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AML/KYC Culture Needs an Overhaul: How Technology Can Help You Adapt

01 Jul 2021

Every financial services organisation worldwide faces the same challenges: the need to comply with regulatory guidelines, and the fact that those regulations grow more complex every year.

The stakes of a misstep include reduced revenue, punitive sanctions, or criminal prosecution, so it’s critical to walk this tightrope carefully. But the old methods—reliance on printed documents and tracking data with 20th-century processes like pen, paper, and manual data entry—aren’t keeping pace with the speed of change.

One problem with this trajectory is that organisations grow resentful of compliance processes, viewing them as a time-consuming box to be ticked rather than what they are: an opportunity to make every transaction safer and more strategic.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

SaaS (software as a service) technology can completely transform how organisations perform in the face of these challenges, most notably in the realms of anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) compliance.

This technology can scan, mine, and ultimately learn from large quantities of data to identify high-risk individuals and transactions, reducing the burden on overwhelmed compliance officers and minimising operational risk.

And it’s already having an impact. According to UK Finance, banks and card companies prevented £1.6 billion in unauthorised fraud in 2020, a marked improvement over the previous year.

In this post, we’ll look at current-state AML and KYC practices and identify the key pain points we’ve seen technology alleviate for our customers in recent years.

AML & KYC in the 20th century

If your firm has already begun automating processes, this might seem antiquated. But many firms, particularly in Europe, still rely heavily on 20th-century ways of working: signing physical forms or manually entering customer information into databases.

The drawbacks and risks involved in manual processes like these are apparent:

  • Massive labour cost (in other words, they’re time-consuming)
  • Human error, leading to inaccurate data
  • Increased exposure to corruption and fraud
  • Lost documents and incomplete audit trails
  • Difficult to track and analyse trends over time
  • Data infrastructure makes adopting technology difficult
  • Slow onboarding/customer churn

It may sound like adopting the latest technology is an obvious choice—but of course, it isn’t that simple. Most firms are looking to lower costs, and doing so while facilitating innovation and supporting legacy systems is a near-impossible task. (At least, from a short-term perspective.)

Europe in general (and CEE in particular) has been criticised for lagging behind the US and China in adopting compliance technology, largely due to the complexity of Europe’s regulatory environment. Although some firms have modern AML systems in place, traditional customer segmentation and manual fraud alert monitoring still define the prevailing approach.

But there’s still time to catch up, and new technology designed to help firms adapt in real time to regulatory change is hitting the market.

How technology can help you compete

In their whitepaper on how to compete in the financial services industry in 2020 and beyond, PwC focuses on the adoption of cutting-edge technology.

Partly, this is a customer-first approach. Customers have adjusted their expectations of financial firm performance based on their experiences in other industries. In today’s market, regardless of channel, they want seamless interactions and real-time (or near-real-time) service.

It’s also a tactical approach. Automating and implementing more intelligent AML protocols allows for more accurate identification of red flags and reduced false-positive rates. Where the old model made it difficult to see the complex interdependencies of modern money laundering schemes, technology can accurately analyse massive volumes of data in an instant.

Here are the key benefits of automating your AML and KYC processes:

  • Streamlined customer onboarding: As discussed above, consumers have high expectations, as set by other industries. The desire for a smooth, seamless onboarding experience is stronger than ever, and customers are prone to abandon onboarding processes that feel too cumbersome.
  • Accurate client risk profiles: Technology can automate the creation and maintenance of client risk profiles, assigning numerical risk scores based on data and monitoring changes over time. This enhances due diligence and ensures continued compliance throughout the client life cycle.
  • Fewer false positives: Alerts alone will not support an effective and efficient compliance programme; the sheer volume of false positives is a significant pain point for compliance teams. Attaching alerts to high-quality data reduces volume and ensures thorough investigation into cases where an investigation is genuinely warranted. Technology can even recommend next steps based on past actions and predicted risk.
  • Improved beneficial ownership: Today’s SaaS products can “read” data from both databases and scanned documents that previously required manual entry. For compliance teams working their way through massive piles of data, technology improves the ability to draw accurate conclusions for a risk-based approach. Due diligence on beneficial owners is a point of increasing focus worldwide, and technology supports firms’ efforts to comply without overwhelming staff.
  • Automated audit trails: When client onboarding is completed within a compliance technology, there’s no need to maintain manual records or search for misplaced documents. A well-built system maintains itself, and adaptive technology tracks every interaction automatically, so you’ll always know who completed which actions and when. When regulators ask for an audit trail, well-prepared firms can easily supply one with the click of a button.
  • Managing regulatory change across markets: The regulatory environment is ever-changing, particularly as organisations navigate international borders. Technology can adapt to changing requirements in real time, tracking regulations worldwide and automatically identifying information gaps and creating corresponding alerts. This reduces the burden on compliance teams to hit a constantly moving target.

The benefits of automation outweigh the risks

Many financial services firms have been reluctant to implement new technology that touches AML and KYC protocols because they aren’t sure how regulators will react.

In Europe, the 2019 assessment of risk for remote onboarding solutions demonstrates a growing and continued interest in financial services technology and how firms can best use it.

Data security and governance are top of mind, as are concerns about the logistics of migrating to new software systems and risking sensitive customer data in the process. These concerns are worth exploring in depth, so we’ll dedicate a separate post to them soon.

But the benefits of adopting cutting-edge technology far outweigh the risks, so it’s well worth exploring the necessary steps now to position your firm on the leading edge.

The cultural shift to AML and KYC technology has arrived—IQ-EQ can help keep your firm competitive. Click here to download our Guide on How to Future-Proof Your Regulatory Framework.

Working with IQ-EQ has been seamless – you and your team understand our business, advise us appropriately, and handle your side of our collective partnership so that we can focus on making good investment decisions. Evan Gibson SVP, Merchants Capital

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