More or less?

This morning’s post is going to wax rather philosophical, so you should either (a) stop reading now, if you’re not given to such ponderings, or (b) get an extra chocolate biscuit for your elevenses to prolong the ponderings.

It all started last week when a university friend of my husband’s came to dinner.  I had not seen the man since 1988, and did my usual potted history of what I do, how I got here, and why I carry on with it.  “Isn’t it odd,” he mused, “but twenty years ago I [he’s an engineer] would have had no idea what money laundering was, but now it’s just an accepted phrase and concept.”  And he’s right: I used to have to go into quite some detail to explain my line of work, but now “I help people to tackle money laundering” just about does it.  But does this mean that there is more money laundering than ever before – and might I (along with everyone else in the AML industry) actually be causing its growth?  Are we, through our desire to educate the public about what money laundering is and how it works, helping criminals to get better at it?

Personally, I put money laundering into the same category – for the purpose of this blog only, I should add – as child sexual abuse.  A Martian landing on Earth and looking at newspapers for the past few decades would think that something dreadful happened in the 1980s to create child sexual abuse, and indeed money laundering, as they made very rare appearances in the press before then.  But of course what actually happened was the criminalisation, and subsequent publicity around the prosecution of, child sexual abuse, and money laundering.  Indeed, many people argue that there is less child sexual abuse nowadays than ever before in history because we warn children about it, we provide mechanisms via which they can report it and obtain help, and we punish those involved.  We also – in order to warn and protect – publicise all of these responses, and this is what makes it seem as though it’s more prevalent than it used to be.  And I think exactly the same is true of money laundering.

Many people tell me – usually with folded arms and an air of triumph – that AML is not working.  They say that there is more money laundering now than ever before, and we’re not catching it.  I cannot – sadly, as I would love to – offer a statistical rebuttal, but everyone I talk to on the inside (and I mean investigators and regulators, rather than criminals) believes that the system is working.  We only think that there is more money laundering because more of it is spotted and publicised – and although we are not catching enough of it, we are catching more and more of it (and immeasurably more than in the days when no-one cared about it, and no-one put pressure on the authorities to make it a priority).

So I am thrilled when I see money laundering in a headline: that’s more publicity, putting criminals on notice that we know how they’re doing it and we’re not going to tolerate it.  Onwards and upwards, fellow AML-ers!

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9 Responses to More or less?

  1. Claire says:

    I agree with you that AML is effective. When I worked at that UK bank Monte Carlo 24 years ago, I had no clue what money laundering was. I soon, mostly through my ex, I learned about all kinds of structures you can create, but I did not fully understand the impact of it. I have a bachelor degree in communication management, so it’s not lack of schooling. It’s lack of what is taught at school! People need to understand the details of money laundering, and the consequences of it. Up and down the line. Because money laundering most often starts with criminal activity, or slave labour. But by the time it reaches you, it might be something presentable already. And you don’t really want to care how the money got there. Or do you? Anyway, the world is full of sticky, greedy fingers 😥 If more decent people started by not accepting this (hey, everyone does it!) or treat it like a joke (yep, the crazy things you have to do for money laundering are sooooo funny), AML might make an even bigger difference. Keep up the good work Susan, because you are making a huge difference!

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Claire – like you, I am totally convinced that education and information are our best weapons. The more people know what horrors are done in the name of money laundering, the less they will tolerate it.
      Best wishes from Susan

  2. Robert James Long says:

    I would not say that AML is not working, I would say it changes the threat profile (oooh that sounds good). So while I still feel a bit like Sisyphus, the shape of my rock and the gradient of my hill are a bit less in mass and slope than they used to be!

