Frank Ewing photo.

Building on success in Buffalo

CEO Frank Ewing '12 shows his appreciation for Western New York's pool of smart, hard-working people by bringing new opportunities to the area.

When AML RightSource, which searches out potentially illicit activity for banks and other clients, was looking for its next expansion site, Buffalo was among the top five cities that met its criteria.

What made the difference: CEO Frank Ewing’s lingering affection for Western New York, and an appreciation for the area’s pool of smart, hard-working people.

Ewing, a 2012 graduate of UB School of Law, was hired as the company’s first employee back in 2004. He left after a few years to work with KPMG in New York City, Hodgson Russ, and M&T Bank, primarily focused on counseling financial institutions on anti-money laundering compliance, then returned to AML RightSource as an owner in 2014. He was named CEO in 2017.

“Either people are staying because they love it, or they’re from here and they’re coming back. ... You want people who are committed to the community and the area.” - Frank Ewing '12

Now he splits his time between the company’s home office in Cleveland and its three other offices, including the one in Buffalo’s resurgent Larkin District. The 31 employees there will grow to 50 within a couple of months, and the company plans to make 100 new hires in the next five years. It’s also opening a location near Toronto this spring. The company has approximately 650 employees among its four locations.

It’s a success story born from financial institutions’ increasing need for help in complying with stringent federal regulations. And Ewing says that even in a tight labor market, AML RightSource is able to find talented employees who are drawn to the challenge of unearthing fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, even elder abuse by sorting through financial records.

“The amount of known illicit money that goes through the global financial system in any given year is equivalent to the fifth-largest GDP in the world,” he says. “Every financial institution, whether they’re aware of it or not, likely has suspicious activity going on. Our folks are researching: who is this customer, how did they get their money, who did they spend it with, and does it make sense? We’re trying to get to the bottom of those four questions.

“So we’re looking for patterns of activity. It requires highly analytical people who can write and think and get to a disposition quickly. They have multiple screens going, and there’s kind of a cool voyeuristic aspect to what they’re doing.”

The company serves clients both nationwide and worldwide, but Ewing says it’s helpful to have a physical presence in different areas. Part of that, he says, is that “you never want to be in a position that you’re tapping out the talent base in a particular area. We’re always looking for really smart, affordable talent.”

And the planned expansion in Buffalo capitalizes on workers’ tendency to stay put. “There’s an ethos to the Rust Belt,” says Ewing, who grew up in Utica. “Either people are staying because they love it, or they’re from here and they’re coming back. There’s nothing more risky than being in an environment that’s extremely transient. You want people who are committed to the community and the area.”

Before he enrolled at UB School of Law, Ewing worked in banking and financial crime regulation as well. “I went to law school to expand my career prospects,” he says, “and I loved it. I have the fondest memories of my time at UB. It was a fantastic experience.”

And although he’s not practicing law in the traditional sense, he says having a J.D. has proved invaluable in business. “I deal with a lot of labor and employment issues internally from the management perspective,” he says. “I understand corporations; I know the threat and risks of litigation. We deal with contracts every single day here.

“Most importantly, I use what I would call the soft lawyering skills every second of every day – getting to the point quickly, writing effectively, reading a document and understanding what the three or four major points are, having a difficult conversation with a client. All these skills are transitive, and having that legal background has really expanded the toolkit for what I do.”