Panama Papers Fallout Will Stress Anti Money Laundering Compliance

Panama Papers
Panama Papers

The scale of the Panama Papers hack cannot be understated. The number of shell companies identified is some 214,000 and the hundreds of thousands of people behind it include impressive names from international political figures and business moguls to celebrities like Emma Watson.

To account for the heightened questioning and investigations around the Panama Papers hack, people need to “legal-up” and issuers, financial institutions and processors need to “gear-up” for expected spikes in work related to due diligence, more precise monitoring of transactions, payments and sanctions filtering, possible ad-hoc examination and possible fines.

As these conversations around sanctions, transaction monitoring (TM), and knowing your customer (KYC) heat up, for the better, we’re about witness more progressive changes.

Sanctions monitoring systems and associated watch-lists will be updated with new data from the Panama Papers leak.

These improvements in sanctions monitoring for one, will drive a temporary spike in the internal and external resources required among banks to handle the volume of work to navigate the investigations and tightened up best practices.

Banks will re-examine and update internal watch lists, new watch lists will be created, and existing ones among governing bodies will fall under a microscope with this case (among others). Come July, Panama may find itself on a list of uncooperative tax havens the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) may re-activate upon request of the G20 nations, according to Le Monde.

Regulatory bodies eagerly at bay are waiting to see who and what can be fined. Take for instance, Europol’s Financial Intelligence Group. The organization was recently established in January 2016 and is one of several indications that there is increasingly greater national and political interest around shell companies and role they play in anti-money laundering and tax avoidance activity.

The aftermath of the Panama Papers will also impact correspondent banking and third party entity identification, with possible transaction monitoring (TM) look-backs with newly identified entities for correspondent banking. This issue raises glaring gaps in anti-money laundering (AML) coverage and the increased risk of audit gaps and possible action resulting for global banks.

To help global banks mitigate risk and keep in line with existing compliance requirements and out of the fray with antsy regulators, forensic accounts will find themselves quite busy and recruited by financial institutions. Big banks and financial institutions already have a set of criteria to follow, but in the wake of Panama Papers, banks can expect to have more stringent guidelines to follow in addition to a set of updated and more stringent KYC procedures and investigations.

But the question to ask is, how well are these KYC and AML regulations being adhered to, and what governing bodies are enforcing these checks and balances? In the wake of the Panama Papers, there will need to be significant revisions and updates made for any clients identified. As mentioned above, the cost of declaring “innocence” will be expensive and individuals and firms may take a significant hit on their reputations.

The Panama Papers scenario has arisen because it’s an increasingly global economy and in dealing with banks from other places, not all adhere to the same standards. Panama, like Cayman Islands and Nigeria are among locations where financial institutions request or maintain limited documentation. This can sometimes be misleading regarding what information is compliant and thus it’s hard to find who the beneficial owners are of a company, what that company is doing, and who it works with.

While KYC challenges are something banks within the EU and U.S. have faced for ages, the Panama leak has brought it into a new light. American bank regulators already issue ‘look back’ orders – where the U.S. government requires a filtering process looking back through past records to determine who has the company conducted business with, and does that person or business come into question – to verify and approve activity moving forward. What the Panama Papers has effectively done with KYC, is encourage more banks to embrace the notion of ‘look backs’ and to do so with scale. Companies that specialize in change management and helping financial companies navigate compliance and regulatory discussions, such as GFT and Ernst & Young, will work alongside banks to help improve KYC capabilities and demands.

Already, banks have moved to flag and/or block transactions directly associated with Mossack Fonseca. While we wait to hear if Mossack Fonseca did actually commit a criminal act, the very nature of being such a prolific generator of such off-shore shell companies and questionable accounting advisory services pushes its risk profile to high or very high. In some cases, too high for certain institutions, thus forcing companies to drill down into KYC and internal processes and policies regarding how customers are classified.

In short, it is reasonable to assume that the US regulators will alter their expectations in relation to third party foreign entity identification and individuals named. They will expect institutions to accommodate the list of entities revealed and who is associated with them in their KYC, Customer Due Diligence, Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), and Transaction Monitoring processes and evaluations.

This landmark leak in financial services comes at a time when the entire industry is under greater scrutiny. We’re still working out the repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis, examining how we can prevent companies from becoming “too big to fail”, and placing greater emphasis on savvier technology and solutions to improve transparency, compliance and as ever, the bottom line.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) plans to continually publish known companies involved in the Panama Papers, so we can expect this space – and debates (and need for smarter solutions and greater transparency) on sanctions, TM and KYC – to only get hotter.

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