Becoming a financial crime investigatorFeatured

What is a financial crime investigator in the private sector?Typically, these are roles at banks and other financial industry firms with Bank Secrecy Act exposure. These organizations ask the investigator to dig into the financial details of alerted customers and form a conclusion about whether or not illegal activity may be occurring within the data set of a case. Every institution structures financial crime investigation hierarchies and teams in their own unique way, but typically, the most entry level role involves triaging alerts - often referred to as preliminary investigators. These roles might not require advanced degrees or certifications, but will likely require some experience in the banking or legal worlds. The meat of a corporate investigative force is the fraud and AML investigators who take triaged cases, investigate all relevant details, and compile a report. These investigators typically will need advanced degrees in law, criminal subjects, finance subjects, or compelling equivalent experience in law, banking, law enforcement, or the military. There are also tech roles within financial crime investigations, which typically design algorithms, manage Excel macros, manage databases, etc. As my experience is as an AML investigator, I will focus on that subset of financial crime investigations.How did you get into your role?After graduating law school, I took a year off to try new things and figure myself out. That came to a crashing halt when I became seriously ill. After recovering, I started looking for contract work in the legal field and was contacted by a Robert Half recruiter about an anti-money laundering investigator role at a major bank. I jumped on it and absolutely loved it.Factors that I heard that played a role in securing that job included my law degree, an internship at a fintech company during law school, a thesis on an anti-money laundering topic during law school, and many years of work experience in general. I was a top performer with a great relationship with management. It took months to develop this relationship, but there are some concrete points that seemed to help forge it.What makes a good financial crime investigator?At the most basic level, you need to be good at taking unstructured or loosely structured data and finding the patterns within it. Your job is to tell an evidence-based story about how money is earned and spent so any regulator coming in to audit can see that the institution knows how to spot potential illegal activity and makes good faith efforts to do so. Good research skills are also essential.Another critical skill is the ability to manage your mental health with a high degree of self-awareness and proactivity. It is illegal to disclose whether or not you have ever filed a Suspicious Action Report to a government entity and a violation of non-disclosure agreements with your employer to discuss the specific details of your work as an investigator outside of your immediate team (though I think licensed therapists are an exception). You need to be able to process emotions generated by the data you look at within those limits quickly and continue focusing on your work. Some managers will advise that it is okay to take a mental health day off on infrequent occasions, but the general expectation is that you can effectively manage your emotions independently.How to set yourself apart on the job:Lack of bias and awareness of current events are key differentiating attributes. To that end, it helps significantly if you have had diverse life experiences that help you see the data you are looking at from multiple perspectives to ensure that decisions you make really are based on fact rather than assumption. It is also critical to be aware of what is happening in the world, particularly as it relates to the larger demographics of your institution’s customer base. For example, a large consumer bank will have exposure to major trends outside the U.S., such as the impact of the collapsed Venezuelan economy on how Venezuelans move money and goods. Banks specializing in startups may deal more with high tech financial mechanisms, and an investigator should be aware of fintech trends, the cryptocurrency ecosystem, etc. Another way to set yourself apart is to write well. If you are in an entry level investigator role and your manager has to review everything you do, your ability to make their job easier will get noticed. Some specific pointers: 1) use as few words as you can to make your point, 2) use templates for common tasks with a design that matches your workflow, and 3) be consistent, particularly with terminology. How to learn more?ACAMS is the premier anti-money laundering certification organization. They have a great article that gives an in-depth look at the history of the AML field, current trends, and how to get your foot in the door.
This is so interesting! I had no idea these jobs existed. Thank you for sharing @JoGrosse :)
Glad to, I hope it is useful!
I had no idea too! Amazing 🙌
Very cool! Thank you for sharing about what you do!