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Money laundering, the growing menace without a face

The Bank of England (BoE) is the central bank of the UK and the world’s eighth oldest bank. As ‘the home of money’, it stands as a symbol of the UK’s financial system, with its role to ensure ‘monetary and financial stability’. So, what better place to exemplify the masked nature of money laundering than to have a group of individuals in morphsuits descend onto the BoE and morph into the roles of faceless money launderers.

Posing with washing machines filled with ‘dirty cash’, the stunt, orchestrated by First AML, illustrated how anyone, anywhere, can be a launderer. London is a hotbed for money laundering, with an estimated £1m shifted through the capital every six minutes. That means, every hour, the institutions we see all around us are ‒ often unwittingly ‒ letting £10m of dirty money work its way through their businesses.

But the digital and crypto world is making this illicit activity even easier. The stunt took place as new findings by First AML revealed the rising threat of cryptocurrency-related money laundering, with 70% of individuals working in compliance expressing concern about the growing prospect of their business succumbing to money laundering via cryptocurrencies.

This fear is conveyed as just over two fifths of those surveyed say they have identified crypto-fuelled instances of money laundering, and, notably, more than half (53%) believe that current practices are only able to partially address the threat.

The crypto world, by its very nature, gives money launderers their favourite asset: anonymity; it’s a money launderer’s dream to mask themself behind a virtual anonymous account. And while not a cryptocurrency, it seems apt these findings emerge as the BoE recently outlined that it is considering the issuing of a digital pound and entering the digital currency world.

The digital crypto world is breeding a new era of faceless bad actors laundering dirty money. And the rate of innovation by criminals is only increasing. According to the findings, keeping pace with evolving money laundering techniques (30%) is the most significant challenge to combatting cryptocurrency-related money laundering. AML technology and governance techniques need to not only meet but outwit criminal tactics to help put a face on money launderers.

For this to happen, creating robust AML compliance policies and systems will be fundamental. 2022 saw financial institutions fined nearly £4.04bn due to money laundering failings, with a massive 90 per cent rise in fines to crypto companies. And it makes sense. The survey uncovered that more than three quarters of business leaders (78%) believe their AML compliance can be bettered, with over half (51%) experiencing fines or penalties due to AML non-compliance and a noteworthy 85% of businesses reporting that these penalties had a negative impact on their operations.

The stunt acts as a very present reminder of the harmful effects of money laundering and its increasing prevalence. As fines hit home and vast amounts of dirty money pass through our financial institutions, the faceless money launderer is walking by without consequence. Cryptocurrencies are making this anonymity even more effortless. It’s a warning light for businesses to understand the real consequences of money laundering and implement the correct AML procedures and systems to avoid falling foul of such activity. That way, the menace of money laundering can be given a face.

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The everyday person - a money launderer could be anywhere

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