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Two reasons why all BSA/AML professionals should attend the annual ACAMS conference

By Kristina Davis, CAMS, BSA/AML Investigator

This year I had the privilege of attending the 17th annual Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) conference. This three-day conference brings together BSA/AML professionals in the regulatory and compliance fields to learn what’s trending in the industry, to examine issues/situations currently on the rise in AML, and to brainstorm workable solutions to help mitigate the risk to our industry and institutions.

As one of the best experiences I’ve been able to participate in during my BSA career, the ACAMS conference is a valuable educational and networking event that all BSA/AML professionals should attend. Here are two main reasons why.

The educational workshops

The best part of the conference for me was when it was time for the workshops to begin. Two in particular were phenomenal: “Crafting Detection and Investigation Systems to Fight Human Trafficking,” and “A Bright and Shining SAR: Practical Tips to Polish SAR Narratives.”

Let’s start with summary of what I learned in “Crafting Detection and Investigation Systems to Fight Human Trafficking.” First, I’m very passionate about fighting against human trafficking. This workshop touched on a lot of issues and it brought together many different people from various backgrounds who all deal with combating some aspect of human trafficking. Hearing from a wide variety of people on this subject really helped me to see the overall “bigger picture.” This workshop also reminded me of the ways financial institutions can help to identify human trafficking:

  • Focus on specific business sectors that are more vulnerable to abuse, such as night clubs and spas.
  • Educate the front-line staff on what to look for, including some face-to-face indicators of human trafficking.
  • Focus on some of the financial products used to facilitate the funding and movement of funds used for human trafficking, such as wires and credit/debit cards.
  • Remember that human trafficking can happen everywhere, and while it may not be as obvious and out in the open, it’s our job to do our part and look for the signs.

The second workshop, “A Bright and Shining SAR: Practical Tips to Polish SAR Narratives,” was a really good refresher course for anyone who write Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS). This workshop stressed the importance of our SAR narratives to law enforcement agencies. Some major takeaways I received from this course were the following:

  • When properly written, a SAR narrative can have tremendous value to law enforcement.
  • The introduction is the most important part to grab the attention of law enforcement. Make sure you’re leading with the biggest facts/details.
  • Placing the type of situation you’re writing about in the correct category (instead of using “other” as the description) is very important. This is because, more than likely, whatever type of money laundering scenario you’re writing about already has the correct category to choose from, so using “other” would not be the best option.
  • Remember the basics: Who, What, Why, When, Where and How. Answering these questions means you’re on your way to creating an effective SAR Narrative.
  • SAR narratives need to be “Clear” “Concise” “Chronological” and “Complete.”

The networking opportunities

The ACAMS conference consists of BSA/AML individuals from literally all over the world, showing why this conference is the best opportunity for networking with other BSA/AML professionals and vendors in our field and in the compliance industry. From the multiple backgrounds of speakers and attendees to constant interaction with vendors, robust networking is the most unique opportunity this conference offers.

I loved having the opportunity to speak to so many individuals from various backgrounds, which helped me gain a unique perspective on what other professionals see and deal with at their respective institutions. I was better able to understand some of the thought processes behind other professionals’ actions, thus leading me to become a stronger analyst for Corporate One and the members we serve.

In addition to all the useful things I learned, I walked away from this conference with a new understanding of and respect for the importance of all individuals in our field of compliance. This is a fast-moving world, and criminals are always looking for ways to outsmart us or to be one step ahead of us. Since our profession is constantly evolving, we as BSA/AML professionals need to continue to evolve as well. If you get a chance to attend the ACAMS conference next year, my advice is to bring pens, paper, comfortable shoes, and plenty of business cards to hand out during all the great networking opportunities you’re bound to have.