By Prof Keith Stanton, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).
It has not been a good few weeks for the banking industry. In America Wells Fargo has been rocked by a scandal in which staff have been found to have fraudulently opened accounts for customers as a way of meeting sales targets. Deutsche Bank has teetered on the brink of disaster as a result of the size of the penalty it is facing in the US for misselling mortgage bonds. In Singapore the Monetary Authority has penalised two banks for anti-money laundering failures and control lapses and has withdrawn the license of a third bank for such failures. For once, the major UK based banks have been out of the headlines. However, the Financial Conduct Authority has added to the picture by penalising the Bangladeshi Sonali Bank (UK) Ltd £3.11 million and Steven Smith, the bank’s Compliance Officer and Money Laundering Reporting Officer (MLRO) a further £17,900 for anti money laundering (AML) failures. The bank was also prohibited from accepting deposits from new customers for a period of 168 days and Smith prohibited from performing a range of functions in the industry.
The Sonali Bank decisions are further examples of the FCA using its enforcement powers to send messages to the industry. It is part of the attempt to change the culture in banking and to reduce, if not eliminate, risk which might threaten the integrity of the banking system as a whole. It is widely accepted that money laundering poses a significant threat to the integrity of the financial system. As a result, firms are required to adopt rigorous controls aimed at minimising the risk of money laundering occurring. The facts of Sonali concerned these AML obligations. The case is a good example of the fact that the criminal offences which are commonly said to place banks under a stringent obligation to guard against money laundering are, in practice, of much less significance than regulatory action concerning failures taken by the FCA. (more…)