Financial Crime Compliance – An Investment

Financial Crime Compliance – An Investment

Misha Bharti

12 Jun 2024


If you are involved in financial crime compliance (FCC), whether as a compliance officer, a banker, an economist, or a journalist, you are undoubtedly aware of the increasingly stringent FCC policies being implemented worldwide. For those with over a decade of experience, the transformation in this field from a mere tick-box exercise to a critical business function is evident.

For instance, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UK's FCC regulator, issued between 200 and 500 warnings annually on its website until 2015. By 2020, this number had surged to over 1,000 warnings, reaching 2,284 warnings in 2023 alone. This dramatic increase underscores a shift towards proactive measures aimed at preventing financial crime and terrorist funding.

What Led to this Change? Why The Shift Towards Proactive Compliance?

Financial crime compliance has in the past been viewed as a tick-box activity, a regulatory requirement that institutions needed to fulfil with minimal effort and investment. This approach led to compliance programs that were basic, reactive, and primarily focused on meeting the minimum technical standards. Such programs were insufficient in the face of increasingly sophisticated financial crimes and evolving regulatory expectations.

Several key factors are driving the shift towards a more proactive and investment-oriented approach in financial crime compliance:

  • Complexity and Sophistication of Financial Crimes: Criminals are leveraging technology to perpetrate fraud and launder money, which requires an equally sophisticated response from financial institutions.

  • Global Political and Social Dynamics: The Russia–Ukraine conflict and other geopolitical events have highlighted the need for rigorous sanctions monitoring and enforcement. Regulatory bodies worldwide are implementing stricter rules to prevent the flow of illicit funds and combat economic crimes effectively.

  • Technological Advancements: AI and ML are playing a crucial role in enhancing compliance efforts. These technologies enable real-time monitoring and analysis of vast amounts of data, allowing institutions to identify suspicious activities quickly and accurately. The rise of cybercrime, particularly related to hacking and spreading disinformation, has added another layer of complexity, with cybercrime expected to cost the world about $9.5 trillion (€8.67 trillion) this year.

How Are Financial Institutions Around the World Implementing Proactive Compliance?

Financial Institutions globally are adopting various strategies to enhance their FCC frameworks. Here are some notable approaches:

Leveraging Advanced Technology: Financial institutions are increasingly using AI and ML to enhance their compliance efforts. These technologies enable the automation of routine compliance tasks, improving efficiency and accuracy. For instance, AI can analyse transaction patterns to detect anomalies that may indicate fraudulent activities.

Enhanced Regulatory Oversight: Regulatory bodies are tightening their oversight and enforcement mechanisms. Major regulators like FCA and FinCEN are emphasising the importance of robust compliance programs, not hesitating to impose significant fines on institutions that fail to meet regulatory standards.

International Cooperation: There is a growing emphasis on international collaboration to combat financial crimes. Countries are sharing intelligence and best practices to improve their compliance frameworks. The EU’s four-point action plan, for instance, focuses on building new alliances, facilitating investigations, and enhancing data sharing to tackle organised crime groups more effectively.

On 1st April 2024, MAS launched a digital platform, COSMIC, which stands for “Collaborative Sharing of Money Laundering/Terrorism Financing (ML/TF) Information & Cases”, together with six major commercial banks in Singapore: namely, DBS, OCBC, UOB, SCB, Citibank, and HSBC.

Real-Time Monitoring and Reporting: Real-time monitoring of transactions is becoming a standard practice. With the expected rise in online banking users, institutions must implement real-time anti-financial crime measures. Enhanced Customer Due Diligence (CDD) and AML transaction monitoring technologies are crucial for identifying and preventing fraudulent activities promptly.

Data and Analytics as Strategic Assets: Data and analytics play a crucial role in compliance management. Companies are investing heavily in sophisticated analytics to gather and analyse big data, enabling more effective decision-making. Predictive analytics are used to forecast risks related to financial crimes and improve transaction tracking and KYC/CDD processes. Integrating all processes and departments onto a common digital platform can streamline operations and provide valuable insights.

Trade Compliance and Sanctions Management: The fast-changing and complex nature of international sanctions necessitates dynamic and continuous risk assessment and automated compliance checks. With global real-time transactions increasing and sanctions evolving rapidly, efficient real-time monitoring is essential to ensure compliance and mitigate risks.

Ultimate Beneficiary Owner (UBO) Identification: Knowing the true identity of customers and UBOs is vital for preventing financial crimes. Financial institutions are leaning more on data analytics and automation to gather customer data and identify UBOs efficiently. This helps reduce risks and meet compliance standards.

Investment in Compliance – Benefits Beyond the Checkbox

The cost of non-compliance is substantial. Fines for regulatory breaches can be very high.

In addition to direct financial penalties, institutions may face indirect costs, such as reputational damage and loss of customer trust, which can be even more detrimental in the long run.

The difference between the cost of non-compliance versus the cost of robust and proactive compliance is vast. By treating compliance as an investment, institutions can not only avoid hefty fines and reputational damage but also gain a competitive edge.

Enhanced compliance programs lead to better customer trust, streamlined operations, and improved financial performance. As the financial sector continues to evolve, investing in robust and proactive compliance measures will be crucial for long-term success.

By prioritising compliance as an investment, financial institutions can stay ahead of regulatory changes, protect their reputation, and contribute to a safer global financial system. In doing so, they not only avoid hefty fines and operational disruptions but also build a more resilient and trustworthy financial infrastructure.

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