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How CSS Certification Opens Doors for Compliance Professionals

By Benoit Beaulieu, ACSS Reporter
November 19, 2021

Training sanctions compliance professionals has never been more important. Sanctions regimes imposed by governments have increased not only in volume but also in importance in addressing international disputes.

Complying with legislation while keeping a door open for business is challenging, simply because companies don’t always have the expertise available when demand for qualified sanctions professionals outweighs supply. While sanctions-related material is sometimes included in the curriculum of various certifications, the depth of knowledge is limited and narrow. Certification must encompass a comprehensive understanding of all relevant regimes and their respective intricacies to meet business objectives.

The Certified Sanctions Specialist (CSS) designation, offered by the Association of Certified Sanctions Specialists (ACSS) is standalone in providing compliance professionals with an extensive, all-inclusive overview of sanctions regimes across multiple jurisdictions, along with the practical know-how needed to navigate them.

Qualification Provides an Holistic View

Anthony Cheng, partner at Hong Kong-based consulting firm Aquaseason Professionals, appreciates the holistic view that the CSS provides, as most associations and their certifications have a narrow focus.“The ACSS provides a complete sanctions training offering, whereas other associations focus heavily on US sanctions, or solely on EU and UK sanctions.”

To highlight the other distinguishing features and benefits of the CSS, the ACSS spoke to recent graduates for their take on the certification, how it’s helped them professionally, and to learn how else they have benefited from an ACSS membership.

The field of sanctions compliance is growing rapidly. Before the ACSS, sanctions education and training-related content were sparse. This was the experience of Anneli Puusepp, sanctions analyst at United Arab Emirates-based Abu-Dhabi Commercial Bank. “When I started my career in sanctions, there were barely any webinars on sanctions, no such community and no certification.”

Even as an experienced sanctions professional, joining the ACSS and pursuing the CSS was a logical choice for her. “My key motivation was to enhance my knowledge, including how sanctions come into play, understanding the full cycle of sanctions from imposing to delisting and the expectations for an effective sanctions compliance program,” Anneli, says. “I recommend the membership and all of the certification courses, as they are a great source of information for anyone starting or already working in the field for years.”

Compliance professionals might pursue the CSS regardless of where they are in their careers. For Greece-based Eleni Ntogka, anti-money laundering (AML) and CTF policy officer at Vivabank, obtaining the CSS was an important milestone in her professional development.

“As I was developing into a more seasoned professional, I felt the need to have a holistic understanding of the most important sanctions regimes as well as the issues. It was also important that I gained a more structured understanding of the legal frameworks surrounding sanctions.”

In addition to the knowledge gained from the CSS curriculum, Ntogka singles out a distinct professional advantage. “Having a sanctions certification from a renowned organization helps further your career opportunities.”

Credibility and Expertise

Credibility is a benefit that Dominic Hurtubise, partner at KPMG Canada’s financial advisory practice in Montreal, attests to. “In our domain, clients want to see credibility and expertise. They really appreciate seeing your credential. They can appreciate you have the right knowledge to get the work done.”

Hurtubise has also found the CSS curriculum and ACSS membership to be useful in his day-to-day practice. “I became a member because I wanted to provide more emphasis on economic sanctions. Everything that has come after earning the designation has been useful in my day-to-day responsibilities.”

Cheng, himself an AML and sanctions subject matter expert, also pursued the CSS to build on his existing knowledge to provide his clients with greater expertise. “I’m familiar with sanctions material, but I felt that I had to go into more detail. AML and sanctions are similar but quite different in practice – so I think it’s good to connect them to create a comprehensive approach.”

The CSS is not the only certification or knowledge resource that ACSS members can use to broaden their expertise to serve clients. Members such as Puusepp have taken full advantage of what the ACSS has to offer.

“ACSS membership has provided me with direct access to a great amount of sanctions-related materials, from the interactive sanctions map to a very broad spectrum of webinars and certification courses. I have completed both OFAC and EU essentials courses, as well as the CSS, all of which I found to be very useful.”

For compliance professionals seeking a hyper-focused approach to either US or EU sanctions regimes, the ACSS offers two other certificate courses periodically throughout the year: the OFAC Essentials Certificate and EU Sanctions Essentials Certificate.

As well as certificate courses, the ACSS provides members with many educational resources, including a guidance library and interactive sanctions map.

Access to a Professional Community

As a sanctions-first association, the ACSS carries a deep knowledge base and suite of tools that are made available to all members. Perhaps the most practical of these tools is the guidance library, which includes resources that help compliance professionals better understand sanctions implementation.

Rather than just a collection of copies of sanctions regime documents, the library contains guidance from a variety of government agencies, international organizations, universities and institutes, and other organizations around the world.

Members can also take advantage of the OFAC sanctions database – a searchable collection of 900+ OFAC enforcement actions across industries and sanctions regimes, with access to the PDFs of settlement letters.

Cheng summarizes the ACSS’ series of databases, including what distinguishes it. “The ACSS has put everything into a single database that is easy to explore – the sanctions documentation and the guidance from various departments of different nations. Other associations don’t have this functionality. It’s easier to access this information from the ACSS.”

For members who might prefer an interactive experience when exploring regimes, the ACSS provides an interactive sanctions map. The map is an interactive web-based tool that provides members with an overview of the global sanctions landscape – specifically, sanctions imposed by the UN, EU, UK, US and Canada.

Live and On-Demand Webinars

Perhaps the most popular resource is ACSS webinars. “Of the benefits that the membership provides,” says Puusepp, “my favorite by far are the webinars, both live and on-demand.”

The webinars and the online members’ forum can be an excellent opportunity to ask questions of other sanctions compliance experts. “My favorite resources,” says Ntogka, “are the on-demand webinars and the community chat, where you can ask sanctions-related questions on specific cases.”

As Ntogka points out, webinars are not the only opportunity for ACSS members to connect and share expertise. It’s in combining ACSS’ suite of resources and opportunities to connect with other members that she made the most of her membership and grew professionally.

“When I joined ACSS, I was working at a trade finance bank as a junior sanctions compliance officer. It was therefore of extreme importance to understand the complexities of the economic and financial sanctions landscape,” Ntogka says. “Watching the training on-demand, consulting the sanctions map and being able to ask questions or exchange information with experienced sanctions professionals really helped me grow in my role.”

For members such as Maeva Donlin, senior manager and VP – sanctions compliance, at Bank of the West (a subsidiary of BNP Paribas) in New York, ACSS’ annual conference in New York City was ideal for connecting with like-minded professionals. “The face-to-face annual conference in New York City has always been my favorite because you get to share, meet and greet great stakeholders and discuss the latest changes in the sanctions sphere.”

Suite of Resources

While the ongoing pandemic has disrupted the potential for in-person events, there are other ways for members to connect and exchange expertise. Apart from live webinars, the ACSS hosts monthly Sanctions Connect Calls – an opportunity for members to discuss with industry experts trending sanctions topics.

Opportunities for member networking extends beyond close-knit settings. Online, all members have access to the ACSS community page, a forum for members to connect directly and spark discussion by sharing content, posing questions, or direct messaging. As well, members in New York City, London, and the Benelux region can benefit from their respective ACSS chapters.

The CSS certification can be your first step in making the most of your membership and the next step in advancing your career. In combination with ACSS’ suite of resources, tools and opportunities for networking, sanctions and compliance professionals alike are sure to benefit and find a home within the ACSS community.

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