Get to know Aydee Adames-Polanco, vice president of Compliance and AML Assurance
Read about how Aydee’s career path led her to Raymond James and her role in Compliance Assurance, Aydee’s connection to her Dominican heritage and the best advice she has ever received.
Aydee in her home office.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in New York City. When I was 3 years old, my parents decided to move my older sister, younger brother and me to the Dominican Republic (DR) in hopes of giving us a better education. I lived in the DR for most of my childhood, and I remember it being fun and simple. We were always surrounded by family, had a lot of space to run around and play, and had many pets, including dogs, cats and doves. We even had a goat at one point.
Seven years later, when my sister was ready for college, my mom moved us back to the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The transition was difficult for me — I had to learn English and I had to repeat fifth grade since kids started school earlier in the DR. I had to adjust to my new age group in the U.S. I also had to get used to living in a smaller space in New York and being told it wasn’t safe to play outside anymore.
I lived in New York for many years and met my husband there. We recently celebrated our 21st anniversary and have two sons who keep us busy.
Tell us about your career path and current role in Compliance Quality Assurance.
I earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from St. Francis College and started my career in the insurance industry, where I worked in internal audit for more than 10 years at American International Group (AIG) in New York. Then I transitioned to compliance to help build AIG’s compliance assurance program, where I learned how much I enjoy building frameworks and defining processes.
I left AIG when we moved to Florida. My husband retired, and we wanted to move somewhere with a slower pace, where we would have more time to spend together as a family. My family adjusted quickly to our Florida life, but it was not easy for me. I left a company and a job I loved because I knew it was best for my family. Don’t get me wrong, the new company I worked for was great — I met good people, learned and traveled around the world — but the culture was different from what I was used to.
In 2019, a Raymond James recruiter, who saw my profile on LinkedIn, told me about the firm’s culture and an opportunity to build the Compliance Quality Assurance (QA) program. It was an opportunity I could not pass up. QA is about assessing adherence to the methodologies and processes that apply to a particular function and verifying that the work is completed and meets the set standards. When I started my role, I covered QA for compliance testing, monitoring activities and the Compliance Risk Assessment. In 2020, I took on additional responsibilities to manage governance and metrics and reporting for QA. In September 2021, I assumed responsibility for the compliance issues management process, which allows my team to integrate compliance issue management reporting into the existing quarterly chief compliance officer reporting process. In March 2022, I was promoted to vice president of Compliance Assurance and now oversee the Compliance Testing, Monitoring, Risk Assessment, Quality Assurance and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Assurance teams.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Focus on the things you can control and learn to work around the things you can’t.” The audit director where I was working gave this advice at a team meeting during the 2008 financial crisis. I was working for a firm that was labeled “too big to fail” and was constantly in the news. There were reports of employees being attacked in train stations by people they had never met before, so we were told not to display our badges or anything with the company logo in public areas. It was an interesting time. This occurred at the early stage of my career. I had been out in the “real world” for about two years at that point, so I took those words to heart; they helped me focus on my work and block all the “noise” around me. I remember repeating that phrase over and over every time things got stressful.
I also apply this advice to my personal life. I tend to go through the same process for every situation: I analyze it, identify the things I can’t control, put those to the side and do my best to not let them affect me, and immediately start working on the things that are under my control. I like to say it’s part of my DNA now.
Can you tell us what your Dominican heritage means to you?
Being Dominican is in my roots. My entire family is from the DR, and I lived there for a few years. When I think about that part of my life, I think about traditions, family, my home and a lot of food! I love cooking and my favorite tradition is Christmas Eve. We always have a big meal and the focus is on family. Since most of my family still lives in New York, I take turns hosting Christmas Eve with my brother. The gathering is not as large as it was in New York, so I cook the entire meal myself when I host (with enough for leftovers). One day, I would like to take my kids to the DR for the holidays; the whole country transforms with decorations and the smells of fresh fruit and holiday candy in the local markets. I want them to experience that and the things I did when I was their age. Both of my kids have visited the DR and I continue to help them learn more about their heritage, though it is difficult after I have been away for so long.
What are you most proud of about your heritage?
Dominicans are lively and happy people, and you can feel it through our music. Music is a big part of who we are. No matter what challenges Dominicans face, they are always dancing and smiling. You can see this when you arrive at an airport in the DR: Tipico, a local, older style of fast-paced merengue is playing and people are dancing to it. The second you step off the plane, you feel the energy. No matter how tired I am from the flight, the music always makes me smile and want to start dancing. You feel that same energy everywhere you go around the country. The corner stores are playing music and people are playing dominos.
If you could have dinner with any Hispanic celebrity, who would it be and why?
“Las hermanas Mirabal” (the Mirabal sisters) are well-known sisters from the Trujillo era. Trujillo was a dictator in the DR from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. The sisters helped organize and grow the underground movement challenging the regime. I read books and watched movies about them, and I heard stories from family members who were around during that time, but I would like to hear their story from their perspective. What was it like being women and standing up to a man everyone was frightened by? I would like to hear about their struggle and what gave them the strength to stand up for what they felt was right.