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Is AML Training Effective or Whitewashing? Part II

Posted by William Byrnes on August 15, 2009

In my previous blogticle I presented a few of the very many examples of regulatory fines for financial institutions failing to meet minimum money laundering training for staff, in many cases leading to failures of their money laundering risk management system.  Hereunder I turn to expenditures on money laundering training.

Consider that the above regulatory enforcement actions, and those referred to by the GAO report, were issued at least three years after the US financial institutions were put on initial notice of the hawkish nature of enforcement of AML programs.  Certainly, neither management nor staff wanted to, by example, be responsible for over 2,000 filing errors for only 1,639 SARs.  Riggs divestiture of its international banking operations certainly provided a resounding warning for boards to take their AML compliance responsibilities seriously.  Enforcement actions generally lead to management and staff level firing holding persons accountable for their errors.

In a global review of money laundering legislation throughout financial centers, none of the legislation provides specific benchmarks or at least an assessable minimum standard for a level of training of the staff or the MLRO.  Further, the regulator guidance, where available, is scant to the issue of quality assurance of training.  The US Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s (“FFIEC”) Bank Secrecy Act/Anti Money Laundering Manual (“Manual”) states that a bank must –

        “[T]rain employees to be aware of their responsibilities under the BSA regulations and internal policy guidelines”

 whereas the UK FSA Handbook states that a firm’s should ensure that its –

         “systems and controls include (1) appropriate training for its employees in relation to money laundering …”.[1] 

The FFIEC Manual’s most specific example of what should be contained within a training program is “…training for tellers should focus on examples involving large currency transactions or other suspicious activities; training for the loan department should provide examples involving money laundering through lending arrangements.”

Aren’t Expenditures on Training Going up, uP, UP?

Thus, to avoid enforcement actions and thus being fired, in some markets the training budgets and the compliance cost per-dollar-of-deposit have more than doubled.  By example, from 2002 – 2005, banks offering international financial services in Miami reported a 160% increase both in the total costs of staff resources devoted to AML compliance and in the compliance costs of staff resources per dollar of deposit.[2] 

Senior banking management perceives rising and unpredictable compliance costs that undermine global competitiveness as the most significant threats to the future growth of banking.[3]  The cost of AML compliance increased around 58% globally and 71% in North America between 2004 and 2007.[4]

A 2005 survey of Florida banks engaged in international banking estimated the staffing cost of AML compliance at nearly $25 million. The study concluded that compliance costs are not uniform across institutions, even after making adjustment for size.[5] Banks estimate that training costs and transaction monitoring will require the largest investment of all AML activities. All North American banks provide AML training for nearly all of their employees. See KPMG’s Figure in its AML Survey.

Larger institutions (measured in terms of deposits) typically devote more resources and spend more on compliance than smaller ones, of course, but the compliance burden does not rise proportionately with size.  That is, survey data indicates that economies of scale in compliance are present, and that compliance costs per dollar of deposits is greater for smaller institutions than for larger ones.[6] Even after the dramatic increases in compliance costs and regulatory complexity since 2001, the regulatory environment is likely to become increasingly challenging in coming years.

In a 2006 Economist Intelligence Unit survey, international senior bank executives were asked about the costs of compliance with government regulation. When asked what changes they expected in the regulatory environment over the coming three to five year, over 91% stated that they expected regulations affecting their institution to grow in complexity and breadth, 88% stated that compliance with industry regulations will become more onerous, and 81% reported that they expect penalties for non-compliance to increase in severity.[7]

[1] http://www.ffiec.gov/pdf/bsa_aml_examination_manual2007.pdf and http://fsahandbook.info/FSA/html/handbook/SYSC/6/3#D78.

[2] The Washington Economics Group, The Economic Impacts of International Banking in Florida and Industry Survey: 2005.

[3] The Washington Economics Group, The Economic Impacts of International Banking in Florida and Industry Survey: 2005.

[4] KPMG’s Global Anti-Money Laundering Survey 2007.

[5] The Washington Economics Group, The Economic Impacts of International Banking in Florida and Industry Survey: 2005.

[6] The Washington Economics Group, The Economic Impacts of International Banking in Florida and Industry Survey: 2005.

[7] Economist Intelligence Unit, Bank Compliance: Controlling Risk and Improving Effectiveness (2006).

2 Responses to “Is AML Training Effective or Whitewashing? Part II”

  1. […] Excerpt from: Is AML Training Effective or Whitewashing? Part II […]


  2. […] written several articles about compliance “whitewashing” on this blog (look under the tab compliance and money laundering). Compliance staffing at […]


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