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Financial institutions and businesses are expanding their operations to a truly global scale, but that scale comes with increased risk. How do banks avoid becoming vehicles for money laundering when they access new markets? What rules govern how they do business and move capital? Detecting bad actors and maintaining industry standards is increasingly difficult, which is why Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (CAMS) are valuable. We’ll explore how financial professionals use this certification and why it can be an excellent professional asset.

Anti-Money Laundering Specialization: The Basics 

Founded in 2001, the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) is an international organization with members from many professions, most of which are at least tangential to accounting and finance.

As the name suggests, ACAMS focuses on how criminals and terrorists protect or transfer their money. Regulations connected to the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act and other legislation require businesses to document large transactions and some details of overseas accounts. As finance becomes increasingly global, it’s necessary to understand these regulations and how criminals might circumvent them.

ACAMS also champions knowledge of compliance. Not only do businesses watch for illegal activity, they also have to meet regulations related to disclosure and due diligence. ACAMS helps professionals understand what institutions must do to meet legal standards of operation. And since many businesses are entering the global marketplace, ACAMS’ international focus is important.

There are specializations within the CAMS training as well as a certification for sanctions compliance. However, the CAMS certification is still the bedrock service ACAMS provides.

What CAMS Specialists Learn 

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The CAMS exam covers many specialized topics related to anti-money laundering (AML), combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) and sanctions. The topics break down into the sub-categories of criminal methods, detection methods and compliance standards. Generally, CAMS specialists should be a go-to source on criminal red flags and how prevention systems should work. In short, they should be excellent detectives and defense strategists.

The CAMS curriculum covers well-established money-laundering networks, such as the Black Market Peso Exchange fueled by illegal drug profits. These networks constantly evolve and exploit the expansion of international markets. But CAMS specialists also train to conduct money-laundering and CFT investigations related to legitimate businesses, such as real estate and metals trading.

Specialists also need to know prevention best practices based on recommendations from groups like the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Intricacies of legislation such as the Patriot Act and sanctions compliance can affect essential activity such as accepting new customers, tracing funds and reporting suspicious behavior.

Put together, the CAMS specialization helps professionals understand where trouble comes from and how they can stay out of it by following established compliance rules and defense strategies. Since risks and rules change, CAMS specialists must re-certify every three years and earn ACAMS credits through study.

What Are CAMS Requirements? 

Financial professionals are the likeliest candidates for CAMS certification, although technically it is available to any professional who meets the baseline requirements. Every candidate must become an ACAMS member and pay annual dues.

Candidates also must have the equivalent of 40 ‘credit hours’, which ACAMS tallies with a rubric that weighs education, work experience and professional certifications. Successful candidates likely will have college degrees, a few years’ experience and three references. Finance-related certifications, such as certified public accountant (CPA), can tip the scales in the applicant’s favor. There’s no ironclad standard for acceptance, however, so ACAMS provides an eligibility calculator on its website.

Once approved, ACAMS charges a one-time fee for enrollment in a course of study, review materials and taking the qualifying exam. It’s not cheap: The fee for private sector applicants is $1,695 while public sector workers pay $1295. The instruction is all downloaded; if applicants want an actual instructor and classes, there is a more expensive online option.

ACAMS lives up to its bona fides by offering instruction in a dozen languages: Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese (simplified and traditional), English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Are there Financial Benefits to Earning CAMS Certification?

Detecting and preventing financial crimes is a high-demand field, and there is evidence that CAMS certification can provide a salary boost for these professionals. It definitely adds to the credentials of people tasked with safekeeping business operations. ACAMS provides a salary calculator that weighs industry sector, location, years of experience and other factors.

Bottom Line

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CAMS certification can be a valuable tool in the fight against crime and terrorism. Those certified learn where threats originate, how they can be detected and what their companies must do to protect their interests and comply with regulations. It requires a substantial investment, but it’s also a marketable addition to a resume that can pay for itself in higher salaries.

More About Financial Certifications

  • CAMS is just one of many certifications that a financial professional can earn. Looking for a financial advisor whose expertise fits your needs? SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • While certifications like the CFP or CFA are an important indicator of a financial advisor’s expertise, the most important thing is that your advisor a fiduciary, which means they have a legal obligation to always act in your best interests.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/sestovic, ©iStock.com/IndypendenZ, ©iStock.com/baona

Rachel Cautero Rachel Cautero writes on all things personal finance, from retirement savings tips to monetary policy, even how young families can best manage the financial challenges of having children. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Forbes, The Balance, LearnVest, SmartAsset, HerMoney, DailyWorth, The New York Observer, MarketWatch, Lifewire, The Local: East Village, a New York Times publication and The New York Daily News. Rachel was an Experian #CreditChat panelist and has appeared on Cheddar Life and NPR’s On Point Radio with Meghna Chakrabarti. She has a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University and a master's in journalism from New York University. Her coworkers include her one-year-old son and a very needy French bulldog.
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