For Thomson Reuters Institute’s Rabihah Butler, jumping into fincrime fight was a ‘crazy’ decision borne of passion, desire to learn, grow and guide others in legal, compliance fields
- For Rabihah Butler, getting into the compliance field wasn’t an accident or aberration, simply falling into it because it was an upgrade from her current position. It also wasn’t an easy fallback – such as someone coming from a background as a regulator or government investigator.
- Getting into compliance was a choice, a risk that took courage – with some even saying she was “crazy” to leave the prestigious and typically well-paying legal field after a decade.
- But her passion overcame the naysayers. Since 2016, Butler has taken on some of the most vexing historical and emerging challenges in the field, leading to her present position as Enterprise Content Manager – Risk, Compliance & Governance, at Thomson Reuters Institute.
By Brian Monroe
May 10, 2022
For some, getting into the compliance field was a fluke, an aberration.
They didn’t plan it, but simply asked too many questions as a teller or dedicated fraud fighter. For others, it was an easy fallback – coming from a background as a regulator or government investigator.
But for Rabihah Butler, getting into the compliance field was no accident – it was a choice, a risk that took courage. Some even told her she would be making a mistake jumping into the fincrime fray after a decade as an attorney at several respected law firms.
But since 2016, Butler has taken on some of the most vexing historical and emerging challenges in the field, leading to her present position as Enterprise Content Manager – Risk, Compliance & Governance, at Thomson Reuters Institute.
“People thought I was crazy to ‘give up’ Litigation for regulatory [consulting] and writing, but it was the best pivot I have ever made,” she said. “The worst advice I have ever received is not to give up once I start. It took a long time to reframe giving up as pivoting to a different (and often better) direction for me.”
The Thomson Reuters Institute – part of multi-billion-dollar news, information and technology heavyweight, Thomson Reuters – has a particular focus on helping guide and inform professionals in the legal, compliance, corporate, tax and accounting fields.
That mix was also a natural fit for Butler having practiced law in many of these areas.
As far back as Butler can remember, she had an interest in and affinity for the world of finance, but the compliance sector was a way to grow her knowledge and skills and fight crime at the same time.
“Taking classes and attending training virtually helped me to understand what career options were open to me,” she said. “I realized that financial crime allowed me to work on legal matters as well as continue to expand my knowledge of financial crimes and regulatory issues.”
She further honed her understanding of the intersection of laws, regulations and compliance defenses to counter illicit inclinations for nearly six years as a senior associate in the Business Risk and Control area at one of the largest banks in the United States: Wells Fargo.
The Business Risk and Control team at Wells was a critical bridge between the broad compliance programs the bank was working to implement and the specific risk mitigation strategies needing to be carried out by the business lines, frontline and customer-facing staff, among other duties.
In ever shifting world of AML risks, priorities, threat actors, a desperate plea for ‘clarity’
A strong understanding of the evolving, revolving and shifting world of fincrime compliance risk – both internal, transaction-based actions and large, geopolitical trends – is a powerful asset for Butler.
AML compliance, sanctions and anti-corruption programs at large banks can command millions of dollars in resources and high-profile enforcement penalties for failings have soared into the billions of dollars over the past two decades.
Not surprisingly, she believes of the biggest challenges in the field is “creating clarity and consistency,” with expanding and constricting rules and blacklists, and fresh guidance adding further nuance to already rigorious rules, Butler said.
“It seems like every quarter there is a major change or regulation that has to be reviewed, prepared for and/or discussed,” she said.
Even so, coaching institutions to find the rare perfect balance of risks, resources and results has not dimmed her enthusiasm and hunger to grow and learn each day – typically through partnering with public and private-sector teams.
One of the most rewarding parts of her job is the “opportunity to learn from some really intelligent people,” Butler said. “I love that…I can give a platform for these people to share their points of view.”
But to achieve your goals and rise in the fincrime compliance field, at some point you have to leap before you look, and learn – not knowing what the future holds but going forth with a sense of hope and a belief in yourself.
“Say yes to every opportunity and be open to new things,” Butler said. “Each opportunity allows you to be more well-rounded and prepares you for what is next.”
She was kind enough to share some of her insights in our latest ACFCS Member Spotlight:
Who inspires you?
I am inspired by Ketanji Brown Jackson. Her appointment to the Supreme Court is something I never thought possible, and it shows that anything is possible.
What is one thing – either industry-related or not – that you learned in the past month?
This month, I have been doing a lot of reading on Silicon Valley Bank (SVB).
The thing that stands out from all of things that I learned is that there are as many political implications as there are regulatory implications in this area of review.
What is something about you that not many people know?
I love combat sports. I enjoy watching everything from boxing to MMA and actual professional writing. I also enjoy the production and content behind it.
That includes the writing of storylines, training, and history.
What do you do in your current role?
At Thomson Reuters, I review the past present, and future of the Government, Regulatory, Compliance, Fraud and Risk Management climate.
My work can be found in collaborations over blogs, podcasts, webinars, personal appearances and more.
What does your career trajectory in financial crime look like?
I am not sure what my exact trajectory looks like. I really am enjoying my time at Thomson Reuters. There are so many opportunities here that I will probably be taking advantage of.
The best part is the opportunity to meet new people and learn from them.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
The best advice I have ever received is to be willing to take every opportunity that comes to you. That advice has shaped my career because I bet on myself and used the opportunities to learn about my passions.
What is the worst advice you have ever received?
The worst advice I have ever received is not to give up once I start. It took a long time to reframe giving up as pivoting to a different (and often better) direction for me.
People thought I was crazy to “give up” Litigation for regulatory and writing, but it was the best pivot I have ever made.
What would you say are the most important attributes for someone in your role to be able to succeed?
In my position, the most important attribute is being willing to learn from others. I am always looking to collaborate with different people in different areas to expand my horizon.
What do you see as the key challenges related to financial crime in your role or in the sector overall?
The biggest challenge is creating clarity and consistency.
It seems like every quarter there is a major change or regulation that has to be reviewed, prepared for and/or discussed.
What motivated you to become a financial crime professional?
I was always interested in finance, but I never knew where to start.
Taking classes and attending training virtually helped me to understand what career options were open to me. I realized that financial crime allowed me to work on legal matters as well as continue to expand my knowledge of financial crimes and regulatory issues.
Is there anything that surprised you about your current role?
Not really. I was very well briefed on the expectations before I started.
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?
My first job in this sector was based on a friend referring me to a job placement agency.
I think the best advice I could give would be to use your network. There are some instances where people see strengths in you that you don’t notice and it can lead you to a great position.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love that I have the opportunity to learn from some really intelligent people and I can give a platform for these people to share their points of view.
For professionals with 5-10 years of experience, what advice would you give to help them rise in their careers to the next level?
Say yes to every opportunity and be open to new things. Each opportunity allows you to be more well-rounded and prepares you for what is next.
Why did you join ACFCS and/or become CFCS-certified?
This was the latest in a series of opportunities that I have said yes to.
Working with ACFCS gives me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of financial institutions, fraud and other regulatory concerns.
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