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Mark Van Stone celebrates 10 years at First National

  • Dec 1, 2022
  • First National Financial LP

One of First National’s points of distinction is experience. Many members of our team have been with us 10, 15, 20 and 25 years – and in a few cases since we began operations in 1988. We salute those committed individuals who are celebrating a milestone anniversary by presenting their stories in their own words. Today, we profile Mark Van Stone, Director & Deputy Anti-Money Laundering Officer.

Mark, what were you doing before you joined First National?

In my previous life, I worked for some very large banks and financial institutions in both the United Kingdom and Canada, primarily in compliance-based roles. I was always interested in rules and regulations and after working in a bank branch for several years, decided it was a time for a change and became a fraud analyst. I think the desire to protect people is in my DNA. My sister is a retired police officer, and my eldest son is working toward becoming a cop. 

What attracted you to First National?

I reached a stage in my working life where I had a desire for change. That desire first led me to move from large institutions to smaller ones where I worked in a compliance capacity. But those experiences did not satisfy or address what I was looking for in terms of a work culture. In the summer of 2012, I was approached by a headhunter who said, as headhunters often do, that there was an exciting opportunity for someone with my credentials at a bespoke financial institution in Toronto. To be honest, I’d never heard of First National, but I thought it sounded interesting. 

What did First National provide that those other institutions did not?

A family orientation with an entrepreneurial spirit. I originally thought that moving from a big bank environment to a smaller institution would give me that exposure. In reality, those smaller institutions were just smaller replications of the big banks; they weren’t culturally different. They were hierarchical and personal empowerment wasn’t a focus.

Who hired you and do you remember the interview?

Hilda Wong, who is still my boss to this day. The interview was friendly, and Hilda came across as very knowledgeable with a collegial leadership vibe. I got the impression right from the start that First National was a different place to work, in a positive way.

Does anything stand out about your first day at First National?

I remember it distinctly. My desk was on the 7th floor south right in front of the photocopier. A lady named Angie kept walking back and forth and eventually curiosity got to her and she said, “who are you?” I introduced myself and said I work in anti-money laundering. She looked shocked and said, “we have clients who are money launderers?” Whereby I responded, “I hope not. My job is to make sure we never do.” That seemed to satisfy her because she then graciously gave me a tour of the kitchen. It showed me that people here at First National are free to be themselves, which is partly what a family culture is all about. It was very refreshing.

What was your title going in and how has the working environment changed over the years? 

My original title was Senior Manager, AML Compliance. In terms of differences, I would say there has been a 180-degree change from when I started. In 2012, AML was a team of two: Hilda and myself, with some assistance provided by Chris Daniels and her colleagues. Hilda had collected about 250 resumes and told me my job was to create an AML team. It was a blank canvas and between Hilda and I, we built a well-oiled, extremely competent, AML team. I have direct reports and my direct reports have direct reports. This is a true reflection of company growth and development.

What does the Director & Deputy Anti-Money Laundering Officer do?

In simple terms, my job is to manage the daily operations of the organization’s AML compliance program. My team and I help prevent criminals from funding their illegal activities (such as money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities) and to protect the company from fines and loss of reputation. AML compliance is a role where one is very rarely unemployed because, sadly, there will always be bad players attempting to launder money through financial institutions. First National’s AML team probably catches 3 to 4 bad actors every month through our extensive name screening systems. We have specific AML obligations to investors whose prudential AML regulator is FINTRAC, which is the Government of Canada’s financial intelligence unit. There are many moving parts to AML and the people on our team are talented specialists with specific skill sets. 

What is your proudest career accomplishment?

There have been many but if I were to name just a couple, I would say the introduction and implementation of artificial intelligence-based AML automation for both origination and servicing. Back in 2012, First National had a primitive AML screening system. Between Hilda and I, we pushed for and introduced a well-respected and world-class customer screening platform. We now subscribe to Refinitiv’s World-Check One platform to automatically screen all mortgage customers each and every day. In addition to WC1, we decided to invest in a fully automated transaction monitoring system called Alessa. Alessa automatically monitors all First National mortgage payments, on a daily basis, and notifies the AML team anytime an unusual payment is detected via its artificial intelligence interface. 

Do you interact with other parts of First National?

Yes, it’s an open-door environment here at First National. For example, if a director from Origination has an AML- related question, it comes to me, or, if a member of the senior leadership team in Servicing wants to talk about AML processes, we interact. One of my goals has always been to build relationships with senior leaders at First National and I believe that is something I have accomplished over time. I feel very comfortable having conversations with everyone here including Stephen Smith and Jason Ellis. That also goes for junior members of the team. I think it’s one of the great things about First National. As opposed to big banks, we don’t have miles of red tape to go through just to have a meeting and we don’t get much push back. In some institutions, AML is seen as the enemy, whereas at First National, everyone has bought into the need for AML, what the team does and has respect for what AML/ATF stands for.

Is First National a place you can build a career?

Absolutely. Let me address a typical career path within AML. When you join First National, for example, straight out of university, you might start as a Junior AML Analyst. If you work hard and are patient, you can move up to AML Analyst then Senior AML Analyst to Assistant Manager, to Manager and so on.  There is a defined career path, and we have people within AML who are definitely on that trajectory. There are also opportunities to move to other departments within First National. We do encourage employees to try new things if that’s of interest to them. Hopefully they try new positions within the First National family rather than leave to join another organization. Of course, that does happen. In fact, one former AML analyst whom we hired right out of university, is now a fully-fledged lawyer working at a Bay Street law firm. We’re proud of that.

Where do you see yourself in another 10 years?

I’ve gotten to the point in my career where I still want to grow personally. I want to grow the team and I want to help my employees grow within our department.  Personally, my ultimate goal is to become First National’s Chief Anti-Money Laundering Officer (CAMLO) which is something I will continue to strive toward through hard work and dedication to my craft and to First National.

What advice do you have for someone starting out at First National?

Be patient and persistent. Strive to build relationships across all departments to expand your horizons; don’t silo yourself. Work hard and smart but do not over-work yourself. From time to time, step away from your desk and balance out your work life and your personal life. I love what I do so I don’t always follow my own advice on the work-life balance thing, but I still think it’s valid and should be practiced on a regular basis. 

If you’d like to join us in congratulating Mark on his important career milestone, you can reach him at