UK banks must do more to fight dirty money, says BoE's Woods

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s banks must make the fight against dirty money a “top priority” or risk facing more severe fines, Bank of England Deputy Governor Sam Woods said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing a protective face mask walks past the Bank of England in the City of London, Britain, August 6, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Global banks, including UK-based HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered, face fresh scrutiny on their efforts to curb money laundering after a cache of leaked documents showed they transferred more than $2 trillion in suspect funds over nearly two decades.

Woods said it was vital that banks played their part in fighting financial crime as the “FinCEN” leaks were a good reminder of how criminals will use the financial system for their own ends.

“If the banks get this wrong, then costs for them are very severe, as you have seen in recent years the big fines here in the UK and in the U.S.,” Woods told Bloomberg TV.

“They have been doing a lot but they’ll need to do more, and unfortunately this is one of those things that the job is never done,” Woods said, adding that he did not think new rules were necessary at this point.

HSBC has said the information in the reports was historic, while Standard Chartered pointed to investments to improve its control procedures.

Barclays said global banks were supportive of initiatives to improve transparency of how money was held around the world and which should make client due diligence “a lot easier”.

Global spending on anti-money laundering (AML) software was close to $1.5 billion at end-2019 and is expected to exceed $1.9 billion by end-2023, according to Boston-based financial research and advisory firm Aite Group.

“We have seen that growth ourselves,” added Rachel Woolley, global director of financial crime at Fenergo, which provides client data management support to more than 80 banks and financial firms including BBVA, Westpac and BNP Paribas.

“With digital operational resilience a key focus for financial institutions, not to mention the potential wave of AML reform in response to the FinCEN leaks, it stands to reason that significant investment will be made in technology as banks attempt to increase efficiencies and address increasing compliance concerns,” Woolley told Reuters.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said it was studying media reports that Singapore banks had informed U.S. regulators of suspicious transactions, adding that it would take “appropriate action” based on the outcome of its review.

Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean and Alison Williams