So how was the show? A recap of this years ACAMS Annual Conference

Anne Witkowski, CAMS, PMP and Senior Project Manager shares her insight and observations.

I’m just settling back in after a recent road trip that included a stop in lovely Charlotte NC, my first visit to the beautiful Florida Keys, and that culminated at the ACAMS Annual Conference in sunny Hollywood, Florida.  When checking in  and speaking to my fellow participants, I found we all had the same burning question-Does the hotel have HBO to watch Game of Thrones?!! Once this was answered affirmatively, we were ready to settle into the business at hand, fighting financial crime!

Topical themes always play a key role at ACAMS events, and this year included sessions with in-depth discussions on Marijuana Businesses, Sanctions Challenges, Cybercrime Threats, Combating Human Trafficking, and the role Artifical Intelligence, Robotics, and Machine Learning can play in Anti-Money Laundering programs.  While these sessions were informative, I thought the conference was at its best when the sessions dug into the basics: data integrity, regulatory expectations, managing cost, and most importantly – communication.

Spencer W. Doak, Director for BSA/AML Policy for the OCC, hit the right note in the very first panel discussion when he advised conference participants at financial institutions to promote and communicate their Anti-Money Laundering programs as cost “containment” centers, instead of the dreaded and oversimplified “cost centers”.  Help everyone in the organization understand the importance of AML programs, and make them as efficient and effective as possible.

Other sessions such as “Applying AI, Robotics, and Machine Learning to AML” discussed the tremendous opportunities to automate parts of the case management process, specifically decreasing investigation prep time.  It was stated that investigation prep time takes about 80%, vs the only 20% it takes to actually perform the investigation.

Whether the sessions were hosted by financial institutions, regulators or vendors, similar themes ran across all.  Namely, a financial institution’s need to understand their risk profile, and have a clear goal identified before engaging with vendors. For example, are you looking to comply with a specific regulation, or prevent money laundering?

Another major concern that remains paramount was data integrity and the critical need to understand data provenance and governance. Regulators expressed openness to experimenting with artificial intelligence, but they also must make sure it captures all that existing AML programs capture. Overall, the message was don’t be afraid to innovate or try automation pilots, but that it will be crucial to be able to effectively communicate and explain your automation model to regulators.  Effectiveness is important, but not at the cost of explainability. As it was perfectly summed up in the session “Enhancing Enhanced Due Diligence”, it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove.

Finally, in a move that credits the expertise of it’s planners, ACAMS had a strategy to keep people from heading out early to hit Hollywood beach. To close the event, conference organizers arranged a compelling dive into The US vs Paul J. Manafort case.  Aside from expected conversations around appalling arrogance and greed, the panelists felt this case could be a catalyst to push future legislation for identifying Domestic PEP’s, and potential declarations around beneficial ownership at the point of incorporation. It sounds like this indictment is only the tip of an iceberg and we will be seeing the ramifications of this case for years to come…stay tuned!

Anne Witkowski
Senior Project Manager