After years of working in the anti-money laundering field, Niclas-Andreas Mueller, CFE, had seen first-hand how closely fraud and money laundering was linked. He used working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to earn his CFE credential and speak at multiple ACFE conferences.
How did you become passionate about fighting fraud?
After graduating from university in 2014, I joined a management consulting firm. My very first project was a large-scale financial crime transformation program, driven by a U.S.-led corporate monitorship. I worked in the central project management office, supporting setting up the program structure and collating results from more than 10 work streams. With an academic background in business and law, I appreciated the way regulatory compliance equally drew from both subject areas. Additionally, you have a purpose beyond generating revenue by protecting organizations and consumers from exposure to financial crimes — including fraud. From the very beginning I was hooked and decided to build my career in this area.
You are currently a senior manager at KPMG in Germany. What steps led you to that position?
After two years in management consulting, I joined a Big 4 accounting firm, working on consulting projects and investigations across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific regions. In 2018, I joined KPMG’s forensic department, where I lead large-scale financial crime transformation projects for financial services organizations. During my whole career, continuous education played a key role in my success. I decided early on that I wanted to complement my work experience with technical skills and completed my first anti-financial crime certification in 2015.
Since then, I have taken a number of courses and earned certifications. Some of these were sponsored by my employer; some of them I decided to take on myself. There is so much information (much of it free) out there. You just need to keep your eyes open and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to you. The most important thing in my opinion is that you approach your work with passion. This will help you overcome the hurdles that you will undoubtedly encounter along the way and build a long-lasting, fulfilling career.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your work preventing money laundering and fraud?
I work mostly on the preventive side, helping my clients design and implement better compliance programs to safeguard their institutions from fraud and other financial crimes. Some of the challenges I encounter include a lack of awareness regarding the importance of compliance, a lack of management support and budgetary constraints. Often, these issues originate from the view that compliance is purely a cost-burden — something that hinders your business and that you do, albeit reluctantly, because you have to. I wholeheartedly disagree with this view. Compliance is key to any organization’s existence, as penalties or business restrictions due to non-compliance can quickly stop an organization from continuing as a going concern.
A good compliance program can also be a competitive advantage. I like to compare this to the world of sports. A great athlete who is caught taking performance-enhancing drugs will be hard-pressed to gain or retain lucrative sponsorship deals. Similarly, non-compliance can drive your customers to better-behaved competitors. Ethically minded customers might even actively choose an organization due to its moral compass (including compliance with laws and regulations). Helping clients understand this can be difficult, but when it works the effects are immediate and substantial. Helping an organization transform into a more compliant and competitive market player is incredibly rewarding.
What is a memorable case or project that you have worked on?
My most memorable project was back in 2018. I was seconded by my then employer to our Singaporean offices to support a German client’s local branch to improve their client due diligence processes and controls. Besides being able to work with local colleagues in a completely new business environment (for me then), I had the opportunity to live in Singapore for several months and even travel to some other countries in the area. From a work perspective, I will always remember arriving on the first day and being shown to our work area — a conference room meant for six, but housing our team of 10 people (so it was quite cozy!) — and then learning that the client files had not been digitized yet and seeing a huge pile of paper files to go through. While painful back then, it does make for a good story now!
Congratulations on recently earning your CFE credential! What made you decide to earn your CFE now?
I had originally intended to take the CFE Exam back in 2015 and had already purchased the Fraud Examiners Manual. However, life got in the way, and I had to postpone my plans. I was finally able to achieve my ambition in 2021 — working from home really helped this along — and I am proud to be a Certified Fraud Examiner. I had previously been strongly focused on anti-money laundering, but what I have seen in practice is that individual financial crimes are often hard to keep separate and tend to engender or even presuppose each other. The relationship between money laundering and fraud is a particularly close one, with fraud being a predicate offense to money laundering. Recent legislative changes in my home jurisdiction of Germany have strengthened this relationship even more. The CFE credential gave me the opportunity to learn more about fraud, which in turn allows me to serve my clients in a more comprehensive way.
You’ve spoken at multiple ACFE conferences. Why do you think it’s important to contribute through teaching your fellow anti-fraud professionals?
I have had the pleasure of speaking at the 2021 ACFE Fraud Conference Europe and the 32nd Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference. After many years of benefitting from the networking and knowledge of the ACFE, I am happy to give back to the global community by sharing some of the things I have learned along the way. Besides allowing me to give back, this is also a great learning opportunity for myself.
The best advice I can give to anyone interested in contributing is simply to do it. I have found the staff at the ACFE nothing but helpful and encouraging. You do not have to have spent the last 20 years fighting fraud to have something of value to add. Everyone is an expert in something. Find your area of expertise and start sharing!
What do you like best about being an ACFE member?
As an ACFE member, you are part of a global community of like-minded professionals committed to preventing, detecting and remediating financial crime. I very much appreciate the opportunities this network provides — from formal training to the informal exchange of ideas and networking. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with members from all around the world, who I otherwise likely would have never met. I encourage people in the anti-fraud profession to join this organization as it broadens your horizons and allows you to benefit from the hard-earned knowledge of professionals from all around the world.
What activities or hobbies do you like to do outside of work?
As an Austrian, I love the mountains and you can often find me hiking in my native Alps. Together with my wife, we enjoy traveling and have really missed doing so over the past year and a half. Once we are again able to safely do so, we are looking forward to visiting Japan and South Korea.
ACFE membership is open to individuals of all job functions, industries and levels of experience who are interested in the prevention, detection and deterrence of fraud. If you want to level up your anti-fraud career, we can help.