Cynthia Chan CPA

As Compliance Manager at a bank, Cynthia Chan CPA is responsible for ensuring that the bank complies with anti-money laundering (AML) regulations. She tells A Plus what she finds most intriguing about working in the world of AML, and why she looks forward to putting her Big Four experience to use in the banking industry

What is your current role and responsibilities? How is it going so far?

As Compliance Manager at a bank, I focus mainly on group AML advisory. My responsibilities include leading a team to review AML policies and guidelines to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, provide advisory on AML-related matters, and conduct regular and compliance reviews in the areas of AML controls, such as customer due diligence, transaction monitoring, customer name and payment screening, and suspicious transaction reporting. I joined a year ago and I’ve been enjoying the job so far. I worked at PwC for 11 years before taking on this role. I began as an assurance associate, then transferred internally to compliance and worked as a senior compliance manager. The key driver behind the transfer was me wanting to try something new and gain exposure in compliance, which is an area I am fond of. I think I made a good decision, as the move helped me to strengthen my knowledge in compliance. Though quite different from working in a consulting firm, I feel my current role is an ideal opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the banking industry.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your role, and why?

This is my first time working in the banking industry, so I’d say the most rewarding aspect is the exposure I now have to the AML world within the banking sector. I really appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the different aspects of AML on the job, and I’d say it’s a strong start for my career in banking. The most challenging thing was stepping into the commercial field. It was a big jump for me. The learning curve was indeed steep at the beginning, so I needed to take the time to fully understand the processes involved. For example, I need a good understanding of key bank-specific AML controls and processes in handling suspicious transactions and customer name and payment screening alerts, and how to communicate with different parties within the bank. I also have to perform institutional risk assessments, evaluate our screening system effectiveness, and conduct compliance reviews to assess whether existing controls are robust enough to address key AML risks. So though challenging, my role and responsibilities are quite diverse from an AML perspective.

What inspired you to become an accountant?

I studied business administration at university. At first, I thought I’d be working in a financial institution or a bank, since I wasn’t initially interested in accounting. But after attending a few seminars and workshops organized by the Big Four, I was interested in the clear and stable career path that comes with being an accountant, and the opportunity to attain a professional qualification.

Where do you see yourself in the next five to 10 years in your career? Which field do you plan on specializing in, and why?

I’d like to continue working in the field of AML compliance, and I look forward to being promoted to a more senior role within the bank. AML is indeed a very hot topic right now. You always hear about money laundering in the news and stories involving fraudsters and suspicious transactions. Working in this field, I feel really connected to what is happening in the world of AML and this motivates me to make a difference in my job. I enjoy knowing what to be cautious about and pay special attention to.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned so far from work experience or managers?

It would be learning the importance of leadership and project management. Both my previous and current roles require handling multiple projects within tight deadlines. I also have to communicate and liaise with different parties such as clients, supervisors, teammates and subordinates. I realize that it is very important to develop good leadership and project management skills in order to manage multiple projects and people well. I believe that my experience at a Big Four firm, and time under the Institute’s Qualification Programme (QP), have helped to shape my soft skills. It’s these skills that we have to continuously improve on.

How do you think the QP has helped you in your career so far, or prepared you for your current role?

The programme is very well designed and I have found all four modules (financial reporting, business finance, business assurance, and taxation) to be helpful in further enhancing my skill sets and useful in my career so far. The QP helped to shape my analytical and critical thinking skills. Apart from the written exams which require analysing complicated questions and providing answers within a limited time, all QP students are required to attend workshops. These workshops provide students with the perfect opportunity to ask questions and interact with both instructors and course mates – something I found valuable. The QP also helped me with my presentation skills. During the workshops, we had to prepare a short presentation with our peers on a topic that was assigned on the spot. This unique – and nerve-wracking – experience taught me how to give structured presentations and apply my knowledge in a short period of time. It has also helped me to give better presentations and to effectively present during meetings at work.

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