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Strategies for decreasing the mental health toll of the AML/CFT field

Tiffany McLain, CAMS
May 1, 2023
Read Time: 0 min

The importance of mental health in the AML/CFT field

The AML/CFT profession can take a toll on mental health due to the responsibilities given to analysts and officers. Here are signs to look for and ways to destress.

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AML/CFT mental health

Signs of mental health strain in the AML/CFT field

“I need to draft the monthly board report and complete the staffing assessment. I can’t forget about scheduling the annual training. Was the SDN list updated again? Wait, the audit is next month, and I haven’t started the request list. My analyst just quit, so I need to make time for alerts and cases.”

Does this sound like your day-to-day thought process as an AML/CFT employee? Plenty of jobs come with long to-do lists, but working in the AML/CFT field adds the stress of knowing that unchecked boxes might mean missing potential suspicious activity that could stop drug traffickers or save lives. No pressure there, right? In addition, AML/CFT staff are often tasked with doing the work on a small budget and must keep customer convenience in mind. The stress can be overwhelming whether you are a BSA officer or an analyst.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, we want you to know you are not alone. Take a moment to review the following signs that you may be overwhelmed at work or even dealing with high-functioning anxiety or depression. Some symptoms may include the following:

  1. Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  2. Pulling away from people and things, including the job you once had so much passion for
  3. Fear of failure and striving for perfection
  4. Having low or no energy
  5. Feeling helpless or hopeless
  6. Excessive smoking, drinking, or using drugs, including prescription medications
  7. Worrying a lot of the time; feeling guilty but not sure why
  8. Thinking of hurting or killing yourself or someone else

If you are thinking of harming yourself, please talk to someone now. Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or simply dial 988 to reach them. Find a licensed counselor in your area.

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Strategies to destress

Decrease stress during your AML/CFT workday

Mental health in the workplace is essential and a topic worth discussing without fear. While we at Abrigo can’t help with medication or counseling, we can help bring attention to this often-overlooked subject. In addition, here are a few steps to decrease stress during your workday:

  1. Stand every hour and take deep breaths or use a meditation app. Add a reminder on your phone so you don’t forget.
  2. Don’t skip your breaks. Use this time to walk around the block or inside your building.
  3. Take the time to get organized digitally. If you know your examiner will always ask for certain things (such as a list of private ATM owners), keep a separate folder for these customers handy.
  4. Have a lot of old items to weed through? Create an archive folder and store older items to clear the clutter. Keep a folder for every exam and audit to see what information you provided in previous years and help give your brain a jumpstart for the current year’s request.
  5. Is your audit/exam at the same time every year? Try to shift some of the workload to the month before and after. For instance, see what enhanced due diligence (EDD) reviews can be completed early and move those to a different periodic schedule.
  6. Utilize an online community such as a user group to see what other tips and tricks other AML professionals can offer.
  7. Don’t compare yourself to others in the field. There are many experts, and it is easy to give yourself a case of imposter syndrome. Remind yourself of your own knowledge and experience.
  8. You do not have to do it all by yourself. If you have knowledgeable staff, train them to take over some tasks such as quality control of alerts, training new employees and branch staff, or pieces of your risk assessment. Find their strengths and use them to help yourself while providing them with excellent training to further their careers.
  9. Alleviate some of the workload by letting the Abrigo Advisory Services Team jump in and tackle what you don’t have time for. No matter what software you use, we have an expert ready to help that has been in your shoes before.


Stay ahead of stress

People in the AML/CFT field are typically protectors that repeatedly put others first. But avoiding the mental health toll of a stressful job could be detrimental. It is easy to let stress build up until you reach a breaking point, which is more difficult to recover from than taking small steps to reduce stress overall. Remember: you are not letting anyone down by taking time to calm, energize, or reorganize your work life—you are investing in yourself to better manage risk and thrive in the AML/CFT field.

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About the Author

Tiffany McLain, CAMS

Senior Financial Crimes Investigator
Tiffany McLain has nearly two decades of banking experience. She started in operations and worked her way to BSA/AML where she has been since 2007. Her responsibilities have included CTRs, alert triage and investigations, SAR writing, training (staff & board), risk assessment and policy writing, system performance and adjustments, quality

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