What Is a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist?

A Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) is a professional who is skilled at tracking cash that originates in fraud or other crime but has been subjected to complex financial maneuvers in order to obscure its origins. From day to day, the work of a CAMS professional is focused on preventing such activities from slipping through the global banking system.

Key Takeaways

  • The CAMS professional is trained to spot attempts to use U.S. financial institutions for money-laundering purposes.
  • Banks, brokerages, large corporations, and the federal government all employ CAMS professionals.
  • Their work is often structured as compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act, a 1970 law that requires financial institutions to cooperate in the fight against money-laundering.

Modern criminals stash their cash in banks, like everyone else, but it arrives there via a series of financial transactions that is deliberately complex in order to conceal its origins. Through further manipulation, the money is then made available to the criminal from a source that appears to be legitimate.

Understanding the CAMS Specialist

An anti-money laundering specialist is trained to detect, investigate, and unravel financial crimes.

The Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) offers courses and certification in this specialty. Candidates for the test must meet certain eligibility requirements regarding educational background and work experience.

An anti-money laundering specialist may have a different job title, such as banking compliance officer, financial consultant, or Bank Secrecy Act analyst. They are employed by financial institutions or brokerage houses, large corporations, and the federal government.

A Short History of Money Laundering

In the U.S., money laundering became an issue during the Prohibition era of the 1930s, when crime syndicates grew rich and powerful selling illegally imported alcohol. Money-laundering was a solution to a simple problem: How does a criminal who has no obvious means of support explain a big wad of cash and a luxurious lifestyle?

Drug dealers and terrorists are among the main targets of money-laundering investigations.

The answer, often, was to open a storefront for a business that might or might not actually do any business. Any number of fake invoices could be created to account for the wads of money that actually came from rum-running.

In modern times, the global banking system enables, and even requires, far more sophisticated maneuvers, but the end result is the same: A criminal has a plausible explanation for where all the money came from or, at worst, has created such confusion that no one knows what questions to ask.

Regulatory Requirements

The response of financial institutions and corporations to the problem of money-laundering often is structured as compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970. This act, also known as the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, requires financial institutions to cooperate with government efforts to combat money laundering.

The Bank Secrecy Act got an update of sorts in 2001 with the Patriot Act, which adds regulations aimed at thwarting money-laundering by terrorist groups. The act ensures that there is a paper trail or, more likely, an electronic trail for every sizeable banking transaction.

The Patriot Act was a response to the fact that the criminals have changed, too. Today, it is not only drug dealers but terrorists who have vast sums of money that need to be laundered.