Over the past several years, HumRRO has played an important role in the effort to fight financial crime by developing a suite of certifications for the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS). Across more than 175 countries, ACAMS members work within various industries to prevent money laundering, sanctions evasion, bribery and corruption, fraud, and terrorist financing.
The annual estimated cost of global financial crime to corporations, governments, and individuals is $5.8 trillion. Fighting that crime is costly—roughly $200 billion per year. In addition, money gained through illegal means also helps fund human trafficking, illicit drug markets, terrorist activity, and organized crime.
ACAMS is the largest global membership organization dedicated to fighting financial crime, helping its members grow professionally through conferences, webinars, and its credentialing program. Because of the growing complexity of financial crimes, ACAMS sought to expand beyond its flagship certification, the Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS), and offer a series of new certification programs covering the specialized knowledge required by financial crime prevention professionals.
In 2019, HumRRO was honored to be selected to help ACAMS with its important mission by first developing two new certifications: Certified Global Sanctions Specialist and Advanced CAMS- Risk Management. HumRRO conducted job analysis, exam development—including item development, technical review, bias/cultural sensitivity review, and content validity review—beta testing, operational form assembly, and technical reporting. Based on the successful launch of those new certifications in 2020, ACAMS tasked HumRRO with developing an additional five new certification exams over a period of two-and-a-half years.
To learn more about how this partnership led to the successful creation of a series of new certifications in a short period of time, we conducted an interview with Steven Oxman, senior director of global certification and training at ACAMS, and Taylor Sullivan, Ph.D., director of credentialing solutions at HumRRO.
Describe the partnership between ACAMS and HumRRO, and what stood out when making the decision about who would develop the new certification exams?
Oxman: HumRRO has been instrumental—absolutely instrumental—in helping us with the new certifications. We are a very good fit. In selecting a partner, HumRRO obviously had the expertise of developing prominent certifications, but what differentiated them from others was the degree of flexibility and the willingness to collaborate. The people at HumRRO were willing to talk about the process and help me understand the choices we had to make so we could find what worked best for us. Other organizations were more like, “we just do it this way and that’s it.” ACAMS also had experience with developing CAMS, and we wanted to think about how to do some different things, such as new types of test items, and how to work differently with our SMEs. Because we had an ambitious goal of creating multiple new certifications, we needed someone we could trust and work with efficiently. With HumRRO, we can innovate and still predict the timing of launching the certifications as well be comfortable that we’ll achieve the highest quality standards.
How has HumRRO made you comfortable with the quality and timing of the exams?
Oxman: A quality product has a structured methodology and process, and HumRRO is serious about those and follows them. HumRRO experts understand the industry best practices and test design standards. I respect the fact that HumRRO checks us when we sometimes want to go faster than we should. They are clear with us about what the risks are, and we’re able to make good decisions based on that information. It helps me explain it to others and make the case for following and trusting the process. The willingness of HumRRO to explain not just how the process should work, but why is key. When you understand why, it gives you the opportunity to innovate because we can decide, maybe that doesn’t apply in this case, or maybe we can try that a different way. Partnering with HumRRO feels like an enormous head start. It’s more than just finding an exam development partner.
Sullivan: We aim to structure our approach in a way that works for our clients, and I think we are skilled at identifying where it’s OK to cut corners and where it’s riskier to do so. Having a dialog around the ‘why’ is key—it’s your program and, ultimately, you will be the owner of the process and decisions made. We want to make sure you have information and perspective to help you do this.
Why is it important to the mission of ending financial crime to certify AML and financial crime prevention professionals?
Oxman: The people who help prevent financial crime, particularly in financial institutions and in law enforcement, face unbelievable challenges. They must stay ahead of criminals. They must stay ahead of technology—the technology that helps them detect crime like transaction monitoring systems but also the technology that criminals are using and the technology of the products that people are buying.
There’s no way that you can catch every instance of financial crime within an institution. It’s not possible when trillions of dollars are transferred every day. So, financial crime prevention professionals use what’s called the risk-based approach, which is putting your resources where your risk is greatest. ACAMS focuses on this notion of helping people understand risk and understand how to assess financial crime risk.
