When you picture a career in business development, what springs to mind? Increasing revenue? Closing deals? Engaging prospects? For many, that about sums up what the experience is all about: finding opportunities for your business to profit and making it happen.
But in some cases, we have an opportunity to provide a solution that doesn’t simply promise to “optimise your internal processes” (however important of course) but also impact our ability to help real people escape life threatening situations.
According to a recent FATF report, as of 2018, there are currently over 40.3 million global victims of human trafficking, with the criminal proceeds totalling $150 billion. This means that the potential to generate such sizeable returns makes human trafficking a common predicate crime for money laundering.
Which is where things come full circle.
At kompany, we provide a host of tech solutions designed for Global Business Verification needs and Business KYC (KYB) checks, all powered by our real-time access to time-stamped, primary source data. And while our clients are required by law to complete these checks, the bigger picture goal from legislators is to put an end to money laundering, for good. To most of us, that might sound like a lofty, even impossible goal but to Susan White, the latest addition to our team, it sounds like a good reason to come to work every day.
Susan joined kompany in the winter of 2020 as our Business Development Director for the Americas. Based in New York City, she brings with her an impressive background in compliance innovations. With more than two decades of KYC and AML experience under her belt working for industry juggernauts like Bloomberg, Susan possesses an intimate understanding of risk assessment and AML compliance that’s hard to find elsewhere.
But it wasn’t her industry expertise alone that made me want to sit down for a conversation. Susan is a staunch supporter of AML directives as a force for good. As you’ll discover, she believes that through providing financial institutions with better tools for their AML compliance, organisations have the potential to protect our world’s most vulnerable.
Let’s start with the introductions, how did you come to join kompany?
It was through pure serendipity! I was sitting in a cafe with a friend of mine in December, and had just wrapped up my 20 year career at Bloomberg. I was chatting with this friend about what I was doing and what KYC is and what AML is all about. He’s not in this field -- he’s a healthcare professional -- so it was a great opportunity to catch up and share our respective stories.
And so we’re in the middle of having lunch and Russell, the CEO of kompany, was sitting next to us. In fact, come to think of it, we were the only three people in the entire restaurant that day. And as he got up to leave he said, “I’m the founder and CEO of a company that is involved in KYC and AML, here’s my card, we should connect.”
Haha, that sounds about right.
Yes! And he went on to explain that kompany is based in Austria which piqued my curiosity further and so I took a look at his card.
I was already aware of kompany at the time but hadn’t had the opportunity to ever chat with Russell himself. We connected on LinkedIn and arranged to meet over Zoom in the following weeks. Later on, my husband and I were taking a pre-planned personal trip to the United Kingdom and decided to add a quick stopover in Vienna. I met with everyone in the office. I think I spent upwards of 5 hours with everyone and then we simply agreed to move forward.
What initially intrigued you about kompany?
Well as I was exploring what to do with my next career, kompany was in a sweet spot for me. I was looking for a tech firm that was focused on KYC and AML and I wanted to be working with a firm that was looking to scale up in the Americas.
What I found most appealing about kompany is their unique relationships with the global registries. So, it wasn’t enough for me to find a company that had you know, good technology. They also had to have a truly unique aspect to their business. And certainly kompany’s relationships with the global registries is really what drew me to them.
And why was kompany’s relationship with global registries such a big draw for you?
Simply put, there is not another firm out there that has the depth and breath of dynamic registry content. And to answer your question, this is really important for a couple of reasons! With this “live” connection to the registries, it means the data and documents are time stamped and can withstand regulatory review scrutiny. Also, anytime this data changes or is updated, we can inform our clients instantaneously, making continuous monitoring from the registries possible. This in particular is critical because it can help alleviate the need for unnecessary entity remediation on the part of financial institutions that are leveraging our solutions.
And while this may sound totally simplistic, having a consolidated bill for registry data is a huge plus.
Well let’s say you’re a large bank and you need to pull data directly from the registries. You have analysts that are working in different jurisdictions around the world and they all need to pull registry data. In most situations, you have to provide a credit card every time you do that for all of the different registries. It’s ad hoc charges that are not being consolidated.
With kompany we aggregate all that and there is one centralised bill as opposed to unorganised credit card charges.
