As a global society, one of the biggest challenges being navigated is how to build a financial system that supports the wellbeing of all.
Within this challenge, what will be the role of cryptocurrencies? How can banking institutions and everyday people protect themselves from digital crime? What will it take for people broadly to see the benefits of digital payments?
These are important questions — and Melissa Strait, Chief Compliance Officer at Coinbase, is just the right person to help answer them. In her role at one of the world’s largest and most reputable digital asset platform, she holds an important and influential leadership position in fintech today. Read on to learn about the path she has taken to become a Champion of Trust — and her words of wisdom for others seeking to follow in her career footsteps.
Melissa is a Certified Anti-Money Laundering professional with 15 years of experience in payments, AML compliance and global due diligence and investigations.
She started her career with the vision of expanding financial inclusion and has worked on this mission throughout her career while working for a variety of organizations such as Square, Stripe and most recently Coinbase.
As a Champion of Trust, Melissa’s dedication to humanity, lifelong learning and team-building have crafted her unique leadership approach.
How can we allow more people to prosper in the world? How can we allow more people to have access to financial services?
What drew you to the world of FinTech?
I am motivated by questions about economic access and fairness.
The majority of the world’s population is still confronting financial insecurity for reasons related to poverty or geopolitical instability. How can we allow more people to prosper in the world? How can we allow more people to have access to financial services?
These questions are what always attracted me to FinTech — to ensure that economic systems are fairer for people to access.
I started my journey doing corporate due diligence, the first job that I had out of college. Eventually, when I joined Square, what resonated with me was the company’s mission of giving everyday people access to card payments. That same narrative extended through Stripe whose mission is to increase the GDP of the internet by making it easier for people to sell goods and services online. These experiences provided a natural path into Coinbase and the company’s commitment to changing the financial ecosystem and increasing economic freedom.
What elements of finance are starting to change? What role does technology play?
COVID-19 has accelerated a lot of change in the industry. One key way is identity verification becoming more accessible to people seeking access to financial services. Signing up for a bank account historically required you to physically present yourself and to present documents. Now, we’re seeing new ways of doing this built around digital identity.
Compliance traditionally has been very focused on operations, manual review processes and retrieving documentation. But this will never scale when we are talking about a population of billions of people.
I’ve spent most of my FinTech career focused on financial crimes compliance. Through the lens of digital trust, we have to think about compliance in a new and novel way given the nature of this industry and how quickly it’s moving. Coinbase has an ambitious roadmap. While executing against it, we must continue to demonstrate our commitment to compliance. We are heavily regulated, so meeting and exceeding regulatory expectations is critical to our ability to be successful.
At a basic level, we have to keep up with evolving risks. Technology is the main enabler to this at scale.
How do you get your company to recognize the importance of trust and commit the resources you need to be successful along the way?
The reason I enjoy working at Coinbase is that there is so much support for our compliance team and the initiatives that we spearhead. I never take that for granted. I know a lot of compliance officers who’ve worked in this industry for a long time who are fighting day in and day out to get recognition for what they do and why it’s important.
I’ve said this to my team: I want to be in the business of being great partners to our colleagues at Coinbase, even if at the end of the day we disagree or we have to have some tough conversations. If the outcome isn’t what they had hoped, I want them to walk away from any interactions with us feeling like we came to the table in a collaborative way
To be successful, you also need to build relationships with people outside of the compliance department. I look to my peer leaders within the product and engineering organizations that specifically support the work compliance does. At the end of the day, I cannot be successful without them. You need allies and advocates within the larger organization who can be champions for what you are doing.
Also, remember it can be easy to get bogged down in compliance jargon. It’s important to communicate compliance viewpoints in a way that resonates with the business and senior leadership more broadly.
Don’t feel like you have to be perfect at a thing before you jump into it.
What advice do you have for people on a compliance career journey?
You know, I think this advice is for anyone. But I think that particularly women often fall into this trap of feeling like we’re not qualified for a role when we don’t meet every single requirement. Don’t feel like you have to be perfect at a thing before you jump into it. Don’t let that opportunity go if it’s one you are interested in pursuing.
The second thing is hiring really excellent people. I like to hire for my weaknesses. It’s important to think about all levels of the compliance organization — who you’re hiring, how they’re interacting and what’s the mentality they’re bringing to the table. That’s important to building the compliance brand within the company and ensuring there’s broad support.
And remember to give people a chance. They can often grow into new roles and be very successful even if they don’t have every ideal qualification. It’s a career that I have enjoyed very much, and I hope others find it equally rewarding.
Learn the backstory, history, and goals of the initiative.Read the program overview
Learn more about our research for yourself.See the findings and summary
Meet our Champions of Trust, and what they had to say.Read their interviews
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