A Guide to AML/CFT Certificates - CAMS vs regional AML certs

Is an AML/CFT certificate worth it? Which AML certificate is the best? Is CAMS difficult? Is CAMS expensive? Is CAMS syllabus useful and relevant to an AML finance job?



3/6/20234 min read

Is an AML/CFT certificate worth it?

Unlike economics or accounting, a degree majoring in AML or compliance is highly uncommon. One can hardly proclaim himself/herself to be an AML expert just by academic background. That’s why a well-recognised AML/CFT certificate is important.

If you are interested in an junior AML compliance job role, or a jump to a middle-level AML compliance job role with a few years of working experience in related functions like general compliance/ auditing/ risk management/ forensic accounting, an AML certificate could help you prove your AML knowledge and beat your competitiors.

You can add a designation suffix on your name card or Linkedin profile (e.g. John Smith, CFA, FRM, CAMS).

Which AML certificate is the best?

Quick short answer: CAMS

Up to this point, the Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) is the only internationally recognised AML certificate. Other AML certs that I heard of (e.g. UK’s ICA Certificate in Anti Money Laundering, Hong Kong’s AAMLP or CAMLP) are only regionally recongised.

The Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) has now expanded its certification collection to 9 types. But still, CAMS is surely the must-try ‘signature dish’.

Is CAMS expensive?

CAMS is a rather expensive exam. For most applicants, the fee is now US$1,895 (or US$2,295 including 6 x 2-hour online classes which I don’t think necessary). If you work in a financial regulator, you’ll enjoy an US$450 discount at US$1,445.

Is CAMS difficult? Is CAMS syllabus useful and relevant to an AML job?

CAMS textbook is a pdf file of about >300 pages. All text, no calculation. The exam will be 120 multiple-choice questions in 3.5 hours.

I took the computerised exam at a proctored exam centre.I think CAMS is not a difficult exam which shall only take about 60 hours of preparation. A few years ago, I passed it in one take with around 40 hours of preparation. The passing score is 75 on 120 (62.5%), and you’ll know your precise score in the test result report.

You can learn something useful from this exam. Its comprensive syllabus covers a great deal of knowledge that you need as an AML practitioner from high-level knowledge to practical skills, for example,

  1. how people commit money-laundering, or various AML risk types (e.g. from financial institutions like banks and insurance companies, to other industries like casinos and travel agencies, and also new products like virtual assets or cryptocurrencies)

  2. prevailing international AML standards, regimes or regulations that you’ll actually come across when working as an AML compliance officer (e.g. FATF, BCBS, The Wolfsberg Group, OFAC)

  3. how to develop a comprensive AML program for your bank/ company (e.g. sanction lists/ KYC/ red flag alert system)

  4. how to investigate/ assist in investigation into a possible AML case (e.g. transaction monitoring/ STR reporting)

What will you get after passing the CAMS exam?

You will get a physical certificate along with a letter by mail after passing the exam.

Should I study for another AML cert? How about the Advanced level of CAMS?

Quick short answer: I don’t recommend, unless you insist.

The CAMS dominates the AML certificate market. So, if you plan to take your first AML certificate, the CAMS is surely your best choice. (I should declare that I am not sponsored by the ACAMS. But this is the fact for AML certs. For ESG certs, I would say no single ESG certificate dominates.)

If you have already obtained your CAMS and still want to study for your second AML cert, I don’t think it’s really worthwhile. I think an AML cert mainly serves as your entry ticket into the AML/CFT compliance function.

If you wish to advance to senior levels, I think the most pretigious qualifications (CFA, FRM, CPA) or a relevant part-time master degree (e.g. forensic accounting) are more worthwhile.If you insist on a second AML cert, you might consider one of the 3 types of Advanced CAMS, which standard price is US$2,195, even more expensive…

You must have to be an CAMS before applying for Advanced CAMS. It will skip all the aforementioned general AML concepts and directly drill into the specialised knowledge of a particular stream (Audit/ FCI/ Risk Management).

Some other regional AML certs

Or, you might consider some regionally recognised AML certificates (which is least recommended).

For Hongkongers, you might also consider AAMLP or CAMLP by the HKIB. At least, I noticed a few head-level and VP-level colleagues in the AML compliance teams (who could be your interviewers) display such designations on their Linkedin profiles.

AAMLP is classified at Hong Kong’s Qualification Framework (QF) Level 4 (equivalent to Associate/Higher Diploma). Total fee is HK$5,820 (training) + HK$1,100(exam)+ HK$1,730 (standard cert fee)= HK$8,650. You need to attend 15 hours of training and pass a 2.5-hour ‘core-level’ exam. Despite the officially recommended preparation hours being 182.5 hours, I heard it’s even easier than the CAMS so I presume 50 hours will be enough.

CAMLP is classified at QF Level 5 (equivalent to a bachelor Degree). Total fee is HK$5,400 (training) + HK1,350 (exam) + HK$1,730 (standard cert fee) = HK$8,480. You will have to complete a 21-hour training programme with HKU Space, pass a 3-hour ‘professional-level’ exam for the , with 3 years of relevant working experience in AML/CFT.

Good luck! Hope this article is helpful to you.