Andres Villareal spent his first eighteen years in El Paso, Texas, a city that sits just across the border from Juárez, Mexico, and contains the largest bilingual, binational workforce in the Western Hemisphere. “I saw life on the border firsthand,” Villareal remembers. “I saw the lifestyle of migrants and people who were trying to find opportunities in the US, traveling here in order to support their families back home.”
The experience, Villareal says, is woven into his DNA. In some ways, it’s also provided direction for his career. Now the chief compliance officer at MoneyGram, since 2015, Villareal has helped the company find ways to empower customers transferring money to and from their home countries, and to thwart those looking to cash in on fraudulent lending schemes.
After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law in 1990, Villareal gained experience not only at private firms but also at Search Financial Services, which provided auto and personal loans to low-income individuals. “It really opened my eyes to the hardships of people at lower income levels struggling to make opportunities for themselves,” Villareal says. He also spent more than a decade with Citibank, honing his compliance skills. “I realized how compliance and controls could protect consumers from being taken advantage of, and I really developed a passion for that side of the business,” he says. “I really thought it was an area where I could do good for people.”
“I realized how compliance and controls could protect consumers from being taken advantage of, and I really developed a passion for that side of the business.”
MoneyGram has provided that opportunity on a large scale. Navigating the varying laws and regulations of countless jurisdictions in not just the US but also two hundred countries and territories is a huge amount of work. According to Villareal, though, his team of more than four hundred employees stays on the same page while operating across the globe. “The only way you can be successful in an organization like this that has so much going on is to have a strong team and a united philosophy of what you’re trying to accomplish,” he says. “My team comes from large, diverse backgrounds and are truly experts in the industry. It provides that necessary breadth of experience that is vital in our business.”
Villareal is especially proud of MoneyGram’s trailblazing role in consumer protections—an example that he hopes others will follow. “We’re trying to lead the money transfer industry in our compliance efforts,” he says. “The money transfer process has historically been an anonymous process with no checks or balances as to who was sending or receiving the money and where it was coming from. We took what I believe to be the historic step of requiring government identification from every sender and every receiver that uses our services.”
Echoing the sentiments of MoneyGram CEO W. Alexander Holmes, Villareal says, “You can’t even check into a hotel without an ID; why should you be able to move money around the world without doing the same thing?” The effort has allowed MoneyGram to better serve its customer base, crack down on illicit activity, and force would-be fraudsters to employ their skills somewhere else, according to Villareal. “Hopefully, we have been able to build a reputation of trust with our customers, and I hope that regulators, legislators, and other companies will realize this is a step the whole industry should be taking.”
“You can’t even check into a hotel without an ID; why should you be able to move money around the world without doing the same thing?”
Besides the willingness to protect its customers, Villareal is proud to work for MoneyGram because of its efforts to give back to the communities it serves. The MoneyGram Foundation plays host and sponsor to a variety of causes that serve the customers the company interacts with on a daily basis. The foundation is an annual sponsor of the Dallas-area Rainbow Days Back-to-School Celebration, which provides school supplies to homeless and underprivileged school-aged children at the beginning of the school year. MoneyGram is also a sponsor of the Dallas Public Library Smart Summer Reading Program, which purchases five thousand books for children.
The MoneyGram Foundation has invested in educational infrastructure all over the world. Villareal attended a school ribbon-cutting ceremony in Senegal, meeting children, teachers, and school elders who would all be positively affected by the foundation’s efforts. “You not only see the impact you have on the community, but just how fortunate you are to be able to help uplift these children in these often remote and impoverished areas,” Villareal says. “I think we have a big responsibility to help give back and help any way that we can.”