Lauren Kohr and Jack Sonnenschein: Obtaining a ‘World-Class’ Certification

Lauren and Jack

ACAMS Today had the opportunity to sit down with two graduates of the Advanced Certification program, which aims to provide financial crime professionals with the tools and knowledge to elevate their careers and skillset to a top-tier level. The program consists of a three-day live program of lectures, discussions and group exercises, and the contribution of a white paper on an approved topic.

ACAMS Today spoke with Lauren Kohr, CAMS-FCI, risk officer at Old Dominion National Bank, and Jack Sonnenschein, CAMS-Audit, founder and principal of Compliance Navigation LLC, about their experiences with the Advanced Certification program and how it helps their careers.

ACAMS Today: What prompted you to pursue your Advanced Certification?

Lauren Kohr: My passion resides in combating financial crimes. CAMS-FCI provides a framework to develop the skills and expertise to identify and unveil complex financial crimes. Having my passion intersect with an opportunity to advance my knowledge prompted me to pursue the opportunity. The result was an elite certification that aligned with my professional interests and goals.

Jack Sonnenschein: There’s a saying, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind!” AML is dynamic and constantly changing. Getting an Advanced Certification demonstrated my desire to keep moving forward.

AT: Has the Advanced Certification helped you advance in your career and/or in your day-to-day tasks? If so, how?

LK: The ACAMS Advanced Certification is seen as a world-class certification in the industry. It has provided me increased credibility with regulators and industry professionals. Several opportunities that have complimented by career continue to transpire based on the white paper I authored and professional relationships that were fostered during the live program. From a day-to-day perspective, the knowledge and skills obtained from the certification led me to enhance our AML program through new typologies geared toward complex financial crimes, increased investigation standards and effective suspicious activity reporting. The enhanced program has been praised by our community bank examiners, and law enforcement has praised the quality and content of the suspicious activity report narratives written by my team.

JS: The Advanced Certification sends a message loud and clear about how seriously I take my profession and how committed I am to advancement. Career-wise, it sets me apart.

AT: As part of the Advanced Certification process, you are required to author a white paper. How did you choose your topic?

LK: After attending an industry event, I walked away inspired to author a paper that would provide concrete solutions to a challenge currently faced by AML and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) professionals. At the time, legalization of marijuana at the state level was in its infancy stages and regulatory guidance had just been issued. I knew, regardless of a financial institution’s position on banking marijuana-related business, it would impact their BSA/AML program. By choosing a topic and writing a white paper related to the challenges of banking the marijuana industry, it provided an opportunity to expand my knowledge of the emerging industry and assess the risks and impact to a financial institution’s BSA/AML program. It also helped me identify typologies and it provided an effective approach to addressing the challenges and risks.

I just went with my passion: training and helping others develop and implement the independent testing pillar of BSA/AML programs
—Jack Sonnenschein

JS: Choosing a topic was easy! I just went with my passion: training and helping others develop and implement the independent testing pillar of BSA/AML programs. When it comes to terrorist financing and human trafficking, it’s essential that people are well trained.

AT: Once the topic was chosen, what were the next steps? What kinds of research tools helped you in the process?

LK: Once I settled on a topic, thought about and outlined the objectives, main message, current challenges, proposed solutions, and takeaways, I was easily able to supplement my content with open-source research, regulatory guidance, and apply my personal industry knowledge and experience. I was successful in conducting personal interviews and utilizing my network of industry subject-matter experts for opinions and recommendations. My ACAMS mentor was also a good source for guidance and recommendations on research tools and approaches as well.

JS: There were plenty of enforcement actions that referenced deficiencies in staff training. In particular, they cited independent testing personnel as not having the requisite skills and expertise to do their work. The next step was to consider the root causes of the problems and how to address corrective actions on a sustainable basis. It wasn’t easy, but it did seem to flow pretty smoothly once “pen went to paper,” so to speak.

AT: What advice can you give to members looking to obtain an ADV certification?

Aspire to achieve a certification that can change the course of your career, set you apart from your peers, deepen your knowledge and show you desire to grow yourself and your career
—Lauren Kohr

LK:

  • Aspire to achieve a certification that can change the course of your career, set you apart from your peers, deepen your knowledge and show you desire to grow yourself and your career.
  • Devote the time needed to self-study, prepare for the live program and write an impactful white paper that represents your expertise as an advanced practitioner.
  • Venture beyond your comfort zone during the live program. Meet, network and develop professional relationships with the instructors and attendees.
  • Invest yourself fully in the entire program. As a participant, you have been awarded a unique opportunity to learn, network and align with the industry’s best instructors and other passionate professionals.
  • Challenge yourself to write your white paper on a topic you and other AML professionals would strongly benefit from having as a resource.
  • Enroll yourself now into the program. It was one of the best investments I have made in my career. Not only has it helped me reach new professional heights, but I have also gained the knowledge, expertise and skills needed to identify, investigate and properly report on complex financial crimes.

JS: Taking a line from Nike, “Just do it.” There will never be a shortage of reasons not to do it, and that’s what sets people apart from the rest—achieving the certification. 

Interviewed by: Larissa Bernardes, web editor, ACAMS moneylaundering.com, Miami, FL, USA, lbernardes@acams.org

For information on how to obtain advanced training to reinforce your knowledge on internal controls and regulatory expectations or to reinforce your investigation skills and your ability to effectively communicate suspicious activity, please visit http://www.acams.org/advanced-aml-certifications/.

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