Teams partner to fight money laundering, other crimes

August 18, 2023
Carrie Gilson and Jon Roper in an office building.
Carrie Gilson, left, and Jon Roper's teams work together to identify laundering of drug money, fraud through business email compromises and other types of financial and cyber crime.

The financial intelligence and financial crimes investigations teams partner closely together to identify illicit movement of funds and provide information to law enforcement

Math can do many things, including help catch criminals.

The U.S. Bank Financial Intelligence Unit develops statistical models and performs analytics to identify potentially suspicious activity – namely, individuals trying to move illicit funds through the U.S. banking system with the appearance of legitimacy. 

Carrie Gilson, director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), leads a team of data scientists and analysts who are responsible for creating and refining tools that flag activity that appears to indicate a financial crime like money laundering, human trafficking, drug trafficking or terrorist financing.

“It is really satisfying for my team when we can build something that cuts through the noise – the activity that is normal and expected – and narrows in on the activity that may be unusual,” Gilson said. “We employ a variety of analytical techniques ranging from rules-based logic to machine learning algorithms.”

The downstream recipient of the information gleaned from those analytical tools is the financial crimes operations team, led by Jon Roper. Roper has two investigative teams, Anti-Money Laundering and External Fraud, that focus efforts on using myriad investigative resources, including data from the FIU, to further review unusual transactions and determine what must be reported through required channels.

These processes are in place to protect the bank and its customers from those who seek to exploit the financial industry to commit or support illegal activity, money laundering and other criminal purposes.  

Money laundering is the process of taking funds obtained through criminal acts and attempting to hide the true source by making those funds appear legitimate.   

“When people ask me what I do and I tell them I work in financial crimes for U.S. Bank, I usually get a puzzled look. Then I give a shout out to a few popular shows that have heavy components of money laundering – and then they get it,” said Roper, director of Financial Crimes Operations. “My team plays a key role for U.S. Bank where fulfilling our regulatory requirements may help law enforcement catch criminals and other nefarious individuals who are using the financial industry in a way that isn’t allowed.”

“We play our part in safeguarding the U.S. banking system as a trustworthy and sound environment for people to house their hard-earned money and investments."

Carrie Gilson

Roper’s team partners closely with law enforcement agencies, where they and other government agencies use the reports his team files in assisting in criminal investigations.

Roper and Gilson’s teams have worked together to identify everything from laundering drug money to identifying fraud through business email compromises – an increasingly common type of cybercrime. Oftentimes, their work involves helping to identify schemes that target vulnerable populations, like the elderly or individuals who may be victims of human trafficking. 

“We play our part in safeguarding the U.S. banking system as a trustworthy and sound environment for people to house their hard-earned money and investments,” Gilson said.

“That’s a big theme for everything that we do: partnership,” Roper said. “We partner with Carrie’s team, we partner with other financial institutions and we partner with law enforcement. One of the most rewarding parts of our jobs is when we can identify and stop criminal behavior, and that’s always the goal.”

While Gilson and Roper both say their work is extremely gratifying, neither of them had this career in mind when they started out. 

Roper studied law enforcement with an eye toward becoming an FBI agent, but after graduating from college he started working at a financial institution in an investigations role and soon became intrigued by the operational side of banking. 

Gilson studied decisions sciences in college and began her career by leveraging analytics to help make risk decisions in banking. She realized those analytics could help identify potential crimes at a time when the use of quantitative models in anti-money laundering was starting to gather momentum, and then got an MBA to further her expertise in the field.

“I think we both feel really fortunate to be in this unique area,” she said. “It not only has a significant impact for the bank, but it also has a significant human element and impact on our communities as well. Together, as required, we’re able to identify and provide information to law enforcement about some truly horrible crimes to help ensure the protection of our customers and the banking system.”

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