To rise in fincrime compliance career, conquer tech fears, get ‘uncomfortable’ to grow: Canada Summit Snapshot

The Skinny:

  • To break into and rise in a field as complex and ever-changing as financial crime compliance, get ready to confront tech trepidation, jump into subjects you are “uncomfortable” and even move laterally – to eventually soar even higher in the end.
  • Those are just some of the tips and tactics around how to break into and rise in the anti-money laundering (AML) field offered by many of the top fincrime compliance professionals in Canada during ACFCS’ Future of Fincrime Canada Virtual Summit.
  • More than 2,000 professionals registered for the three-day event, full of deep, relevant training, networking, games, giveaways and much more.
  • The conference cov­ered topics across the spectrum of financial crime and compliance in both the public and private sectors, including regulatory focal points, enforcement trends, crypto, cannabis, data analytics, human trafficking and included a full day devoted to job skills and tactics to break into the field and rise in your career.
  • On Thursday, the final day of the conference, current and former compliance officers, investigators and government officials tackled the theme of how to enter, survive and thrive in the compliance field and what skills would help professionals be in-demand now and in the future.

By Brian Monroe
bmonroe@acfcs.org
November 19, 2020 

To break into and rise in a field as complex and ever-changing as financial crime compliance, get ready to confront your technology fears, jump into subjects you are “uncomfortable” with because you have little to no experience and even move laterally – to eventually soar even higher in the end.

Those are just some of the tips and tactics around how to break into and rise in the anti-money laundering (AML) field offered by many of the top fincrime compliance professionals in Canada during ACFCS’ Future of Fincrime Canada Virtual Summit.

More than 2,000 professionals registered for the three-day event, full of deep, relevant training, networking, games, giveaways and much more.

The conference cov­ered topics across the spectrum of financial crime and compliance in both the public and private sectors, including regulatory focal points, enforcement trends, crypto, cannabis, data analytics, human trafficking and included a full day devoted to job skills and tactics to break into the field and rise in your career.

On Thursday, the final day of the conference, current and former compliance officers, investigators and government officials tackled the theme of how to enter, survive and thrive in the compliance field and what skills would help professionals be in-demand now and in the future.

Speakers offered insight on a bevy of pathways to succeed in AML and related areas, including:

Convergent conundrums

While some banks fret on how to fight and file on fraud when it comes to suspicious transaction reports (STRs), the first mistake is not seeing fraud and AML as interlinked, part of the same continuum of illicit.

To be effective professionally and programmatically, compliance teams need to know both to communicate, coordinate and be a true ally of law enforcement. Banks are breaking down silos between fincrime departments, so a diverse skillset is not only a bonus – it could help futureproof your career.

For more job security, try cybersecurity

Remember that we mentioned silos are crumbling and AML and fraud should be seen as interwoven threads of the same criminal cloth? Get ready to bone up on your cybersecurity credentials.

As hackers, criminal groups and foreign nation-states engage in ever more aggressive cyber-enabled frauds – think ransomware, business email compromise and phishing fusillades – that means your counter-crime teams must be more aligned than ever before and speak the same language.

If you have a cyber background, speakers say start learning more about fraud and AML as details such as the geo location and IP address of virtual attackers are critical points to enrich STRs for investigators – in and outside the bank. If you are an AML or fraud fanatic, get to see why IT is such an it topic du jour.

Tackling technology by not keeping your egg(head)s in one basket

Speakers at the conference noted that compliance professionals need not fear technology — in fact, they should embrace it.

To respond to tech savvy criminals, banks are employing things like artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation to create, capture and analyze data as never before.

What does that mean for you as a job seeker or even someone who wants to stay employed?

Don’t leave all of the systems engineering, data analytics, transaction monitoring tuning or cyber-sleuthing to the external vendors or internal eggheads. Learn how technology empowers your program so you don’t have egg on your face when regulators resume their rigor in a post-pandemic world.

But also remember to be self-sufficient when it comes to software snags. That can include something as simple as understanding how to unlock your PC or get back on your wi-fi – without a call to your “systems” guy or gal.  

