Skip to main content

Uncertain World


Marren Haneberg is launching a global career in which understanding risk is the plan.

Interview by Charlotte Sudweeks and Cory Leonard
Photography by Coti at Flytographer

Marren Haneberg is an associate consultant, risk intelligence with FiveBy Solutions. Haneberg graduated in international relations from the Kennedy Center in 2017 and is a native of Snohomish, a city located 30 minutes north of Seattle, Washington. She spoke with Bridges magazine in February 2021 during the pandemic about risk, uncertainty, and launching a career in the middle of many obstacles.

Tell us about your work.
I’m currently working in the private sector doing risk analysis, focus- ing on sanctions risk tied to US and EU foreign policy priorities. Our company provides consulting on risk, fraud, security, and disinformation. We use our deep knowledge of foreign language, economics, and business to assess risks and help clients understand what it all means. As a research analyst and risk consultant, I assess client data to identify sanctions, trade risk, and compliance.

What are some of the things that you have done?
My areas of expertise are Russia and Eurasia, along with military
end use. In addition to client work, I have worked with colleagues on advisories about upcoming sanctions and disinformation risks, which are published on our company website. One issue I’m particularly interested in right now is Turkey as a national security risk and how the Biden administration might address this.

All of these issues sound timely. What does it mean to think about uncertainty in your area?
All of us confront uncertainty, and to some extent this was magnified under the Trump administration. With so many countries around the world facing challenges right now that have brought them nearly to a boiling point, it’s hard to know what will happen. Consider the example of Myanmar, where Aung San Suu Kyi rose to the top and yet doesn’t appear to respect the rights of the Rohingya, an ethnic minority within the country, which would bring the country into conformity on democracy and human rights issues. The entire situation in Myanmar has been uncertain, so this is an example of a situation we monitor and evaluate for clients. Recently, President Biden issued a new executive order sanctioning Myanmar generals and businesses—which, again, creates uncertainty for global companies working in that country.

How did your academic studies prepare you for now?
My international relations degree, which focused on the Russian language and Russia, taught me excellent research, writing, and lan- guage skills, all of which I use on a daily basis. One project that’s been really interesting to me has been watching the case of Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned and appeared as though he was going to die. Yet after recovering in Germany, he returned to Russia—even though it seemed unsafe for him to do so. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this field and not always a script or formula to resolve new issues. It’s crucial to have a foundation and tools to deal with them. The analysis and research skills I developed at BYU have set me up to analyze these types of situations and make sense of them.

What were your initial plans as a student?
I was dead set on working in the Foreign Service or in other govern- ment agencies, so I didn’t realize what was available in the private sector. Open-source intelligence is becoming a much bigger thing. For example, my boss came from the US Treasury intelligence unit, and you can get a lot of information simply from open-source right now. Working inside government channels can be a great path, but even they rely on open-source contractors, which is an opportunity for students and new alumni just starting out.

What advice would you give to current Kennedy Center students?
When I graduated, I wasn’t able to work full-time initially, so I did everything I could to stay engaged with my field. I volunteered with, the national security student organization, where I met and connected with some outstanding people and gained useful experience. I got involved with an anti-human-trafficking group and wrote blog posts and press releases for them. Since I wasn’t working full-time, I was able to contribute a lot. Volunteering while you’re looking for full-time work is a great strategy.

Even though I didn’t find my current position through a connection, developing relationships with students and colleagues is still very important. Even if a connection can’t offer you a job, they might be able to provide feedback, mentoring, or support in your search.

In sanctions risk, we have this idea of inherent risk, which you can’t control, and another part that you can control, called marginal risk. You’re left with residual risk, which you can’t control, but you do what you can—that’s the strategy I recommend when building your résumé and job searching. In thinking about careers, you control what you can—don’t take rejection from a company personally. It wasn’t easy finding a job in my field. I didn’t land the first position I applied to, but I learned something from each application and inter- view. Sometimes it’s a matter of how you present yourself, but it can also be a matter of timing and budgets for the company or culture fit.

Did you have any uncertainty about studying abroad?
I was hesitant to go abroad, but it was a requirement for the Russian minor. Ultimately, going abroad and studying language and culture in the Higher School of Economics in Nizhny Novgorod was a lesson to me that it’s worth it to take some risks and to do things even when you’re not sure how they will turn out. I developed on-the-spot think- ing, learning how to deal with unexpected situations, and gained a lot of new exposure to the world. All of the things I learned abroad have been very helpful in the workplace, where situations come up all the time that you don’t learn about in the classroom.

Will you keep working in this area?
I didn’t realize risk intelligence and compliance was a career. A few years back, I thought it was for businessschool people and that it sounded boring. But it is very interesting because I’m doing what I love, which is researching Russia and creating packaged analytical products. Also, I have a much greater awareness of private sector opportunities, and my company is excellent about supporting con- tinuing education, which has been wonderful.

How can students find out about companies or groups working in this area?
Students can look for opportunities for risk analysts. Employers frequently want people with an area studies background who can look at information and determine what looks risky based on certain typologies. Some of the specific areas include sanctions/anti-money laundering compliance and anti-piracy.

Also, copyright management is a new area. One of my connec- tions, another international relations graduate, recently took a job in this area. Using their language and regional expertise, they track infringement and analyze data requirements.

Finally, check out the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laun- dering Specialists (ACAMS) for postings on anti-fraud positions to get more ideas.

What does your career trajectory look like right now?
I’m still very early in my career and in a position where I can explore many different career paths. Right now I’m building my sanctions and anti-money laundering compliance skills. I’m not sure that there exists one clear path but rather many different fields that provide opportunities.

What have you been reading?
I have been reading Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World by Tom Burgis. It is a carefully reported narrative focusing on global corruption, an area the Biden administration has been concerned about.

Also, I’m reading Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West by Catherine Belton. It lays out a good summary on the Russian oligarchy and current issues there with bal- anced perspectives. Sometimes I read things highlighting the human rights issues in Russia, which I’m also concerned about, but in order to understand the Kremlin’s behavior, it’s imperative to take a look from its perspective too.

What are your must-read daily news sources?
Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Radio Free Europe (covers Eastern Europe), Bellingcat (open-source intelligence), Financial Times, and the Economist’s The Intelligence podcast.

Any final thoughts?
I want to give a shout-out to the Kennedy Center, which equipped me with problem-solving skills, multidisciplinary quantitative courses, foreign language abilities, and experiential learning through study abroad and presented me with planned uncertainty. In becoming recent alumni, we are the next generation of global leadership. It’s important that we gain perspective and analytical/problem-solving skills to deal with the uncertainty in whatever situation comes up next. Also, don’t sell yourself short. There are opportunities out there, and BYU provides a solid education that holds its own against students from what might be considered more elite universities.