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Finding a reward in managing risk

by Jennifer Johnson,

Janelle Bovell

Reaching the top of the corporate ladder doesn’t require a clear plan in the beginning — sometimes all it takes is a step forward. 

That was true for Janelle Bovell ’08. After exploring jobs in human resources, policy and finance — as well as completing a law degree — she rose to become vice president of anti-money-laundering compliance risk management at Citi, one of the nation's largest global banks, and now manages financial crime compliance at PayPal, a pioneer of online financial technology. 

Her career path wasn’t a direct one, but it didn’t need to be. Driven by challenge and curiosity, she started at Willamette University with a taste for politics and found the community supported her interests wherever they led her. Opportunities just came to you, she said.

“It’s really about putting yourself out there and seeing where things lead,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of random jobs outside my field and I heard about almost all of them from a mentor or professor, then just followed my intuition afterward.” 

New future

Willamette fulfilled Bovell’s interest in politics, varsity basketball and campus involvement. She joined Associated Students of Willamette University, researched the possibility of gender neutral housing through campus life and won a sustainability mini-grant her first semester, later presenting her work at a board of trustees meeting. Her effort to positively influence people’s lives illustrated that meaningful change can start small.

During her second summer away in Washington, D.C., Bovell interned at the National Federation of Independent Business, where she wrote legislative summaries for lobbyists. She was struck by how many of her slightly older peers were responsible for vital work behind the scenes, like drafting statements for congressional hearings, and the experience expanded her sense of possibility. 

Raised on a farm in North Plains, Oregon, she sought a change of pace for her future. Although she enjoyed the fruits of her labor, the work itself was challenging and largely driven by weather and other forces beyond her control. “Ultimately, I knew I didn’t want to rely on my ability to do physical labor for my career,” she said. “I had a lot of curiosity about the broader world that I wanted to experience.” 

Five years after she graduated from Willamette and a few jobs later, during law school at Indiana University Bloomington, she found the opportunity she’d been looking for. 

A professor steered her toward an externship at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in New York, which introduced her to regulatory compliance, a focused-yet-broad job that fit her appreciation for process and execution.   

“You’re thinking about the regulators, the company and its bottom line, but also about the customers and your impact on the broader financial ecosystem,” she said. “You’re trying to think about all of those interests together, and doing the right thing and setting up the systems and processes to make that happen.” 

After Bovell earned her law degree, a few connections led her to meet a recruiter for Citi’s management associate program. She’d had applicable job experience but she believes her Willamette background landed the job during the interview. 

Although she didn’t talk specifically about her on-campus experiences, she exuded confidence in her ability to tackle challenges alone or on a team. Participating in student government, playing basketball and leading classroom discussions provided a safe environment for her to practice future office skills, from public speaking to giving presentations to people who have vastly different perspectives, she said. 

“Even though the substance of my politics major isn’t applicable to my work — no one is asking what Hobbes or Locke would say — the experience of learning that material at Willamette was so impactful,” she said. 

Fulfilling her civic spirit 

At Citi, she worked from both New York and Ireland, working across several departments until she became vice president of anti-money laundering compliance risk management in 2016. About one year later, a job opened up at PayPal. 

Bovell started there as a manager in the financial crimes compliance division and rose to its director this past year. She’s responsible for managing risk within PayPal’s existing customer portfolio, evaluating the company’s new and innovative initiatives, and overseeing a team of six people whose careers she is proud to support. 

PayPal’s excellent service opportunities — such as preparing meals to the homebound and elderly through God’s Love We Deliver, mentoring student refugees from Jordan, both offered before the pandemic — have also allowed Bovell to foster her deep civic spirit. Volunteering is part of the social contract of being a human in the world, she said. 

It’s also part of the Willamette experience. The university motto guided her throughout her career and even drove her to support current university students so they could pursue unpaid internships. 

“We’re all part of a global community, and I want that community to be as good as possible,” she said. 

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