    • I’m delighted to hear that, Robert. I don’t think any of us expects or even hopes to eliminate money laundering, but as long as we can feel that our careers have contributed to its lessening, that’s enough for me.
      Best wishes from Susan

  3. Monet says:

    Interesting analysis Susan of how ML is now accepted and ‘out there’. Just a thought and picking up on some points…isn’t the driver of anti-money laundering the regulators FATF, governments and those interested in catching the bad guys, problem is they don’t know and have never known the actual scale of the problem? …2.5% of GDP is it? How much ML actually exists? (Prize for the answer!) Those regulators and officials would say AML measures are ‘effective’ but how can you say it’s effective when they can not quantify the problem in the first place… And perhaps its in their self perpetuating interest to say ‘how great we are’ BUT more needs to be done. Have regulators created an industry based on fear and speculation that provide governments to bring in revenue from the financial sector, bit like Carbon Tax initiatives…..a fact, more money has been obtainrd from the main banking institutions in fines, than sieved from criminals, when was the last time we heard a money launderer was caught with USD 1.9 million…..

    More needs to be done oh yeh! But for who’s benefit…… Let’s ponder! Just a cynical maybe incorrect analysis….maybe!

    • Robert James Long says:

      Technically a fact, more money has been obtainrd from the main banking institutions in fines, than sieved from criminals, when was the last time we heard a money launderer was caught with USD 1.9 million

      If I may that is a false dichotomy. When a bank is fined it is because they have committed/acted in a criminal fashion, in that sense you can’t separate money we have taken from criminals and fines we levy on financial sector. The main banks have committed crimes and therefore are equally criminal. Its all too common for “white collar” criminals and launderers to say on arrest “But I am nto a real criminal like those drug dealers.” Yes they are, very much so.
      More money was obtained form HSBC for example because they acted in a fragrantly criminal fashion when they accepted huge cash deposits in Mexico from dubious sources without bothering to concern themselves with the source of said funds. The fact they are a legitimate company is irrelevant to their criminal conduct, by letting cartels place their money in the banking system they are as guilty as said cartels in the violence frankly.
      hen we fine a bank it is because they have committed/acted in a criminal fashion, in that sense you can’t seperate money we have taken from cirminals and fines we levey on financial sector. The main banks have committed crimes and therefor are equally criminal.
      More money was obtaiend form HSBC for example because they acted ina fragarantly ciminal fashion when they accepted huge cash deposits in Mexico from dubious sources without bothering to concern themselves with the source of said funds.

      • Sue Shelley says:

        Could not agree more Robert. The fine was a pittance by HSBC standards and almost criminal itself when compared to the crime. Not only did HSBC facilitate the laundering, it seems executives took extraordinary steps to ensure it was made possible and undetected…changing the size of cashier windows to accept shoeboxes, not keeping the Cayman Islands informed as to what occurred within its branch of HSBC Mexico, amending wire transfers to avoid sanction detection etc.

  4. Monet says:

    An interesting analysis Susan of how ML is now accepted and ‘out there’. Though committed to AML I Comtemplate a counterbalancing & controversial thought and picking up on some points…isn’t the driver of anti-money laundering doctrine the regulators themselves, FATF, governments and those interested in catching the bad guys, problem is they don’t know and have never known the actual scale of the problem? …2.5% …5% of GDP is it? How much ML actually exists? (Prize for the answer!).
    Those regulators and officials would say AML measures are ‘effective’ but how can you say it’s effective when they can not quantify the problem in the first place… And perhaps its in their self perpetuating interest to say ‘how great we are’ BUT more needs to be done.
    Have regulators created an industry based on fear and speculation that provide governments to bring in revenue from the financial sector, bit like the Carbon Tax fiasco…a fact, more money has been obtained from the main banking institutions in fines sanctions than ever sieved from criminals, when was the last time we heard a money launderer caught with USD 1.9 million…..

    More needs to be done oh yeh! But for who’s benefit…… Let’s ponder! Just a cynical maybe incorrect analysis….maybe!

    • It’s certainly one way to look at it, Monet! Say that there’s a problem, then set yourself up as the experts to solve it, then say that we’re making progress but need to carry on for a while longer… But of course that’s forgetting that criminals do actually launder money.
      Best wishes from Susan

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