How do you use technology to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

AUSTRAC is Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing regulator and Financial Intelligence Unit, where we ensure that Australia’s financial system is resilient to financial crime and that terrorists are not funded from Australia. You may have heard the phrase “follow the money” – that’s an easy way to understand what we do.

As AUSTRAC’s Chief Innovation Officer I head up the Innovation, Information and Analytics branch. My role encompasses a wide variety of activities including: leading innovation activity and supporting other areas of the organisation in innovation; safekeeping and governing data, information and intelligence; and using leading-edge methods from computer science, artificial intelligence, statistics, machine learning, language technology, user experience and cognitive computing to ensure that AUSTRAC data can be exploited to the fullest extent. D

Data is our lifeblood – it allows us to detect gaps in the resilience of our financial system, criminal activity or terrorist financing.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2016?

The year focused on building a strong team of experts from a wide variety of backgrounds. I firmly believe in multi-disciplinary teams and in the value of diverse thinking. Ultimately, it’s all about the team. So I have hired experts in fields such as: computer science and artificial intelligence; holistic innovation (e.g., user experience, change management) ; diplomacy (late last year I worked with my counterpart from Indonesia to set up a regional community of innovators to co-design and build solutions to common problems); programme management; and data and information management.

We finish the year significantly stronger than we started, and I’m particularly proud to see how diverse we are in gender, expertise and ethnic backgrounds.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2017?

We are always looking for more effective ways to make our financial system stronger and there are a few things that are going to be particularly interesting for us in 2017.

First, blockchain is likely to continue to receive a lot of attention. As a financial regulator, this is of interest to us, not just because we need to monitor financial transactions, but also because of the potential for this technology to radically transform the way compliance is performed. The technology has the potential to automate the way that risks are detected and data is sent to us. This and the broader RegTech movement will improve how organisations fulfill regulation obligations. And as a country we can also be extremely proud that Standards Australia will be leading the world in defining international standards for blockchain.

The second very interesting area is the New Payment Platform, which will go live in late 2017. Again, this presents enormous potential for AUSTRAC to do what we do better by working in partnership with the financial sector to strengthen our front-line. Finally, we are ramping up our work with our international partners and this will be interesting – watch this space!

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2016, what would it be?

Our world has fundamentally changed; criminals and terrorists don’t care about physical country borders because they can conduct their business on the Internet. So as a country, our resilience is tightly linked to our international environment. Financial crime and terrorism are global problems so they need global solutions. Only by working with international partners (particularly within our region) can we truly tackle these problems.

But with the growing complexity of our environments and the explosion of data, we need more effective information sharing. The art of diplomacy is intersecting with computer science and I see this becoming increasingly important.

Who is your hero and why?

Bill Gates – for a range of reasons. He hasn’t always been someone I would consider a hero and during his Microsoft years I didn’t pay that much attention (but I was very fortunate and grateful to be a recipient of a Microsoft Research scholarship for my PhD).

I am most enamored by his genuine desire to make the world a better place. He understands what needs to be done and rather than talking, he just gets on with it. Of course he also has a strong woman by his side – I think he fundamentally changed when Melinda came into his life. Together, they are the unassuming, deeply caring and entrepreneurial. If one day I decide to work for an NGO theirs would be the one!

And finally, if you could recommend us one place to eat, where would it be?

At the top of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. It’s not about the food; it’s all about the spectacular view of one of the most beautiful cities in the world!