White Collar Crime at Wilfrid Laurier University and is the Lead Instructor for Police Leadership and Management Development at Dalhousie University.

He has also held positions as Intelligence Officer in the Intelligence and Operations Directorate (Asia & Far East) for the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Intelligence Officer - International (Afghanistan & Pakistan) for the Serious Organised Crime Agency.


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