Sponsored by altia

Chair: Martin Gill

Amanda Peters – Government of Antigua and Barbuda
Professor Mike Levi – Professor of Criminology at Cardiff University (UK)

Key points

Amanda Peters notes that the various stakeholders in tackling money laundering need to be aligned and there certainly needs to be a good dialogue with law enforcement if the system for responding is to be effective. Part of the problem is a confused set of aims. The purpose of SARs can sometimes be seen to be focussed on generating important intelligence but on other occasions as managing risks (for example when financial institutions fear being reprimanded for not reporting suspicions). The different aims also feeds another issue, that is the different interpretations about what makes something suspicious. This is further complicated by the fact that the characteristics of money laundering change over time. There is an interesting discussion about the threat posed by organised crime and the ways in which this impedes reporting, including via corruption. This in part explains why sharing data and generating good practices for mutual benefits are, in practice, tricky; there is sometimes a lack of trust between parties, including between agencies working on the same case. Amanda calls for more awareness raising/education. Also, though for reports to be more substantive, produced to a higher quality, and geared towards informing specific objectives so there is a better link between problems and solutions. 

Mike Levi also reflects on the longstanding confusion and different interpretations of why reports are being made/data are being collected, e.g. to reduce money laundering; reduce different types of crime; and avoid penalties by failing to report. Mike emphasises that the system is about ‘suspicious’ reports, not actual cases and it raises the question as to how good we are at identifying what is a crime, and whether that can be improved. He describes an ‘ultra realist’ approach which posits that only the number of reports that can be acted upon should be generated, but that in practice is hard to do. Or is there wisdom in one giant database? Certainly, if the current system was paid for by the tax payer then there would be uproar. It can lead, in theory, to the development of good practices (although as you will see, Mike is sceptical) but these depend on subjective views about what is a good practice. Moreover, the objectives that underpin them, as noted above, are often opaque; the global system is not harmonised, he refers to it as ‘lumpy’, and ‘loose coupled’. In any event he cautions about relying solely on reported data, and advocates some experimental methods by, for example, testing the honesty of different stakeholders. The use of SARs might be improved by FIUs clarifying their expectations from the system and doing more to promulgate what evolves thereby providing an incentive and encouragement to reporting fully.

This webinar generated some important insights, many fuelled by audience questions. The global system to building up a commitment to tackling money laundering has developed impressively over three decades, and the current system has had an impact in different sectors in different countries. Its success, in generating multiple suspicious activity reports, has also become its drawback; there is so much data that they are not harnessed in anything like an optimal way. The discussion produced some ideas on how we might proceed to improve approaches and although the panellists come at the issue from different perspectives that shared some common thoughts on what the first steps may be.

Martin Gill
11th May 2021

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