The law is just the law

For my next survey question, I moved into the realms of fantasy (or at least, I hope it’s fantasy – with Brexit, nothing’s certain any more): “If all the AML obligations were removed from legislation and regulation, what would you do?”  Again, I offered various options – six, this time – plus a space to suggest your “other” answers.

Bearing in mind that this was a survey of people reading an AML blog – the vast majority of them performing an AML-ish role at work (as revealed in the early questions) – it is perhaps not surprising that the most-chosen option (picked by 178 out of 215 respondents) was “I would still want to conduct due diligence and look out for possible criminality”.  In second place – 112 out of 215 – came “I would campaign for AML obligations to be reinstated”.  I did not think this would be such a popular choice; I know I’d be out there with my placards (carefully punctuated and grammatically accurate, of course), but it’s good to know that I wouldn’t be marching alone.

The remaining three broadly “pro-AML” options were much less popular, and quite evenly split: 32 respondents said “I would seek a role in a jurisdiction that has retained AML obligations”; 22 said “I would leave the formerly-regulated sector”; and 18 declared that “I would do what is required by my organisation’s client take-on and monitoring procedures, but no more”.  Four people confessed that “I would think it [the removal of AML obligations] a great improvement”.  (Rest easy, you four: only SurveyMonkey knows who you are, and I don’t think he’s that bothered about AML.)

As ever, the “other” suggestions are fascinating.  Some were rather depressing: “Leave the business, which is what I am doing because, despite the legal obligations placed on the business, there is scant regard for them in some quarters”.  (Oh dear – we’re sorry to see you go.)  “My role would be redundant.  It only exists because the law requires it.  There is no appetite for AML whatsoever in my business, but I’m still passionate about it.”  (Hurrah!)  Others see it as a natural end: “I would consider retiring after having had a decent innings in the industry.”  Several people want to retain something of their role, by opting to move into risk, or general compliance.  And some have entirely alternative careers in mind: “Become a lorry driver” and “I would start baking instead :)”.

Other respondents are AML to their cores: “I would still want to know with whom I work and what the deal was, what the risk was.  You know, the law is just the law: it’s a political statement not necessarily in line with my morality.  I think we may be nearing the time when people, the masses, the proletariat rise up against capital as Marx predicted.”  And “I would push for an internal policy which reflects the corporate and social responsibility values of my organisation.”  And “It would be a case of identifying the type of  firm you wanted to be.  White listed with high quality of clients and a positive reputation, or another secretive shady firm?  Once you go down the second path it will only get darker and more grim, and could you look yourself in the mirror in the mornings knowing how the people have generated their money and who will have been exploited?”

It seems that for many respondents (and again I stress: this was a survey of AML-ish people reading an AML blog) the legal AML obligations are only part of the picture.  The basics of AML – knowing who your client is and where his money is from, so that you are satisfied that neither is criminal – are part of a moral code and not done just because the law says so.  Taking those laws away would be problematic (and thankfully, as several respondents commented, extremely unlikely to happen), but it would not mean the disappearance of all efforts to keep criminal money out of the system.

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