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Pritesh Chudasama

In our latest MERJE Markets interview we chat to Pritesh Chudasama, who is a Senior Consultant covering Financial Crime across London and the south of England. Pritesh works extensively with corporate and investment banks, asset/wealth managers, brokerages and Professional Services firms, while also supporting MERJE's Real Estate, Gambling and FinTech clients. He also covers all aspects of Financial Crime, which includes AML, sanctions and AB&C, from analyst up to MLRO level. His colleagues, Andy Hodson and Jake Kelly, are based in Manchester and work in tandem with him, covering the north of England. Here, Pritesh shares his insights on the current Financial Crime landscape and his thoughts around the latest industry trends and hot topics.

You are coming up to your second year anniversary working at MERJE. How have you found your first few years working in the Financial Crime team and what have you gained most enjoyment from?

Coming from a large firm with around 3,000 staff and offices in most major cities around the world and moving to a boutique recruitment firm with circa 30 staff split between London and Manchester was a huge cultural shift, but one that I could not wait to experience!

I still remember my first day when I had so many messages and calls welcoming me into the company, offering all kinds of support. It was by far the warmest welcome I had ever received.

In the two years that I have been here I have experienced two fantastic Christmas parties, a long weekend away to Barcelona, and many generous lunches and dinners. I still pinch myself to this day about how fantastic everyone is and how much fun it is to work at MERJE.

In my last role, I never had the privilege of working alongside anyone else who focused on the Financial Crime and Compliance arena, which meant that moving to MERJE was a game-changer with regards to my career development.

I was subsequently able to share market information while being introduced to contacts and candidates that I had not had access to or known before. It was also refreshing to strategically collaborate with colleagues on certain roles and navigate who would be precisely the best fit for them.

Why did you want to join MERJE and what is your perception of the business almost two years in?

When I was approached about MERJE by a recruiter, I have to admit that it was not a business that I had come across too often, probably because of its size and relatively short amount of time operating in the market. However, after seeing what they did and how they did it, I could see that they had a great ethos and clearly cared about wanting to make a good impression on the market. They do things properly and now I genuinely could not imagine a more perfect partnership.

MERJE specialises in supporting SMEs and growth businesses and a lot of them too! They don’t tend to target the larger corporate firms, which was a big focus for my previous firm, meaning that I had to adjust my strategy slightly, but when I began to learn about the types of clients that MERJE does support, I found it so exciting to have the chance to partner with a wider variety of firms in the market.  

One of the most significant things I have seen at MERJE which I do not think happens as much elsewhere is the amount of collaboration between people. Everyone is articulate and professional but, equally, we know the time and the place to let our hair down. Well, what is left of mine anyway!

Now that I have been here for nearly two years, it is safe to say that MERJE is a crucial player in the markets we operate within.

As we know, Financial Crime is such a fast-paced and ever-changing area, but what are the most topical issues at present?

The Financial Crime landscape is ever-changing and constantly evolving. MLROs and their teams are required to keep their firms several steps ahead to avoid any financial and reputational damage.

The Financial Crime functions within the Financial Services industry have not been affected much throughout this period. This is because with everything which has happened over the years since the 2008 crash, coupled with several significant fines and a surge of FinTech firms who house advanced systems, Financial Crime controls are so robust that it has remained business as usual.

Since the start of the lockdown period in England, there was a notable increase in Financial Crime positions within asset management and wealth management/IFA firms. Also there was, and still is, a demand within consumer led Financial Service firms. People are spending a lot more online, so there are a lot of transactions being carried out. With the housing market ironically being buoyant during the pandemic, especially with the recent stamp duty holiday, lender onboarding teams are being kept busy, and it is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. 

However, there has been an increased focus on fraud, cyber-crime, staff wellbeing and the security of information as people permanently work remotely or from home.

There has also been an increase in the social engineering of cyber-crime to access key decision makers in businesses. HR teams, executive assistants and personal assistants are all potential targets given the level of sensitive data which they are privy to. In addition, phishing emails have proven to be a nuisance.

Although this can happen at any point in time, the risks surrounding people working from home and on networks that might not be secure dramatically increased the chances of sensitive data being leaked unknowingly, or knowingly, to members of the same household. This can lead to all types of market abuse and manipulation and some Financial Crime teams are consequently partnering with wider Compliance teams to grasp a stronger understanding around how to best mitigate such risks.

How has the sector been affected by COVID-19 and which trends or developments do you envisage arising in the next 12 to 18 months?

Areas which will most likely keep teams busy this year and early into 2021 will be the US sanctions against entities and individuals in mainland China, along with the new Hong Kong regime. List management will be key and candidates who have exposure to this could see some promising vacancies crop up.

The UK Human Rights regime also came into effect recently and although it is very similar, if not identical to the Global Magnitsky Sanctions, it will still need to be updated.

Finally, if you thought we had seen the last of Brexit, think again. There is an entire set of complex regulations which need to be converted from the current EU state to become UK specific. This responsibility will sit with the second line of Financial Crime and Legal teams.

What advice would you give to anyone seeking a career in your market?

Depending on which area of Financial Crime you want to get into, the first thing is to have a plan and know what your end goal is. Then you need to get your foot through the door, which is usually the most difficult part.

When networking events come up, make sure you attend them in order to keep fully up-to-date with what is happening in Financial Crime. Think about undertaking a professional qualification such as a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) or an ICA International Diploma in Anti-Money Laundering.

If you are already in a firm, network internally and express an interest with managers in the Financial Crime teams which you want to join. Show them that you have been studying to demonstrate your commitment to getting into Financial Crime.

If you are experienced and looking for a new position, then that answer is very easy; register with MERJE and keep an eye out for roles being advertised by our team.

Can you recommend any sources for up-to-date market news and information?

There are so many that are out there, but here is a selection that people I work with use or attend:

ACAMS resources - https://www.acams.org/aml-resources/            

ICA (International Compliance Association) – insights -  https://www.int-comp.org/insight/

OFSI – sanctions specific - https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-of-financial-sanctions-implementation

OFAC – sanctions specific - https://www.treasury.gov/about/organizational-structure/offices/pages/office-of-foreign-assets-control.aspx

Lexology – which is mainly legal but houses a lot of good Financial Crime information - https://www.lexology.com/about

UK Finance, which is the collective voice for the banking and finance industry - https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/

JMLSG - a private sector body which is made up of the leading UK Trade Associations in the Financial Services industry -  https://jmlsg.org.uk/

AMLP Forum – an association of financial crime and anti-bribery and corruption professionals who run conferences which MERJE sponsor - https://www.amlpforum.com/

MLROs.com – another association of Financial Crime professionals which frequently hosts conferences - https://mlros.com/

Lastly, most of the Professional Services firms such as EY, KPMG, Deloitte and PWC. They all have great articles covering current and upcoming events within Financial Crime.

Finally, what would people be surprised to learn about you?

When I lived in Dubai several years ago, my friends and I took a Jeep Wrangler out to the desert, thinking that we had been on enough desert safaris to do it ourselves. Boy, were we wrong.

We set out in the late morning and by the early afternoon we got stuck down a 10-foot ditch in the middle of the desert. Initially, we took it in our stride, but as the sun started to go down and creepy crawlies started coming for us, we decided that two of us should stay with the car to try and get it out with the equipment we had while the other two (myself and my friend) went to find help. It was a long walk and we had no idea what we might find, but we ended up in a random desert village which took us in, gave us tea and then drove us out in their Jeeps and managed to get our car out!

If you would like to speak to Pritesh in more detail about your Financial Crime recruitment or role requirements, please email: pchudasama@merje.com