Stories about Phuket always get a snigger, but one caught my eye this week because it illustrates so well a basic AML skill that we all have (well, should all have): common sense. The Phuket News (enough sniggering now, thank you) reported that police are looking into the assets of over a hundred “unusually rich” taxi drivers in the town. Apparently these drivers have accounts containing “hundreds of millions of baht” [100 baht is worth about £1.80], and police believe that much of it was obtained dishonestly. And why do they think this? As I used to say when I was a teenager, and therefore knew, like, everything: well, duh! They’re taxi drivers, and in a small provincial town in Thailand – we’re not talking Zurich limos here. So the Phuket police (seriously: sniggering all done now) are applying simple reasoning: such volumes of money cannot be generated by the stated employment, so questions must be asked.
In the UK, we have a really weird relationship with money. If anyone asks how much we earn, we turn a very peculiar colour, harrumph a bit and comment on how it’s a bit warm for the time a year. In Singapore, where I grew up, it is an entirely normal question, asked on a daily basis, with the answer exclaimed or commiserated over as necessary. And yet we in the UK are acutely aware of the price of things: estate agents advise clients selling properties to borrow an expensive car to leave in the drive, to make the entire house look more desirable – apparently BMWs and Mercs are the ones to choose. “Property porn” shows are taking over the telly schedules, as we watch people buy a wreck and then make a killing/gut-wrenching loss as amateur “developers”.
Why then are we in the AML community so reluctant to advise our staff to use their nous when it comes to people’s money – and particularly their income/savings? If a client or applicant is a hairdresser or a teacher or a doctor or an airline pilot, it’s pretty easy to find out the average salaries for such jobs. And then it’s a short step to checking that their income/savings fit with that. After all, why else do we even ask about people’s employment? Sure, it’s probably a bit rude to ask about someone’s money over the dinner table, but the rules are entirely different in the professional environment: if someone wants your firm to help them with their money, they have to tell you about it first. And having staff apply their common sense – the sniff test – to the answers to those questions is such a quick win.