ACAMS at 20: A Road Less Traveled and the Friends We Made Along the Way

A Letter From the ACAMS President

In the ever-changing world of compliance, a decade or two can seem like several lifetimes.

Twenty years ago, instead of debating the vulnerabilities of crypto or discussing how to integrate artificial intelligence into compliance systems, regulators were beginning to assess whether bearer shares and correspondent accounts posed financial-crime risks. Instead of contending with ransomware threats from halfway around the world, bankers were wondering aloud how they could be expected to know if a branch transaction had ties to terrorism. And in a small office in Florida, with too little or no fanfare, a new business calling itself the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) first hung out its shingle, marking the beginning of a compliance journey that continues through today.

In the 20 years since the creation of ACAMS, much has changed from its start in 2002 as an offshoot of Miami-based Alert Global Media, to its two-year tenure beginning in 2006 as part of the New York technology firm Fortent, to its expansive growth under Chicago’s Adtalem. ACAMS has evolved from an organization largely focused on training compliance professionals—on the then new USA PATRIOT Act requirements—to a 90,000-strong global membership association that prioritizes thought leadership with the agility to convene industry roundtable talks and issue guidance on rapidly emerging threats.

That is to say that ACAMS has been marching down a road of its own making for a long time now. Although I am still a relatively new addition to the team, it is easy to see that the successes of the association would not have been possible if ACAMS did not have the good fortune of visionary leadership in its early days, steady and strategic stewardship during periods of sustained growth and importantly; a dedicated team and hard-working staff members both past and present, who daily proved their commitment to the organization’s mission.

But I am confident in speaking for them all when I say that the biggest driver has always been our members. Whether it is C-Suite compliance executives helping to shepherd us in the right direction, regulatory and law enforcement officials sharing their insights at association events, chapter board members taking on the responsibility of implementing regional training or those professionals in the broader ACAMS family who continue to show their faith in us by participating in our training initiatives and events. Our members have time and time again dedicated themselves to the cause of effectively fighting financial crime through teamwork that extends across institutions and over borders.

It is humbling, to be honest, and that is something else I feel confident in saying on behalf of everyone who has worked at ACAMS. It is why we continue to strive to give members the best possible support through such initiatives as our new free-of-charge social impact certificates. It is why we are convening public-private partnerships to foster stronger information-sharing and collaboration. It is why we are expanding our events to focus on more granular compliance topics, such as sanctions and the fintech and crypto sector.

It is also why we are confident that the first 20 years of the ACAMS compliance journey is only the beginning and that the path we will walk will be our own.

Scott Liles, president and managing director, ACAMS,

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