I imagine from your experience you’ve discovered it’s how a lot of banks are doing not only their billing but also their KYC checks.
Oh yeah, it’s a nightmare. For example, I was working with a really large bank a while back while I was at Bloomberg and they told us this is how they were doing their billing and I was stunned by that. It just seems archaic. And in regards to their KYC processes, it becomes even more complicated.
And personally, with such a long career doing this, what excites you the most about the world of AML and compliance?
In 2014 I got the bug. [Laughs] I really do believe there is a type of person that is drawn to the world of AML and compliance and maybe I can’t speak for other people but I speak for myself when I say I can leverage both my business skills and my understanding of technology to have an impact on society. Now that may seem a little bit lofty but you know, it’s estimated that 800 billion to 2 trillion are laundered every year. So there's quite a lot at stake.
Wow. It’s hard to even wrap my head around figures like that.
Yeah. Also, there is an element of human trafficking. In fact, the International Labour Organisation has estimated that 25 million victims are trapped in modern day slavery. Let that sink in for just a moment.
Imagine if nearly every person in Texas were enslaved, it’d be the equivalent of that. So what if we could make it even just a little harder for the people running these kinds of operations? We might be able to save a life.
I think that’s probably one of the more shocking elements people don’t necessarily realise when they consider compliance. At first it tends to sound complicated, bureaucratic...even boring. But there are real people behind this who are being victimised. That part seems like it gets less attention.
Right and it’s a 150 billion dollar business for the traffickers. You know, it feels good for once in my entire career to be doing something that could have a positive impact on individuals. If we’re able to help organisations fight financial crime we are able to help victims of human trafficking and terrorism.
Being able to detect money laundering or terrorist financing means not only being able to impose sanctions but also significant fines. Or if you know, financial institutions have lax compliance policies, it’s not just about the fines. Yes they’ll be fined but it’s more around what they are doing to aid and abet money laundering and assist illegal activities: that’s what’s of primary concern to me.
I think we’ve covered why it’s important but why do you think so many businesses consider being compliant such a burden?
KYC is generally seen as a cost center. It’s seen as an impediment to getting business done and I think that’s mainly because it’s incredibly manual for the most part. It’s a lot of paper and it does rely on a human check in many cases.
I can remember that when I was doing some work with a global bank and their sales traders were obligated to do the AML checks. They would actually walk away from business.
You mean they wouldn’t onboard new clients because of the KYC checks that were required?
Yeah. If they didn’t see the value they would effectively not work with the client. But KYC, if done right, can actually lead to more business. It gives the client a better experience, there’s less friction internally, it’s faster onboarding, less manual processes, less paper.
Part of the problem is that it’s been a manual process for a very long time and as regulations change and intensify, it’s difficult for institutions to keep up. Also the interpretation at institutions tends to vary across the board from one firm to another.
What do you mean?
Well for instance, let’s say the bank has a policy and they're looking to onboard a business, they give that information to an analyst, a check list of all the docs they need to collect. Sometimes those lists are not complete, not to mention that someone in the compliance department might have a different view and expect something different from the client. Meanwhile the analyst has already gone to the potential client, has given them the list, the clients put together all the paper, they send it back in and someone comes back to them and asks for more. I mean [Laughs] you know, yet another check. That whole process is filled with this kind of friction.
And oftentimes you have someone who is really junior doing all the exchanges with the client and that can become very frustrating for the clients.
So who’s to blame?
I think the institutions themselves could do a better job streamlining the process by leveraging technology. Which is starting to happen but obviously needs to be ramped up significantly.
What do you tell prospective clients about what they stand to gain from improving their KYC practices? Assuming that’s their main priority.
That the streamlining and by effect, the centralising will make the experience faster. So for kompany, because we have access to the live registry data, the client can quickly pull the information directly and in real-time. This alone speeds up the entire process. And because you’re doing things faster, there’s better decision making at the onset, but there has to be widespread adoption within the organisation for it to work properly. And that’s up to the client to make happen.
How receptive have prospective clients been to hearing they’re doing their KYC poorly?
This is not a difficult topic to get people to talk about. You can ask just a few pointed questions and the flood gates open.
Because of their frustration or?
