Founding director of the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Graduate Certificate Program and associate professor at Gannon University, Musa Tuzuner, spoke to the ACAMS Pittsburgh Chapter about his career, studying anti-financial crime (AFC) and incorporating the lessons learned from the field experience and the classroom setting into the AML field.
ACAMS Pittsburgh Chapter (APC): When and how did you get into financial crime compliance?
Musa Tuzuner (MT): After completing my undergraduate education at the police academy, I embarked on a fulfilling journey that led me into the realm of financial crime compliance. I began my career by joining Interpol’s national bureau and intelligence department in Turkey, followed by serving in the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. Starting as a deputy captain, I eventually rose to the position of chief intelligence officer.
During my tenure in these critical roles, I developed a deep understanding of criminal and terrorist behaviors, including their involvement in money laundering and terrorist financing activities. This knowledge became the foundation for building effective preventive measures and policy recommendations to combat financial crimes.
As the chief intelligence officer in my jurisdiction, I focused on reducing terrorist activities, including addressing terrorist financing risks. Through innovative systems and methodologies that I developed and implemented, we successfully achieved an 80% reduction in terrorist activities, mitigating terrorist financing risks significantly. My work in this area earned me recognition as a “genius inventor” by the intelligence chief.
Despite these significant accomplishments in identifying risks and developing countermeasures on a national and international scale, I realized the need to enhance my research skills to further contribute to the field. I decided to pursue a doctoral education in the U.S., focusing on quantifying terrorist financing risks and studying counter-terrorist financing behavior. In addition, I aimed to understand why financial crime fighters perceive the real nature of terrorism financing risks and threats differently, even if they work in the same institutions.
During the subsequent years, I pursued various certifications, including those from ACAMS, to continuously develop innovative solutions that address identified gaps in the AFC sector.
My journey into financial crime compliance has been shaped by a commitment to making a real impact in combating financial crimes and mitigating the risks associated with terrorism financing. Through a combination of practical experience and advanced education, I strive to contribute to the development of effective systems and solutions in the AFC field. I believe that my current AML book project titled “Innovative Solutions for Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing” would be a great contribution to the field.
APC: What was your inspiration to bring financial crime compliance into colleges and universities?
MT: The inspiration to bring financial crime compliance into colleges and universities originated from my firsthand observations in national and international working environments, where I noticed that law enforcement and national security intelligence officers often perceived the nature of risks and threats differently due to various factors. This discrepancy led to different institutions devising separate solutions and countermeasure practices even when presented with the same risk information. Consequently, precious institutional resources were unnecessarily wasted.
Recognizing the importance of developing a unified and comprehensive approach to combat financial crimes, I realized that financial crime fighters must possess a mindset that truly understands the evolving nature of criminal and terrorist behavior. By fostering a culture of sharing, I successfully initiated innovative informal meetings with my staff and other stakeholders, transforming their perceptions and institutional practices seamlessly. Through these efforts, we established an effective counter-terrorist regime in our jurisdiction, significantly mitigating terrorism risks. The journey to achieve this was time-consuming, and during that period, I wished that such critical knowledge would have been imparted at universities.
When I embarked on building academic programs and research centers, particularly in the U.S., I discovered that certain aspects I wished for had already been incorporated into intelligence education. However, I identified a gap in academic programs specifically focused on the AML field. Consequently, I decided to fill this void by creating an AML minor program within a leading intelligence program in the U.S.
Currently, I am furthering these efforts by developing a world-class AML graduate certificate program. My vision is to educate future AML talent intelligently, leveraging evolving public and private partnerships at both the national and global levels. Esteemed AFC professionals have described these endeavors as innovative approaches to reshaping the educational landscape and fostering a robust pipeline of future AML talent.
An effective AML professional possesses several key qualities and practices that contribute to their success in combating financial crimes
APC: Do you have any role models/mentors and if yes, please describe how they have shaped the professional you are today?
MT: I have been incredibly fortunate to have had numerous role models and mentors throughout my career and education, each of whom has played a significant role in shaping my professional growth. Although it’s challenging to mention all their names in this limited space, I am deeply grateful for their invaluable support, guidance, encouragement and insights that have paved the way for my journey.
