AML / CFT Firm Diligex has established itself as a leader in the sector. With the drastic changes in Malta’s regulatory frameworks in recent years, its work has never been in sharper focus. For CEO Matthew Agius Mamo, it’s all about doing good – and changing business culture in Malta for the better.

Even before he was involved in business, Matthew Agius Mamo had taken on a fair few different roles in his career. But there is one thing that unites them all, as he puts it himself: “whatever I do in life, I always want to be somewhere I can impact change. I’ve always been very active in roles that connect me to people and where I can impact people’s lives as much as possible.”

This drive goes back to his student days, when he was constantly involved in youth activism. Then there was his time in policy-making roles at national and European levels, where he thrived in areas focused on bringing about and implementing positive change, leading to his role as COO of the Malta Chamber of SMEs, a period he credits directly with his leap to the private sector.

“That experience helped me meet with a lot of small businesses, to bring people together and then to go to the Government and authorities with tangible solutions,” he says. “I came to understand the realities and challenges that businesses face, but also the rewards and the fulfilment business brings. Seeing so many people doing something they love, and which allows them all to impact society in their own way, was an important factor in deciding to take that step myself.”

It is no surprise then that, in his current role as CEO of AML/CFT (Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism) firm Diligex, Matthew is most concerned about how his work can bring positive change. “AML is ultimately about helping businesses ensure they are not being used by criminals to launder the proceeds of crime, therefore making life harder for criminals,” he explains. “We are trying to take something that may not be the most appealing or exciting, and which some might see as just a necessary cost or a box-ticking exercise, and help people understand the value and benefit of compliance as a culture – not just to their own business but to the country as a whole.”

When Diligex was set up in 2016 it focused primarily on assisting businesses and professionals with due diligence requirements. But a landmark moment for the firm came later, when it developed a product arm with a new comprehensive platform to offer a software solution for businesses to understand and carry out all their AML requirements.

At the same time, Diligex began ‘productising its own service’, as Matthew describes it. “We decided to become partners with clients that wanted to choose Diligex as part of a long-term relationship, rather than as a one-off,” he says. “This way, we could understand their requirements, see what they really needed in their set-up, and help them achieve it. After all, compliance is an ongoing journey; you don’t just reach it once, you have to keep living it.”

This approach has paid off. Apart from the company’s continued growth, its main product, KYCMATIC, was recently a finalist at the prestigious international VIXIO Gambling Regulatory Awards, where it punched above its weight against multinationals many times its size. “We know there is far more we need to do to keep on growing and getting better,” Matthew says. “But I think this shows the result of our investment in expertise, and how we have matched that with automation. What really helped us is that we had actual, successful examples and case studies with international clients – all leaders in their industry – who decided to trust Diligex for their peace of mind.”

Matthew believes the company’s focus on expertise has been a large part of its success: from ensuring it hires the best possible people in all positions to continuing investment in ongoing learning and training. In fact, the team consists of seasoned practitioners that have either occupied MLRO and Compliance Officer roles across sectors, or have direct senior experience through regulators. “Money launderers are smarter than any of us and are always developing new ways of doing things, so it’s vital for us to stay abreast of all the latest developments,” he says.

His approach to leadership is similarly built around maximising his team’s potential. “I think a leader can bring the best out of the people around them: helping them shine, helping them understand their potential and bringing them together around a common vision,” he says.

As strong as the values are that have driven the company since its inception, its sternest test has come over the last two years, as the country was hit with the twin storms of COVID-19 and the Moneyval assessment, as well as the subsequent greylisting that forced drastic changes in the approach to regulatory elements in Malta.

“I think, in general, businesses have responded very positively, despite the challenges, by being resilient and dynamic,” Matthew says. “That, to me, is the main message. We had a new reality imposed on us and we had to succeed by being flexible and adaptable. You have to remain positive rather than fixate on the challenges facing you.”

Matthew believes a lot has already been done to remedy the situation, but points to the challenges small businesses are facing in realising things have to be done differently and learning how to do that. “As much as we can debate the reasons why we had to up our game, I think it was high time that we did, so the question now is: how fast are we going to do that?” he asks.

“As for 2022, I strongly believe we have to embrace these new requirements – not for the sake of ticking a box but to address the issues that have led us here by really prioritising doing business in a clean way. We have to set the highest standards and make ourselves a country that can, in a few years, present itself as a centre of excellence in this regard. There’s no point crying over spilt milk. What matters now is that we bounce back, and bounce back stronger.”

For Diligex, these circumstances also presented an opportunity to showcase the value of its work, helping clients understand the changes and new expectations, and helping them implement those changes in their business – all while the pandemic was still going on, bringing with it challenges of its own.

Looking ahead, Matthew believes the technological aspect of the company’s work is likely to come into sharper focus as people increasingly come to realise that working entirely manually is no longer feasible. “Embracing technology has become the new normal,” he says. “The last two years have helped to push certain generations and strata of society into accepting a new way of doing things. What is important, however, is that technology is not cordoned off for its own sake: it needs to look at a business or a compliance process and become part of the solution, not an end in itself. And that is why it must be married with a team of professionals that understand the business and compliance processes.”

In the years to come, Matthew is keen to expand on the training efforts the company already undertakes with hundreds of financial services professionals every year, equipping people with the right skills and pushing the message of compliance as a means of doing business in the right way, contributing to a cleaner jurisdiction for the country, and peace of mind for businesses.

“I believe we will definitely consolidate the leadership position we’ve taken as an AML/CFT firm in Malta,” he says of the road ahead. “I want to see us having more and deeper relationships with clients from diverse sectors across the board, and more exciting technological solutions with continual investment to enhance our product, nationally and overseas.”

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2022 – an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders.

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