The Path to Becoming an Anti-Money Laundering Analyst

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Forensic accountant investigates anti-money laundering case.

Money laundering is common to criminal enterprises throughout the world. In fact, it’s crucial for most lucrative, long-term criminal activities. Money laundering is the process by which money earned through illegal means is made to look legitimate, with the ultimate goal of evading detection by law enforcement. Any criminal organization that wishes to maintain anonymity is likely to have a robust money laundering structure in place.

Naturally, there are anti-money laundering laws and regulatory procedures that aim to prevent this criminal activity. One way to participate in this branch of law enforcement — and to apply sophisticated accounting skills to detecting and deterring criminals — is to become an anti-money laundering analyst. Completing an advanced accounting degree program, such as an online Master of Accountancy, can provide some of the foundational skills needed for success in this field.

The Need for Anti-Money Laundering Analysts

When a criminal enterprise generates a lot of revenue, it may naturally come to the attention of federal law enforcement or the Internal Revenue Service. Money laundering is a complex, typically multistep process in which those profits are made to appear to have a legal source, which has become an exceedingly common practice. In fact, money laundering is estimated to account for somewhere between 2% and 5% of the global GDP.

It’s important to note that many criminal transactions, whether they involve drugs or other illegal exchanges, take place using cash. Cash payments are generally perceived to be untraceable. As large sums of cash accumulate, however, they can become a liability. After all, stockpiles of cash are far more likely to be discovered, seized or stolen.

Money laundering activities may involve moving this money to different accounts, often in small amounts. The money made through criminal activity may be integrated with profits from a legitimate business, making it difficult to tell that anything unusual or illegal has taken place. In pursuit of these outcomes, money laundering processes might encompass other financial crimes, such as embezzlement and fraud. Money laundering also makes use of many large institutions, including casinos, tax havens and even major financial firms.

Money laundering is not just unlawful; it’s also costly, draining the global economy of $2 trillion annually. To curb money laundering, law enforcement agencies employ forensic accountants, whose work involves investigating and ultimately proving these illegal financial activities. The work of an anti-money laundering analyst is crucial in mitigating these costly criminal acts.

Anti-Money Laundering Analyst: Job Description and Skills

In addition to helping to detect money laundering, anti-money laundering analysts can help to prevent it. In this sense, their job description is both investigative and proactive. Such sophisticated work encompasses a range of responsibilities, including:

  • Proactively establishing financial systems and checks that keep money laundering from happening in the first place
  • Taking a detail-oriented approach to an institution’s financial processes and transactions while remaining alert for signs of fraudulent activity
  • Evaluating and improving existing financial systems to help businesses and institutions to better guard against money laundering
  • Monitoring and managing high-risk financial activities and transactions, as well as staying in contact with business managers and executives
  • Collaborating with other auditors and accounting professionals to take a comprehensive look at a company’s financial history
  • Managing and analyzing many documents and data points while applying careful scrutiny to all transactional records

Essentially, if money laundering is all about concealing ill-gotten gains, the role of the anti-money laundering analyst is to make it much harder for criminals to hide or misrepresent their revenues. This complicated work calls not only for close attention to detail and a good sense of analytical thinking but also for foundational skills in basic accounting. Forensic accounting skills are especially significant, as anti-money laundering professionals need to audit and investigate corporate finances to decipher complicated financial transactions and ensure legality.

Those looking to succeed in this field will also benefit from a robust knowledge of financial laws, allowing them to see the evidence of wrongdoing. Knowledge of accounting software and other transactional technology can be essential for analyzing or auditing large volumes of financial data.

How to Become an Anti-Money Laundering Analyst

Where should those interested in this field begin? First and foremost, anti-money laundering analysts require strong backgrounds in business and finance. In most cases, this includes getting a bachelor’s degree in accounting, which will provide them with a chance to hone some of the core skills required to manage and analyze financial data.

From there, they’ll need specialized training and certification. Earning the title of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) is an important step toward becoming an anti-money laundering professional.

Finally, those who desire a career in this field can build upon their foundation of knowledge in fraud detection and deterrence as well as fraud and forensic accounting by pursuing a Master of Accountancy degree.

Rider University’s online Master of Accountancy degree program offers a concentration in Forensic Accounting, which can help prepare individuals for anti-money laundering work. The curriculum, including courses on fraud detection and deterrence, auditing and business law, encompasses the investigative skills that are needed for assessing financial crimes and for creating structures that deter those crimes. This program also offers familiarity with basic accounting software and other important tools.

Learn More About Becoming an Anti-Money Laundering Analyst

Rider University’s online Master of Accountancy degree program provides students with opportunities to develop their anti-money laundering expertise. By pursuing work in this field, individuals can play a meaningful role in curbing a common and costly type of crime, adding value to law enforcement organizations across the country. Learn more about this program today, and take a crucial step toward becoming an anti-money laundering analyst.

Recommended Readings

How to Become a Financial Advisor: Tips and Steps to Succeeding in This Field

What Accounting Careers Can Be Pursued After Earning an Advanced Accounting Degree?

CPA vs. CMA: Comparing Two Key Certifications


ACAMS Today, “Starting a Career in AML”  

Arctic Intelligence, “What Does an Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Analyst Do?” 

Investopedia, “What Is Anti Money Laundering (AML)”

Investopedia, “What Is Forensic Accounting?”

Money Task Force, “What is Money Laundering?” 

Robert Half, “On the Lookout for Anti-Money Laundering Jobs?”  

SAS, “What Is an AML Analyst?” 

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Money-Laundering and Globalization”