Women In AML: Monique Vlaar

What has the journey looked like working in AML?

It started in January 2018 when I had the opportunity to join the Vigilance team with a primary focus on researching AML and how we could develop and expand our existing fraud detection software to incorporate AML compliance. The research included reviewing existing

solutions, attending multiple AML roadshows, meeting with the DIA and FIU and deciding which 3rd parties we would plug into. A major upgrade included the integration to Actionstep and then just recently, to RealMe.

And what part of what you’ve learnt has helped or lead to your current role?

I think I’m the “go to” person about all things AML. It means I can answer queries promptly and give helpful suggestions to our users. With the experience of implementing AML systems for many companies, I can offer practical feedback on how firms handle situations in different ways and suggest alternatives.

Is this something you’ve consciously worked towards, or saw as an opportunity to gain more experience in the AML sector and your AML journey?

In every job I’ve ever worked at I always look for more challenges and opportunities to learn new things and improve. In addition to working full-time, I started studying towards a Bachelor of Business (majoring in Accounting) at Massey University. Three years on and completing 5 papers a year, I’m 2/3rds through. While none of the papers so far

have covered AML specifically, they have all given me a much broader knowledge of auditing, law, management and finance, and I am looking forward to more challenging subjects such as Forensic Accounting and Advanced Taxation.

Has there been a collection of experiences you wished to have that were measurable? How are these reflective of your own personal values?

I don’t really understand this question as it is pointless wishing for things I could have done. I only look forward and plan ahead for things I want to do and achieve, such as completing my degree.

What are some of the biggest challenges, in your opinion, businesses and people face with AML? And does this differ from industry-to-industry?

Anecdotally I hear a major challenge is the reporting entity being told by their customer they don’t want to provide ID details because they already provided it to another reporting entity in the same transaction, e.g. lawyer and real estate agent. Having to repeat the process is frustrating for the public who are understandably nervous about who has a copy of their passport and is it being kept safe. I hear that businesses often struggle to obtain a proof of address, say if a utility bill is in their partner’s name, or the name on the bill only uses initials. Another challenge is with verifying IDs and translating source of funds documents from foreign languages. Finding beneficial owners for companies and trusts, and identifying

nominee shareholders is often a challenge and costly to research. I think all industries experience these general issues.

Do you think there is a lack of understanding or confusion with AML? And what can those in the industry do better, in your opinion?

There is confusion and frustration, especially from small firms who are trying to be the compliance officer on top of running the business and trying to earn revenue. They don’t have dedicated AML staff, and completing CDD on a customer is very ‘bitzy’ - it often can’t be done at once, there is a lot of to and fro gathering information - it really is time consuming. I get asked some really basic questions like “What is goAML?” “Why does my customer of 10 years need CDD now?” “My customer is not a politician so why do I need to do a PEP check?” “What is a high risk customer?” These are from firms who should have been complying for 3 years! The reporting entities could look at pooling resources for AML

compliance, use a system that stores all AML information in a single place for easy recall and efficient audits. The biggest positive change lately is the use of RealMe to verify identities without needing to collect copies of passports or driver licences and therefore not needing to store this private detail in your AML system.

During your career have there been standout people who’ve motivated and mentored you. How did they, if at all, impact where you are now?

Joining a Toastmasters club in 2012 and being an active member until 2020 was initially the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but morphed into the most rewarding and amazing self-growth experience. Many Toastmasters who are now life-long friends have been motivators and mentors during my journey personally and professionally. They have encouraged me

to jump so far from my comfort zone that after 6 years I achieved the Distinguished Toastmaster award.

What are your top tips/suggestions for those looking to further their journey in this sector?

  • Get a copy of Marty Robinson & Victoria Scott’s book “The Anti-Money Laundering Regime: A Practical Guide”. It’s an excellent resource with great examples that refer to sections in the Act.

  • Be aware of all the times and places where you are asked to provide your ID and realise there are so many different methods of varying effectiveness. Try and implement the effective ones at your workplace.

  • Try and get a hold of a reporting entity’s audit from a reputable auditor - this will give great insights into exactly what an auditor is expecting. Several that I have read have had useful suggestions.

  • Check the FAQ pages on the supervisor’s websites at least weekly, and watch their AML videos.

And, could we get a little personal . . .

Favourite eating place?

Saltwater Burger Bar in Onehunga - the freshest, tastiest, most unique burgers created by two amazing foodie friends.

Chill time – what works for you?

Reading a book in a comfy chair in a warm place, pottering in the garden, dreaming about overseas travel.

What are clear traits that make you great at what you do?

Persistent, approachable, detailed, try to use ‘plain language’ when explaining or teaching, a sense of caring about completing a task and exceeding customer’s expectations

What’s the last thing you geeked out about?

Binge-watched 5 seasons of Fringe sci-fi. I loved Walter Bishop’s character. Plus reading the AML/CFT Act from start to finish.

Family time: best spots?

Camping holidays with family, especially Tawharanui. Only missed one summer camping trip in the last 20+ years.

Recommended, preferred drink?

Dilmah Tea, any time, every day!

Favourite meal to make?

Experimenting with some vegetarian meals and loving a baked Cornbread recipe. Plus anything with cooked apples; crumble, pie, Dutch apple cake.

Monique Vlaar

Take a look at more interviews from AML professionals working in the AML industry with Robert Green from Ray White in '5 minutes with an expert: Robert Green'.