Women in Tech: Amber Scott — Chief Anti-Money Laundering Ninja
Women in Tech is an exclusive Trulioo series intended to shine a light on the women blazing a trail in the tech space. In this series, you can expect to gain insights into the thoughts, opinions and intellect of women in a variety of different roles, and learn how they got to where they are today.
Last month, we spoke to Priyanka Naik, Chief Strategy Officer at CapOne Research. This time around, we’re talking to Amber Scott, founder and Chief Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Ninja at Outlier.
A self-proclaimed compliance geek with a passion for technology, Amber specializes in AML, Counter Terrorist Financing (CTF) and privacy compliance. After graduating from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Arts, Amber joined the compliance group at one of Canada’s largest insurers where she focused on implementing technology to streamline compliance processes. Since then, Amber has earned an MBA and worked with major securities firms, banks and consulting companies. In 2013, she launched her very own Canadian consulting firm, Outlier Solutions Inc, which focuses on developing compliance solutions for reporting entities.
Eager to learn more about Amber’s extraordinary career, entrepreneurial journey and the future of regulatory compliance, we invited her to Trulioo’s HQ in Vancouver and asked her a few burning questions.
Trulioo: Throughout your career you have become an expert in AML, while also dabbling in compliance, financial crime risk, and security. Can you tell us more about your career trajectory, and how Outlier came to be?
Amber: Outlier was born out of complete and total frustration with the way that consulting firms operate, the way that services are delivered, and the cultures that are perpetuated in some firms. I wanted to build a company that was focused on delivering a top-notch product, at a fair price, in a way that wasn’t utterly soul-crushing for the folks doing the work. There were many things in the traditional consulting world that were widely accepted that are essentially criminal, from overbilling (I once had a partner threaten to “write me up for insubordination” for refusing to bill a client $400 an hour for time that I spent sleeping on an airplane) to incredibly inappropriate behavior towards junior staff. In retrospect, I really should have founded Outlier five years earlier than I did!
I also wanted to build a team that was based on true expertise. The company is named after Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. There are a lot of great concepts in that book, one of which is the idea that to be really good at something, you have to practice it a lot – roughly 10,000 hours. Each member of our team has that type of experience. It’s a strict standard, but it keeps our team very lean and strong.
Trulioo: Switching gears, what about the future? Where do you see regulatory compliance heading in the next five, 10, and 15 years? What should people expect?
Amber: In my idealized version of the future, policymakers get so good at developing effective plain-language regulation that my firm’s work is no longer required, and my team goes on to solve other problems. This sounds silly, but ultimately, I think that we should be creating laws and regulations that the average person can understand and follow without the assistance of a team of specialists ! A more likely reality though is that the current trendline of evermore regulation will persist. One of the most rewarding parts of my work is being able to demystify compliance requirements. If I can get an entrepreneur to a place where they understand what’s required well-enough to switch gears and start thinking about how to manage their risk, that’s a success to me.
Trulioo: Zoning in on compliance – previously you’ve talked about the difference between original and authentic documents, and what challenges they pose – particularly in regards to fraud. As regulations continue to change and adapt in today’s digital world, more often than not authentic documents are being accepted. How is authenticity ensured?
Amber: This is a change to the wording of Canada’s federal anti-money laundering regulation that was pre-published last year, and is expected to be finalized this year. Once the final version is published, I expect we’ll need more guidance from the regulator in terms of what they’ll expect reporting entities to do in order to determine whether or not a document is authentic. I do think that “authentic” is a much more useful standard for AML and fraud prevention than “original”. The latter was read by the regulator to mean that documents and/or data were required to keep the same format. For instance, if a statement was issued on paper it had to be received on paper to be used for identification purposes. This has caused a fair bit of confusion and frustration. Authentic on the other hand means that there has been some sort of validation to determine whether or not a statement is a real statement issued to that person (regardless of the format in which it was issued).
Trulioo: What do you see in store for the future of cryptocurrency? Do you think we will one day abolish cash altogether and move in unison toward a decentralized system?
Amber: I would love to see that, but I also believe in the freedom of choice. People will continue to use the instruments that suit them. Mass adoption will depend on what’s useful, accessible, and usable . There is a lot of work to be done in terms of hardware and software. I have so much love for everyone that is working on UI right now. We’ve come a long way, and we’ve still got a long way to go. I do think we’ll see new standards emerging and governments starting to issue their own cryptocurrencies, but cash is going to disappear slowly.
Trulioo: Finally, please complete these prompts:
My Eureka moment was…
Realizing that Bitcoin really does not need any intermediaries. I’m a former banker and it was incredibly difficult to wrap my head around the concept.
If I weren’t busy with Outlier, I’d be…
Probably working in-house somewhere. Hopefully somewhere with a great culture and an interest in solving real problems.
The biggest risk I ever took was…
Leaving my hometown to attend the University of Waterloo (the only school that did not offer me a full scholarship my first year) with no real money of my own and no parental support? Starting Outlier using my own money and refusing all investor money and buy-out offers to date? HODLing through a bear market? I don’t regret any of these decisions. (FYI Hodl (/ˈhɒdəl/ HOD-əl; often written HODL) is slang in the cryptocurrency community for holding the cryptocurrency rather than selling it)
In my opinion the quirkiest Canadian AML regulation is…
The choice to use the word “mandatary” (a person that carries out a mandate) to describe a person that identifies your customer on your behalf. The word gets autocorrected to “mandatory” 99% of the time (and when it doesn’t someone tells me that I’ve made a spelling error).
My funniest work story involves…
A former director of OSFI (Canada’s bank regulator) once asked me if it really says ninja on my business cards (it does) and then asked if he could have two of them.
To learn more about Amber and keep up-to-date with what’s she doing, follow her on Twitter. If there’s a female trailblazer that you’d like to see featured in our Women in Tech blog series, please send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our previous posts here and stay tuned for the next installment!