ACAMS Today spoke with Marina Adams,1 compliance officer and assistant vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (NY Fed), to discuss career advice and equality in the workplace. Adams helped create and develop the compliance function of NY Fed. Adams’ responsibilities include the development and implementation of the anti-money laundering (AML) and sanctions compliance programs, data privacy, and the overall compliance risk assessment for NY Fed. Adams is a frequent compliance speaker for the conferences held by NY Fed for central bankers, aside from external venues. She has developed a variety of live and e-learning trainings. Prior to working in compliance Adams worked as an attorney and counsel for NY Fed’s Legal Group, and as deputy ethics officer. Adams provided legal support to NY Fed’s payment areas and performed transactional work related to foreign accounts and fiscal agency relationships. She also served as the vice-chair of the Payments Subcommittee, the Uniform Commercial Code Committee, and the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association. She was a frequent contributor to the ABA’s The Business Lawyer. Adams is a member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals and a certified CIPP/US. She holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy (cum laude) from the University of Pennsylvania, and a juris doctor and master’s degrees from Boston University.
ACAMS Today: This year the theme for International Women’s Day is, “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change.” On a regular day, what does it mean for you to think about equality, build smart solutions and innovate change?
Marina Adams: I have over 20 years of experience at the same organization and I oversee women on my team. The key to equality is about equality of opportunities. It is very important for women in organizations to have a champion―even more than for men. That is the secret to men’s success in the workplace, without a champion, it is difficult to navigate the politics of the organization. Years ago, my boss came into my office and said, “You are going to find a working network of mothers.” I said, “No, I am going to find a working network of parents because I believe in equality. It should not be just a women’s issue.” Both men and women must be involved in achieving an internal support structure. There are challenges women face in the workplace, and we need a forum to overcome those challenges.
Women bring a lot of initiative and drive to the workforce, willingness to take on the extra burden. Those gender stereotypes tend to burn themselves, in terms of women being worker bees and not wanting to cause conflict. I think the learning curve I have seen for women is about presenting themselves in a very particular way because there is a lot more scrutiny in the workplace. They are perceived as being too thorough or too nice. Finding that balance, being firm but not aggressive and firm on the importance of building alliances. I think men understand the need, and women sometimes are misinformed in being promoted on their merits alone. It is really more about presentation and forming alliances across the organization. All of those things are very important for women in the workplace.
AT: As a compliance officer, attorney and educator, how do you transform challenges into opportunities to transcend boundaries?
MA: I think compliance is a terrific field for women because it is a very open field right now. There are many opportunities and whenever you have a field that is growing, it presents opportunities for different entries. The compliance field has a variety of different skills set to utilize—from analytical and persuasive to technical skills. In terms of what I have seen over the years, I see many young women coming in being more savvy and ambitious. In addition, when you start out in your career you tend to be more optimistic. However, you are more idealistic when you are young and you are not aware of what happens behind the scenes of an organization. The earlier you perceive and figure out how to be strategic that will be very important to your future career success. You need to have substance, but that can only take you so far. You have to understand who are the ones to persuade, and the influencers within the organization’s culture. Men have a long history―that it is a stereotype, men go out to golf together in order to build those relationships. I think women are beginning to understand those elements, but they need to do more to succeed.
AT: From the compliance professional to the CEO, we all have the responsibility to be proactive. How can women use their current role to ignite positive change?
MA: Start with your management but look for opportunities like resource networks that promote professional development within the organization. Look for opportunities to watch senior leaders in action, solicit their feedback and solicit taking them on as your champion. Do not be shy because it is flattering for a senior person to be asked for advice. The people that I see succeed in organizations are the people that advocate for themselves. Advocate and encourage personal relationships with people who are in power. You cannot rely on the caliber of your work alone. We look across successful women in an organization and there are women in organizations whose work is beyond reproach, but it does not mean they are successful in their career.
AT: What is your advice for women who want to enter the compliance field and where should they start?
MA: The challenge in compliance in particular is that there is a little bit of a fear of compliance within the organization, just as there is a fear of auditors, lawyers and human resources, because it is a function of control. The challenge for both men and women working in compliance is to establish relationships. You want to issue findings, observations, and provide guidelines to business areas that they need to take and implement. It is going to land a lot better if you have an established relationship with that business area and the people whom you need to work with. As a compliance officer, you should be able to explain your rationale―sell the need for compliance. You need people to be listening in the first place, not fear you. Therefore, you need a good understanding of their business and you need a good relationship with them so they will hear you.
AT: You have worked in different roles within the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, could you share the journey to becoming assistant vice president?
MA: I started out in legal and spent the first nine years as in-house legal counsel. Then we created the compliance function because we are not a regulated institution. We are part of the Federal Reserve System and we are not subject to the USA PATRIOT Act. We are not required to have a compliance program, ours is one that was started for best practices. After 9/11, we were receiving many subpoena requests for information because a lot of the funding for 9/11 was done through Fedwire, which is the system we operate. Terrorists were using bank accounts to process payments and transfer money, so we were receiving subpoena notes in regards to the investigation. Even though we were not required to have a compliance program because we facilitate payments, we do not want to be used unwittingly by terrorists or money launderers. A compliance function was established in 2005. After being a lawyer for 10 years, I went on to establish a new program; I was one of the original three people in the department. We started with an AML program and we built it out. Today, I am the bank’s privacy officer and the compliance risk assessment. At the beginning, you do everything but I tried to specialize so more people can do more stuff. Slowly, but surely, we have more people. It is exciting because it is a very diverse compliance practice.
AT: With more than 70,000 Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists’ (ACAMS) members fighting financial crime worldwide, how can the ACAMS community enhance women’s empowerment?
MA: The fact that ACAMS is a community and it provides women the opportunity to network is a powerful thing. It would be great if you could also consider doing a professional development or networking workshop. Everybody is in a constant mode of networking. It is the way of the world. Compliance is a very fast-moving environment where people do not tend to stay in it too long. There tends to be a lot of movement, and for that movement to happen, you need people to be well-positioned. I have met many successful women from a consulting background, who are midpoint or late in their career and have to put themselves out there a lot more. They have great skills in terms of building clientele, business development and presentations to senior management. As a compliance professional, how do you prepare for senior management? How do you effectively sell compliance resource needs to senior management? What is convincing to them? How do you convince them that they need five more people? It is important for you to have the right tone from the beginning to get compliance initiatives approved in any organization. To accomplish, you need the support from senior management, but you have to sell it to them.
AT: Which activities do you enjoy outside the office?
MA: I love to travel! I have two kids that keep me busy and music used to be part of my life. We occasionally have concerts at the bank. They have musicians and I sing—it is fun.
- The views expressed by Ms. Adams are her own and do not represent the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System.