The credentials are important for people to advance in their careers and for employers to understand the base knowledge these folks have. Certification also allows regulators to ensure that financial crime prevention professionals have the required, role-based training. Providing a clear, steady, reliable benchmark for a certain level of knowledge is incredibly helpful to the industry and to regulators.
How does partnering with HumRRO and the use of a rigorous, valid methodology help bolster the credibility of the new certifications?
Oxman: That’s an interesting question. ACAMS is a very strong brand, and HumRRO is also a great, well-respected brand. And the truth is, it wasn’t like we were looking for an organization that was going to provide us with credibility; we were looking for an organization that was going to provide us with a way to ensure that we get this right and enable us to scale up. Internally, it gives us enormous confidence knowing we can stand behind the validity of our certification exams. We don’t need to worry about the quality of our exam development process because of HumRRO’s partnership.
How does ACAMS stay on top of the ever-changing nature of financial crime and the knowledge required to detect and prevent it?
Oxman: ACAMS has access to the best experts in the world in this area who are fully involved. Professionals at the height of their careers and at the height of their responsibilities are used as subject matter experts (SMEs). They are passionate—and opinionated! But because they are very busy, we also need to use their time efficiently.
We recruit the SMEs and organize the logistics of our workshops, and HumRRO facilitates the process. It’s a constant conversation and collaboration between us.
Sullivan: One role we play is harnessing that passion, knowledge, and expertise. They’re masters of their domains and when you get a bunch of them in the room, you don’t want to silence or overstep anyone. Part of the art of facilitation is making sure experts are heard and appreciated for volunteering their time. But, we also need to get high quality data and information, and converge on actionable next steps with the SMEs. They are very invested, which is exciting, and bodes well long term. It’s good to have those voices questioning and pushing us.
In what ways did HumRRO help ACAMS overcome obstacles or unforeseen challenges during this process?
Oxman: There are constant challenges, many of them completely and totally normal. The biggest one that immediately comes to mind is the pandemic. That was a giant obstacle. The UK shut down travel from the United States days before a workshop in London. HumRRO helped us pivot smoothly to being virtual, giving real thought to how it was going to be different. Then, HumRRO helped us figure out how it went and how we could make it better and what we could do differently.
A real differentiator for me with HumRRO is that the conversations we have about what’s going well and what can be better are always productive conversations. They lead to real action steps to improve, so we’ve just been getting better and better. HumRRO is exceptional at taking questions we have, making sure that the question is well understood, and then coming back to us after speaking with their internal experts with a well-documented set of options. The options are laid out with clear advantages and disadvantages that are extremely thoughtful, carefully considered, customized and targeted. I never get the sense that I’m being given a cookie-cutter response to something.
What HumRRO brings is the depth of people with this ability to scale, this ability to say OK, we’re going to do this other one and now this other one. We have weekly meetings where we go through a list of about seven pretty active things happening right now, and they’re being led by different people. Some are gaining new experiences and we’re happy to partner with an organization that builds up their staff. We’re comfortable with it because we know they are well supervised. All the HumRRO folks have been really great people to work with.
Sullivan: Dozens of our staff members have had the opportunity to be involved in our work with ACAMS, and it’s been an incredible learning and development experience for them. Emily Medvin has been instrumental in leading our team, and I know we are deeply invested in the success of the new certification programs and ACAMS’ mission. We feel honored to play a part in the prevention of financial crime.
Is the scale and speed with which ACAMS set out typical or has it been a stretch to meet?
Sullivan: In some ways it’s stretched us, but I think it is pushing us forward in a way that we’re totally capable of handling. It’s been a great opportunity for staff to experience new leadership roles, different ways of thinking about things. Because of the timeframe, we can still be structured but there’s no downtime, which I think is good. It’s like drinking from a firehose a bit, but the amount of content we’ve produced is incredible. We are so proud of what we’ve accomplished together.
In what ways have the new certification programs helped ACAMS grow?
Oxman: The new certification programs are all doing very well. Part of our strategy has been to expand the people we serve to include professionals with specialty areas beyond anti-money laundering and to serve people at different stages of their careers. Our sanctions certification has addressed the former and we plan to do even more. Our associate-level and advanced certifications have addressed the latter. We now have a suite of offerings that enable us to support our individual and enterprise members in a much more holistic way.