Among the many mentors who have influenced me, I would like to highlight three individuals who have had a profound impact on my professional development while I was in the U.S. First and foremost, Dr. Jim Breckenridge, whose mentorship has been instrumental in guiding me through challenges in educational institutions. He encouraged me to apply my innovative ideas about AML at Mercyhurst University, where I was able to initiate an AML program and other relevant activities. His guidance and support significantly shaped my leadership skills in the American context.
In addition, at my current institution, Gannon University, two individuals have played crucial roles in shaping my career. Dr. Walter Iwanenko, the visionary president of the university, impressed me with his leadership style, which inspired me to join Gannon University to build a world-class AML graduate education with institutional support. Without the unwavering support and insightful guidance of Julia Mack, associate dean for Curriculum and Student Affairs, I would not have been able to establish public and private AML partnerships, integral components of global AML education that include hands-on projects, professional tools and certification preparations.
The collective influence of these mentors and role models has instilled in me a drive for excellence and a commitment to making a meaningful impact in the field of financial crime compliance. I am immensely grateful for their support and encouragement, which have been instrumental in shaping the professional I am today.
APC: What benefits do you feel a graduating student with a financial crime degree can offer an organization that is looking for the next AFC professional?
MT: Drawing from my three decades of field and education experiences, a financial crime degree should aim to develop key skills and techniques that are currently in demand across all public and private sectors. Alongside professional certification preparations, integrating essential industry software tools into the education curriculum is imperative. This approach enables students to effectively investigate, analyze, identify and assess the financial crime risks faced by their institutions. In addition, establishing corporate partnerships can provide students with valuable opportunities, including scholarships, joint research projects, access to early career opportunities and professional development conferences.
A graduating student with a project-based financial crime education offers numerous benefits to organizations seeking skilled financial crime fighters. First and foremost, these students receive hands-on experience working on real-life cases involving money laundering, terrorist financing and crypto laundering. Their ability to create comprehensive reports, including link charts that illustrate the flow of illicit funds, brings fresh perspectives, up-to-date knowledge and a profound understanding of the evolving financial crime risks.
Secondly, students possess the experience and knowledge of building risk assessment reports on sectoral, national and global levels. They have the expertise to identify AML failures within financial institutions and provide recommendations to effectively address weaknesses and manage inherent risks. As a result, graduates are well-suited to be employed in various units of the AML risk governance and management structures within organizations.
Finally, students will be exposed to the latest tools and techniques used in financial crime investigations through internships and real-life joint research projects. Their theoretical understanding, combined with practical exposure, enables them to approach financial crime challenges with innovative and effective strategies tailored to the needs of the organization.
Overall, a graduating student with a financial crime degree brings a wealth of knowledge, practical experience and problem-solving abilities that are vital in combating financial crimes and safeguarding organizations from illicit activities. Their contributions can help organizations stay ahead in the ever-evolving landscape of financial crime prevention and detection.
APC: What do you think makes an effective AML professional?
MT: An effective AML professional possesses several key qualities and practices that contribute to their success in combating financial crimes. Based on my experiences and observations, here are some essential aspects of being an effective AML professional:
Awareness of evolving situations: AML professionals should stay informed about the ever-changing landscape of financial crimes in their jurisdiction and globally.
Open-minded observation: Being attentive and observant with an open mind is critical to the AML process to ensure that all data points, including outliers, are investigated fully.
Alignment with superior’s agenda: Understanding and aligning with the priorities and objectives of one’s superiors is essential for effective coordination and teamwork within the organization.
Straightforward thinking: AML professionals should adopt a direct and practical approach to problem-solving.
Proactive updates: AML professionals should keep superiors and teammates updated with relevant information without being prompted.
Informal communication channels: Developing informal communication channels with stakeholders, both within and outside the organization, facilitates effective information sharing and collaboration.
APC: In view of the current state of financial crime in our country, tell us how the AFC community can work better together.
MT: At the national level, it is crucial to establish strong public and private partnerships. But the important question is, where does this begin? If given the opportunity, I would propose an innovative partnership model for the development of an early warning system for financial crime fighters. This system would provide real-time insights into inherent risks associated with specific locations, down to the level of zip codes. Armed with such information, anti-financial crime professionals can proactively address potential threats, preventing criminals from staying one step ahead.
ACAMS Pittsburg Chapter board