I'm a CFE

Pablo Santamaría Cisneros

Global anti-fraud senior manager at BBVA

Pablo Santamaría Cisneros, CFE, believes that a deep digital transformation is happening in the anti-fraud profession. “New cybersecurity and fraud threats are coming,” he says. As global anti-fraud senior manager at BBVA in Madrid, Spain, Santamaría is tackling these new threats by using data-driven business models and advanced analytics while adapting BBVA’s strategies to work with professionals, tools, methodologies and knowledge in the global community. “Our goal is to work as one team to face the continuous changes in fraud schemes,” says Santamaría. “I work in collaboration with local fraud teams around the world to share business diagnostics and best strategies for fighting fraud.”

I was born in Andalusia, Spain, very close to the sea. I moved to Madrid to start college at the age of 18, and I’ve been here ever since. I miss living close to the sea — Andalusia usually has more than 300 days of sunshine per year. Growing up I was always outdoors with my friends playing soccer, going to the beach or riding my mountain bike. These were and still are my hobbies.

During the ’80s I created a small software program for my parents’ company using one of the first-available personal computers. I soon realized that I wanted to study computer science. And so I did! I studied computer science at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. In the mid-to-late ’90s there was a boom of internet and “dot com” companies. Computer science skills were in high demand. So, from my third year, I studied and worked at the same time until I finished my degree. I believe that it’s important to stay updated in this sector, so I’m continuously learning.

I started my career as an information security consultant at Unisys. As an external consultant, I helped BBVA build its security and ethical hacking operations, community emergency response team, and forensic and investigation services. BBVA eventually offered me a position in its information security department.

I ache with each fraud case no matter the amount that's taken. An external fraud has a business impact, but, for me, the client's suffering is more important.

A top challenge for a security and anti-fraud professional is defending a financial institution like BBVA. During my 14 years at BBVA, I’ve experienced the emergence of new cybersecurity and fraud threats and, for more than 10 years, I’ve led technological investigations for our Spanish division. BBVA is one of the top 50 banks in the world, with a presence in more than 30 countries and 72 million customers. One of our main goals is to provide the best customer experience with the highest levels of trust, meaning we offer a safe, easy and “friction-free” experience for them. A big challenge but also an exciting one.

I ache with each fraud case no matter the amount that’s taken. An external fraud has a business impact, but, for me, the client’s suffering is more important — it’s a stressful and annoying situation for everyone. So, we must focus on taking care of our customers and helping them overcome these situations less painfully. We also should have zero tolerance for internal misbehavior. We should be diligent in detecting and deterring fraudulent activities as soon as possible to achieve an ethical and positive workplace.

I’ve always tried to combine traditional investigative techniques with computer and advanced analytical skills. Our purpose is to prevent and discover early symptoms of external and internal misuse or misbehavior. Learning from each case retrospectively is a good way to continuously improve our methodology, but we can’t  stop learning and enhancing our investigative toolkit with the most advanced analytical practices. The idea is to deepen our data science knowledge and analyze links to detect suspicious behavior and fraudster profiles. New, advanced analytics platforms and big data techniques are enabling discoveries and insights that were impossible to imagine a few years ago.

The top three lessons I’ve learned in the anti-fraud field:

  • Always challenge all information, no matter who gave it to you.
  • Always handle a new case like the first one.
  • Don’t try to tag the case at your first opportunity — have an open mind and never stop learning.

I was looking to increase my knowledge in internal fraud practices, and I wanted to learn it from the best. That’s when I discovered the ACFE, thanks to Google. The most valuable aspect of being part of the ACFE has been accessing and learning from the best anti-fraud professionals through training resources and the ACFE community. Sharing experiences and networking during annual events have also been very productive.

Without a doubt, my greatest achievement is my family. I love to travel around the world with my family and also discover all the hidden spots in Spain. Whenever I can, I also enjoy riding my mountain bike cross country.

Emily Primeaux, CFE, is associate editor of Fraud Magazine. Her email address is: eprimeaux@ACFE.com.

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