Don’t get stuck by being a gumshoe

While speakers universally agreed these new whiz bang technologies will help better uncover fraudsters, launderers and other corrupt oligarchs and their gilded gatekeepers, they will never replace the need for human decision-making.

That means wherever you are in AML, whatever your role, to rise you need to learn more – and never stop learning.

Are you at the bottom? Do you do know-your-customer reviews or baseline customer due diligence?

Try to learn what individuals and corporates could be high-risk – but present as low risk. What businesses get supplied by high-risk regions? Push to job shadow an AML analyst or investigator.

Are you somewhere in the middle? Do you tabulate and analyze risk assessments? Do you review transaction monitoring alerts for AML or fraud?

Try to learn what are the red flags of human trafficking groups. Research to understand what regions are more at risk for certain crimes: human smuggling, child exploitation, elder abuse, romance scams and corruption.

But sometimes those investigations go into virtual worlds.

Go virtual, and I am not talking about Zoom

To create a stronger defense for your institution and prevent your bank from becoming a conduit for criminal groups to launder money, you need to know how they trying to cleanse illicit gains.

How? By staying current on virtual currency.

Don’t get sidetracked by the debate of if Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are real stores of value, Monopoly money or something in between. The point for compliance professionals is that virtual currencies are being used by criminals, to the tune of $1 billion.

So to ensure you are don’t get writer’s block due to the blockchain working on an STR, try to learn what virtual currencies are riskier than others. Get to know how investigators track the “pseudo” anonymous transactions on the blockchain.

That kind of hyper-specialized investigative knowledge is rare – and valued.

They like me, they really like me

Speakers during career day also highlighted that all the skills, knowledge and letters after your name in the world will all be for naught if you can’t connect with your team, the business and front lines and other thought leaders in the community.

What does it mean for you? To grow professionally, you need to grow personally.

Improve your interpersonal skills.

Find out the meaning of the words “emotional intelligence” and why that skillset is valued at times even more than a glowing resume replete with noteworthy stints and high-profile accomplishments.

In short: there is great power in patience, empathy, kindness and having a positive, approachable and humble attitude.

Those attributes will also help you create genuine connections, real relationships and even friendships with the most respected leaders in the field – individuals who could open the door for you to new opportunities, if you know how to knock.

A hint: don’t send your resume in your first LinkedIn message.

“Personal development and networking are important for career advancement. Never stop studying, stay current, and create that meaningful connection!” said one attendee.

Get uncomfortable

One speaker noted that in order to become a more well-rounded professional, find the areas you fear, or think you aren’t good at, and go for it.

Do you lack confidence in number crunching? Spend some time with the finance, accounting and audit teams.

Are you afraid of doting on coding? Find out what group tunes, updates and adds new scenarios and algorithms to your transaction monitoring systems or does model validation.

Do you cringe at crypto? Spend some time with the group who grades risk and get them to explain the differences between virtual exchanges, P2P marketplaces, darknet markets, the dark web and the TOR browser.  

The goal here is find out where you are fearful, weak and lack confidence and, ideally, turn those vulnerabilities into strengths so you will have fewer blind spots when you are pressed to see the full spectrum of financial crime

As part of the ride, don’t be afraid to slide to the side

As one speaker noted, if you have experienced weighted in the credit card space, but want an AML job at a bank, don’t be afraid to take a job on the deposit side of an institution.

Making a lateral move, if it provides experience in an area you eventually want to be, can buttress a region in your resume that needed support.

Balance, essential for the Force, is also a powerful ally when fincrime compliance recruiters are looking at your overall work history, a move that can help you better understand the struggles, trials and tribulations of areas outside of compliance.  

“If you don’t understand how this area works and don’t understand the business model, you will miss reportable transactions and potentially defensively file,” said Fnan Desta, Senior Manager, AML Intelligence Unit, at BMO, during the Fincrime Canada Summit’s panel, The Future of FinCrime Skills – Preparing Your Skillset and Career for What’s Next. “That will elevate your risk.”