Near-o tolerance

A recent article in the Economist made a very valid point about recent AML endeavours – that sometimes they can have unfortunate consequences.  I have blogged quite a bit about “de-risking”, or what the FATF calls “the wholesale cutting loose of entire classes of customer”.  In the past year, dire warning about the dangers of dealing with money service business and with charities have resulted in these businesses finding themselves unable to open bank accounts or send wire transfers.  As the Economist explains, echoing the FATF’s own concerns, what this does is send these businesses into the arms of the unregulated financial system, so that even legitimate transfers with no criminal undertones are now impossible to record and monitor.

The Economist is clear where it thinks the fault lies: “Popular though it has become to bash banks, they have been acting rationally.  The blame for the damage that de-risking causes lies mainly with policymakers and regulators, who overreacted to past money laundering scandals.”  However – and not that they need it, as they’re big enough to defend themselves – I feel that it’s important to point out that the FATF has always suggested that financial services firms should take informed decisions, not the wholesale approach.  Moreover – and crucially – they also accept that mistakes will occasionally be made, but that the application of the risk-based approach is so much the better way that occasional failures should be accepted.  In the statement they issued after their plenary meeting in October 2014, they were quite clear: “The risk-based approach should be the cornerstone of an effective AML/CFT system, and is essential to properly managing risks.  The FATF expects financial institutions to identify, assess and understand their money laundering and terrorist financing risks and take commensurate measures in order to mitigate them.  This does not imply a ‘zero failure’ approach.”

Institutions have sometimes used AML as an excuse – a scapegoat – for doing things the way they want to, from demanding certain documents to refusing business.  And de-risking is simply the latest example of this.  The AML intention as viewed by regulators is always to make a reasoned, risk-based, individual response to a situation, but – as the Economist points out – profitability is thrown then into the mix: “No wonder banks dumped less-profitable clients tainted by the merest hint of risk.”  The article calls for “a new approach to financial regulation – one that accepts mistakes can be made in good faith”, and I would contend that this is what we have already.  What we need to balance it is a new approach to AML by institutions – one that accepts that all AML decisions must be made in good faith.

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5 Responses to Near-o tolerance

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    This strikes a chord Susan. My present employer, a small-ish container leasing group with suppliers and customers worldwide, has a devil of a job even maintaining existing bank accounts, never mind opening new ones. This is in various jurisdictions. The on-boarders at the banks generally throw us out at the earliest opportunity despite us having a long and transparent trading history. It’s a real problem for us.

  2. It’s a familiar story, Roy – it’s really just a version of my old nemesis, “let’s blame AML legislation whenever we’re asked to do something we don’t fancy doing”. I’ve raged about it before: https://ihatemoneylaundering.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/blame-where-blame-is-due/ And it creates real problems, as you say, and blackens the reputation of AML.

  3. CDWOS says:

    Susan,

    Hope you are enjoying Canada….loved BC, particularly Vancouver, Whistler and Blackcomb. The Howe Sound is pretty spectacular. Try the transport system it used to be fun a couple of C$ for 2 hours use anything you like during that time….river bus, bus, skytrain, etc.
    Your reply to Roy touches on one of my bugbears “our compliance department says” a guarantee for a bad tempered argument with clients……………it seems to be impossible for ‘client facing’ individuals to say that it is a regulatory or legislative requirement. It always reverts to “our Compliance Dept says or won’t accept” (rant over.

    Have a great trip – The Rockies are breathtakingly beautiful -.

    • Many thanks, CDWOS – I suppose I should start packing now… We’re starting off in Vancouver, and are big fans of public transport so we’ll certainly be trying all of those options. Thanks for the Howe Sound tip – I’ll add it to the list.

      And you’re right: the Compliance Department is an easy scapegoat, and it gives entirely the wrong impression of the tail wagging the dog.

  4. CDWOS says:

    As a Canadian PS Grenville Island used to be really good for shopping and food……their ‘Mocca’ were something special…………….Keep an eye on the wildfires!

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