Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward

There is a lot to celebrate as we recognize the 20th-anniversary of ACAMS and the launch of ACAMS Today . I believe it is fair to say that the award-winning magazine you’re reading now, together with the ACAMS members who have exchanged their work, insight and expertise in these pages have played an instrumental role in the creation of a global anti-financial crime (AFC) revolution.

In fact, in its first two decades, the ACAMS community has not only tracked with but actually helped drive a quantum leap in the fight against financial crime, from the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act, to the rise of the Financial Action Task Force as the global AFC standard-setter and the advent of two AMLAs—the U.S. Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 and the European Union’s Anti-Money Laundering Authority.

Whether as convener, educator or thought leader, ACAMS and ACAMS Today  have reached an entire generation of law enforcement (LE), financial services, regulatory and nongovernmental professionals.

The impact of our work is reflected in convictions of transnational criminals and seizure of their assets, the freeing of victims of human trafficking and the stemming of funds to terror organizations.

Of course, despite countless important victories, too many financial criminals go free; for some, crime does pay.

So, as we celebrate all that we have accomplished over the last 20 years, it is important to look ahead to some of the daunting challenges the AFC community will face in the years ahead.

In the December 2021-February 2022 issue of ACAMS Today , I focused on the digitalization of crime and the success LE has had in recovering stolen or illicit crypto, particularly Bitcoin. This trend has continued with the seizure of $3.6 billion in cryptocurrency and the arrest of a New York couple for laundering the proceeds of the 2016 hack of the crypto exchange Bitfinex.1

At the same time, LE is looking anxiously at the next wave of innovation in digital transactions, not least those associated with decentralized finance (DeFi), including virtual currency exchanges that promise anonymity and nonfungible tokens.

It is important to understand that the creation of anonymous DeFi services is driven by conflicting visions, among them, the original libertarianism that inspired Bitcoin and created a currency independent of government oversight; the drive toward inclusion that cuts expensive intermediaries out of the provision of essential financial services; and, of course, the never-ending search by bad actors for opportunities to launder the proceeds of their crimes.

In an episode of the ACAMS podcast series “Financial Crime Matters,” Elliptic founder and chief scientist Tom Robinson warned of the need to balance anonymity against creating virtual havens for criminal transactions. Citing cryptocurrency mixer services such as Tornado Cash that create obstacles to blockchain forensic companies like Elliptic, Robinson argued that the privacy DeFi platforms promise will have to be balanced by AFC regulation.2

Some have posited that the way forward is a choice between what Robinson referred to as a kind of Wild West in DeFi that offers opaque transactions and boom or bust services that are unregulated, and a central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) that create a monopoly on processing transactions within a country with a resultant ability to track every aspect of citizens’ lives. The world of unregulated DeFi that offers a haven for proceeds of child exploitation and other heinous crimes (and a certain amount of instability when products fail with no party ultimately accountable for that failure) and the disintermediated issuance of central bank currencies hold the prospect of governments having visibility into every financial action, no matter how small, its citizens make, however, represent unacceptable extremes.

If the last 20 years are a guide to the next 20, it is more likely that the ACAMS community will look for, and help shape, a third way to manage the potential for crime associated with CBDC, DeFi and, presumably, any number of other financial instruments yet to be conceived.

In a February 18 speech, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said CDBCs should be “privacy-protected, so consumer data and privacy are safeguarded; intermediated, such that financial intermediaries rather than the Federal Reserve interface directly with consumers; widely transferable, so the payment system is not fragmented; and identity-verified, so law enforcement can continue to combat money laundering and funding of terrorism.”3

In “DeFi compliance: A galaxy not far away,” you’ll find a thoughtful discussion of some of the kinds of controls that can prevent DeFi from being the Wild West on page 54.

A highlight of my 16 years at ACAMS has been working with Karla Monterrosa-Yancey, who launched the magazine and continues to be its guiding force. Congratulations also to the rest of the staff, Monica Mendez and Ana Cecilia Martinez, and all of ACAMS Today ’s contributors over the past two decades.

And to our 90,000 members: keep reading ACAMS Today  and stay connected to all that ACAMS offers. Together we will meet the challenges ahead. 

Kieran Beer, CAMS
Chief Analyst, Director of Editorial Content
Follow me on Twitter: @KieranBeer
“Financial Crime Matters with Kieran Beer”

  1. Valentina Pasquali, “New York Couple Accused of Laundering Thousands of Bitcoins, Evading AML Checks,” ACAMS moneylaundering.com, February 8, 2022, https://www.moneylaundering.com/news/new-york-couple-accused-of-laundering-thousands-of-bitcoins-evading-aml-checks/
  2. “Understanding the Rise of DeFi and ‘DeCrime,’ with Tom Robinson,” Financial Crime Matters, January 4, 2022, https://soundcloud.com/financialcrimematters/tom-robinson
  3. Lael Brainard, “Preparing for the Financial System of the Future,” U.S. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, February 18, 2022, https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/speech/brainard20220218a.htm

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