Meet Stephen Williamson – Senior AML Consultant, FCS Compliance

In this interview, FCS PR Director, Alison Blease introduces you to Stephen Williamson (MICA, Dip – AML), Senior AML Consultant at FCS Compliance. 

Dated: April 2024

AB:  I’m joined today by Stephen (Steve) Williamson, who joined FCS in October 2023. Steve comes from a financial background. He’s worked for and with banks investigating Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliance issues. And with a background in property too, he brings huge expertise to the business which he shares with FCS clients in his training sessions. 

Welcome Steve. It would be great if you could start off by telling us a little about your role here at FCS.

SW:  My time at FCS Compliance has flown by! At the moment, the majority of my time at the moment is spent delivering and helping to expand the training courses that we run. To be AML compliant, and to remain so, property professionals are obliged to attend regular training sessions. AML compliance is a fast-moving sector and it’s important that everyone is as up-to-speed as they possibly can be with the latest changes as soon they come into effect.

AB: Sounds like you’ve been very busy! Tell me a little more about your background, before FCS. I believe you started your career in banking?

SW:  That’s right. My career began at NatWest Corporate and Commercial banking. Based in West London, I started as a junior analyst but was promoted to Assistant Commercial Manager. It was at this time that I started working in property. Essentially, I looked after a portfolio of property developers. These developers were looking for bank loans to fund their build(s) and my job was to conduct the financial viability of each development proposal.

In a much-publicised takeover, NatWest became part of RBS, which for me meant I witnessed a significant amount of change during that time – both from a policy and procedure perspective, but also technological change as well. One day I got talking to a client of mine and mentioned that I was considering leaving the bank and he suggested an opportunity in Dubai that he thought I might be interested in, and I went for it.

AB: What did you do in Dubai?

SW:  Just a few weeks after leaving NatWest I started the new role in Dubai. It was my responsibility to establish the company’s presence in the Middle East with Dubai acting as a hub to serve clients across the entire GCC region. I was responsible for securing new client investment as well as increasing investment from our existing clients as well.

I was there for two years, but headed home to set up a new company with one of the directors I had been working with out in Dubai. 

AB:  Doing the same kind of thing?

SW:  Exactly that. We converted houses into flats and built new – but small apartment blocks which we sold on to investors. 

I learnt a lot about networking with agents, property finders and land agents too.  It was a good training ground for my work now. I feel I have a good understanding of the pushes and pulls that property professionals have to go through to run a profitable business.

AB:  And then I believe you went back to banking?

SW:  I did. For family reasons, I moved back to Wales where I worked for HSBC. I was mainly involved with lending to commercial businesses – not just property. But it was at this time, in 2015, that AML really came into being. 

HSBC had set up a new department responsible for conducting Customer Due Diligence (CDD) on all of it customers who were designated as Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs). I started as an analyst, then took on a training role, but was soon running my own department.

AB: It sounds like you were really getting under the bonnet of AML?

SW: Most definitely. But when the department moved to Birmingham, I decided to stay put and moved to a specialist AML outsourcing company, again running CDD checks on a whole host of big business including banks.

AB: That sounds really interesting.

SW:  It really was! By working as an outsourcing partner to a number of different financial institutions it enabled me to see how they all worked in slightly different ways and that enabled me to take the best practices from each and adapt them to work within my own team. It shaped the way in which we worked.  It also gave me an insight into what different banks were looking for, and given that there was so much to juggle, how to manage projects efficiently. 

I was there for five or six years and before joining FCS, worked for a Fin Tech company – again on the AML side of things. 

AB:  And now you’re here with us at FCS!

SW:  I am!  I’m working with a strong team of AML experts.  Between us, there isn’t much we don’t know or haven’t had first-hand experience of.

AB: I know you’re taking on some of the training courses.  What kind of questions tend to come up in those sessions and what are the pitfalls that trip people up along the way.

SW: There’s always a lot of talk about information sharing.  People can be reluctant to share documents, but it has to be done – by both parties – if AML is to be carried out effectively.

Complex structures, trusts and overseas companies are frequently a problem.  But we do have experts in this field for anyone who comes unstuck. 

And if I was to give one piece of advice it would be to get the basics right. All too often, people collect the documentation together but then forget to carry out the risk assessment.  This is more than a tick-box exercise.  People really need to think about what they’re trying to achieve by going through the process.  They want to do the right thing, and I promise this will help get them there!

AB:  Thank you Steve, it’s been really interesting talking with you today.

SW:  Thank you Alison, likewise!