Thursday 24 September 2020 3:52 pm

City watchdog blasts UK banks over money laundering safeguards

Not all British banks are convinced of the need to invest large sums to crack down on dirty money, meaning the quality of anti-money laundering controls is falling short, the City watchdog’s chief enforcer said. 

Global lenders, including UK-based HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered, have come under increased scrutiny for their anti-money laundering (AML) efforts following the release of the FinCEN files. 

The cache of leaked documents, published earlier this week by Buzzfeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, showed that global banks had transferred more than $2 trillion (£1.6 trillion) in suspect funds over nearly two decades.

“What surprises me still is there is a view in some quarters that anti-money laundering systems and controls is a lot of money for nothing in return, and it’s a huge bureaucratic exercise in red tape rather than something that’s really important,” said Mark Steward, the Financial Conduct Authority’s head of enforcement. 

“What that tells me is that the point of AML controls has somehow got lost and gone missing from the challenge, and understanding that this is all about reducing crime of a very serious nature,” Steward told reporters today. 

There is no major bank in Britain that hasn’t been or isn’t currently the subject of an ongoing probe related to the adequacy of their dirty money safeguards, he continued, adding: “We have a number of cases in the pipeline”.

He said that while banks were spending a lot of money of AML systems and controls, in many cases the provisions were still not up to the job and that “something needs to happen” to address this. 

“I am not yet sure that there is a strong enough, unanimous view that this is really serious,” Steward added.