Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of US President Franklin D, once said: “I used to tell my husband that if he could make me ‘understand’ something, it would be clear to all the other people in the country”. Maybe it’s because of my teaching baptism of fire – being required to read aloud “Romeo and Juliet” with a class of 15-year old boys – but I have always thought that if you can get someone to understand why something is being done, your chances of getting them to comply are hugely increased. (With R&J, it was “so you can pass your exam, so sit down and be quiet”.)
Last week I complained to my husband that I had a pain in my chest and an ache in my shoulder, and that I was really, really, really tired – waaaay too tired to do the washing-up. He was on the NHS Direct website in a flash, and returned with the information that I was probably having a heart attack, but that as women die more slowly than men from this condition, we had time to get to A&E. Once there, I was thrown into the most confusing system I have encountered for a long time (and I bank at Santander, so that’s saying something). A man in green scrubs gave me an ECG (I think) while another man in normal clothes took my details. A third man in blue scrubs then went over the same details and looked at a printout, before I was told to wait in the lobby “to see someone”. I’m still not certain who any of them was – and given that we’re a university town, it could all have been part of an elaborate prank involving dressing-up. After waiting an hour to see someone, I decided that if I was having a heart attack they would have been a bit more worried, so we gave up and went home. (I probably had indigestion and just really didn’t fancy the washing-up.) It’s a long story – well done for sticking with it on a Monday morning – but my point is this: it would all have been so much better if those three men had introduced themselves and explained what they were doing and why. I am reasonably educated and intelligent, and was able to guess some of it, but for someone more vulnerable, it would have been utterly bewildering.
And so when it comes to AML checks, we are all in the educated and intelligent camp – we’ve been doing it for years, and we know why we’re doing it. But some customers do not – and I can guarantee that in the majority of cases, they will be much happier to comply and answer your questions and supply the information you ask for if they understand why. And just saying “It’s for money laundering” doesn’t cut the mustard – they may well have heard the term but not know what it means, and be toe embarrassed or overawed to ask. Try “It’s so that we can make sure that criminal money doesn’t get into the financial system” or “It’s so that we can protect your account from criminal activity” instead. Let’s call it the Eleanor test.