It’s such a painful process that it’s so easy to get people to talk about it. I have not had a single conversation with a prospect where they did not have a whole host of complaints and challenges. The entire process is broken right now and everyone is willing to admit that.
And what’s been your experience selling across the Americas? Where do you find similarities in attitude and approach and where are the major differences?
There are some organisations that have a tic box attitude to their KYC while there are others that have a very strong culture of compliance. And in some cases, they're both looking to achieve the same thing -- to comply with the regulations -- but I find there’s more commitment on the part of organisations that have a strong culture of compliance behind them. Where it comes from the top down.
Broker deals in the United States are really challenged. They have small margins, they are regulated and they probably have the most to gain from automation but they run so thinly. I would also say asset managers and hedge fund managers have embraced compliance in a big way over the years. After all, they’re looking to protect their investments and reputations.
And do you see any big differences between Canada and the US?
It’s very similar. But in Latin America there are a lot of challenges, depending on the country. They had some major issues around compliance and financial institutions in South America for example.
Do you chalk this up to outdated or non existent legislation or other challenges?
In many cases the legislation does exist. There was a regulation recently introduced in Argentina that imposed pretty strict fines for non compliance. But again, they’re also facing a lot of the same issues as we are in North America.
From a sales perspective, how do you approach South America?
They need a lot of help. I don’t have the language skills for it but I know people who do. I have done work in South America and can absolutely confirm that the banking institutions are interested in finding solutions.
So there’s an opportunity to sell to that market but there are fundamentals missing.
There is definitely opportunity. You could also say there’s a moral obligation to help. After all, when we equip all the parties involved in a supply chain, with powerful compliance technology, we help snuff out more illegal operators.
And what do you perceive as the key differences between how AML, KYC and compliance are perceived in the United States as opposed to Europe?
I have a great quote for this from New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, “The illicit use of anonymous shell companies is one of the most pressing national security problems we currently face. They are being used by money launderers, criminals, and terrorists – but we can stop that. We’re the only advanced country in the world that doesn’t already require disclosure of this information — and frankly, it’s an embarrassment.” That really sums up the differences between the US and Europe.
And we couldn’t have this conversation without mentioning the current coronavirus crisis. As I’m sure you’re aware, US banks are pushing back against onboarding new clients for loans as covid-19 relief funding becomes available. They cite difficult-to-meet AML requirements. What do you say to that?
I think the requirements are necessary. They're there for a reason. Where we can help is by streamlining that process. Leveraging technology is simply the solution. Looser restrictions just aren’t required.
And everything considered, where do you see us fitting in a post-coronavirus world?
There’s going to be a big opportunity and appetite to streamline and reduce the manual processes. And the trends were there before this. FinCEN published a press release back in December 2018 which was encouraging innovation in approaches to AML and encouraging financial institutions to find tech to solve these issues.
The thing is, this is highlighting all of the issues and the differences between people. For instance, like in the US, who has healthcare and who doesn't. It’s an opportunity now to disrupt everything, dismantle everything and rebuild a stronger foundation from scratch.
Where do our governments fit into this?
I think they can be, and I think they have been to a certain extent, supportive of technological solutions and open-minded in how institutions go about solving issues. Whether they are leveraging AI or machine learning, you have to be able to defend what’s going into the technology. But you have to start with good data to employ any of those things. This is where kompany comes into play because we have the defensible data no one else has.
And what have you seen change the most since you began working in the world of AML and compliance?
The receptiveness to leveraging technology is certainly there now. In the US, the focus on beneficial ownership is certainly a move in the right direction and I mentioned FinCEN CDD which is the customer due diligence, has certainly added to and changed since I started in this space. And it’s a move in the right direction.
Before we say goodbye, do you have any parting thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?
I think right now we’re all experiencing a new normal unlike anything we’ve encountered before. That certainly makes it a scary time but it can also be a unique opportunity to rebuild things better than they were before.
This entire crisis has put things into perspective. We have a better grasp on the fundamentals that matter, from both a personal and business perspective. So, if we continue to be more thoughtful with the next steps we take, we can make huge strides in advancing how the world does business, leaving more time for the things that matter most to us. I’m proud to be a part of this digital revolution alongside kompany.
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