Rave Reviews for ACAMS Hollywood Conference

As a first-time attendee, Rock Magleby-Lambert, CAMS, a senior manager in model risk management at PNC in Pittsburgh, was busy taking in the myriad offerings of the ACAMS moneylaundering.com 22nd Annual International AML & Financial Crime Conference.

“Number one, I’m very impressed to be part of such a large group of dedicated professionals,” Magleby-Lambert said, as he hurried to get some new-bought books signed by author and national security expert Malcolm Nance, who had just delivered a riveting keynote address. “Malcolm was just inspiring,” he said.

Magleby-Lambert said that interacting with his fellow professionals was one of the great benefits of attending. Topping it off, he also was a panelist on “Validating Automated Transaction Monitoring Models,” an experience he thoroughly enjoyed. “Our moderator Rob Curry was great,” he said. Curry, CAMS, is executive vice president and chief compliance officer at Keycorp.

Magleby-Lambert’s sentiments were often echoed at the conference, held April 3-5 in Hollywood, FL. Bringing together roughly 1,800 experts in anti-money laundering (AML) and financial crime, the conference offered interactive workshops, in-depth breakout panels and authoritative plenary sessions on the forces rapidly transforming the compliance profession. Attendees came from across the U.S. and beyond, representing banks, money services businesses, regulatory agencies, securities firms and law enforcement officers.

One of Wayne Guthrie’s first impressions: “The size of it,” said the senior inspector for Bank of Jamaica, who traveled from Kingston to attend. “It’s big.”

More importantly, it provided truly useful and practical information. He hit the ground running, by attending both of Sunday’s pre-conference workshops. “They were a good kick-off point,” he said. “It set a great stage.”

His colleague Gillian Lee added that, for her, the conference was a valuable chance to explore the issue of de-risking, which is having a major impact on the economy or her island country.

To ask an obvious question: What would motivate intelligent, talented professionals to forgo the sunny South Florida beach just steps outside for the opportunity to stay indoors during primetime sun-tanning hours? (Not to mention that, had they stayed home, many might have attended opening day of their favorite Major League Baseball team.)

“I’m wanting the opportunity to learn, to get exposure to issues I may not see on a day-to-day basis,” said Michael Sova, a loan review specialist with the FDIC in New Jersey. “The presentations are very professional. I’m on the road a lot and don’t get to my chapter often. So I’m looking for broader exposure.”

Meanwhile, he envisions the conference having a direct effect on his professional development. “I’m working toward being a BSA specialist [for the FDIC],” he said. So attendance will help further his career goals.

For Doug Marrs, vice president of BSA at Great Southern Bank in Springfield, Mo., the ability to learn firsthand what other institutions are doing is a primary benefit, regardless of size. “What applies to big (banks) applies to small ones as well,” he said.

His institution, with $4.6 billion in assets, sent three employees to Hollywood. “It’s a good place to learn additional information on what the trends are,” he said. “The specific real-life examples are very important.”

Marla Campbell, a vice president and senior AML manager at TD Bank, concurred. “The networking and listening to the various speakers” were her primary motivation for attending. And the presentations offered practical solutions for common compliance problems. “I went to the know your employee session [titled] ’The Enemy Within: Best Practices for Identifying and Terminating Rogue Employees’  and it was a good session. It does happen,” Campbell said.

Nathalie Feria, CAMS, who works in risk advisory services at Kaufman Rossin, shared Campbell’s assessment. “People know they exist,” she said of bad apples in the workforce. “It was great to see it from other perspectives.”

Her colleague Brian Frankel, CAMS, found an at-times harrowing panel on human trafficking also compelling. The session brought together bankers Stevenson Munro, CAMS, of Standard Chartered, Frederick Reynolds of Barclays, Keith Kolovich of Homeland Security Investigations and Bassem Banafa, CAMS, a forensic accounting specialist for the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office in California. The session focused on how Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) officers—and BSA data—can help fight this scourge. “Their stories brought the human perspective,” Frankel said.

In an AML world where the only constant is change, Joseph Gallion, deputy special agent in charge at BB&T, said his changing professional perspectives are why the Hollywood conference remains relevant to him.

 “I used to be in law enforcement,” he said. Specifically, he worked for Homeland Security Investigations. He did not always attend many sessions and would instead focus on networking. “Now that I’m sitting in sessions, I’ve learned a lot about cooperative efforts [between banks and law enforcement],” he said.

One of the most significant transformation affecting AML is, of course, the rapid technological changes. The Hollywood conference offered multiple opportunities for learning more about what is going on and how it is affecting the compliance field.

“ACAMS is highlighting those kinds of trends,” said Prince Varma, vice president of sales for Oracle, the software giant. Mastering the convergence of technology, data analytics and new rules and regulations “is critical to compliance,” he said.

 “The nature of the business itself is changing,” added Jason Yesinko, also of Oracle, adding that he has been coming to the conference for decades. “This organization is in front of the trends.”

Another growing trend relevant to the AML world is the rise of Fintech and the regulatory questions surrounding it. That motivated Diana Sirila, CAMS, who works in the financial services arm of Jamaica-based Digicel Group, to attend. “I particularly enjoyed the panel discussion with the regulators,” she said. “It helped me understanding the push and pull between regulators and bankers.”

Although it was her first time at an ACAMS conference, she is an avid attendee of ACAMS webinars and seminars, she added.

Worth noting, topics that were not even on the compliance radar when the conference was first held 22 years ago are now often, quite literally, taking center stage. “Cyber [crime] is our biggest risk area right now,” said Andrea Valentin, CAMS, vice president at U.S. Bank and member of its prepaid card financial intelligence unit. “Learning about that is key.” She did just that at the pre-conference workshop, “Anatomy of a Hack.”

“It was really useful to me,” she said.

Reflecting a common sentiment, Charles Falciglia, CAMS, BSA officer for the U.S. branches of China CITIC, said affiliation with ACAMS (he has been certified for more than a decade) is simply a professional distinction.

“It’s really the only resource you have, and the network you can reach out to is phenomenal,” he said. “People see you’re CAMS certified, and there’s a degree of confidence,” he added.

Gregg Fields, CAMS, senior copywriter, conferences and training, ACAMS, Miami, FL, USA, gfields@acams.org

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