HM Treasury consultation: Reform of the anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing supervisory regime
On 30 June 2023, HM Treasury published its consultation on reform of the anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing supervisory system (the “Consultation”). Released as part of the Government’s commitments within its Economic Crime Plan 2023-2026, the Consultation offers stakeholders the opportunity to provide their views on four possible models for improving the UK’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (“AML/CTF”) supervisory regime. The Consultation also seeks responses in order to determine whether there is a need for a more formalised system of sanctions supervision, noting that most AML/CTF supervisors do not have explicit powers to supervise sanctions compliance and controls.
In the Consultation’s preamble, the Treasury Lords Minister Baroness Penn emphasised the Government’s motivations for its proposals:
“Money laundering is the lifeblood of organised crime… Terrorism financing threatens national security and facilitates atrocities we have suffered here in the UK and across the rest of the world. To protect the integrity of the UK’s financial and professional services sectors, we must also do more to address illicit finance linked to corrupt elites…”
The current situation
Presently AML/CTF is regulated by various supervising authorities which oversee businesses that conduct activities classified under the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (the “MLRs”). Three statutory supervisors regulate various sectors under the MLRs, specifically: the Gambling Commission for the casino industry; the Financial Conduct Authority for financial institutions; and HMRC for a number of business sectors, including real estate agency businesses and accountancy, trust or company service providers not supervised by another authority or professional body. In addition, Professional Body Supervisors (“PBSs”) are responsible for supervising legal and accountancy firms.
However, in HM Treasury’s 2022 Review of the UK’s AML/CTF Regulatory and Supervisory Regime the Government concluded that, whilst there had been continued improvement to the regime, some weaknesses in supervision may need to be addressed through structural reform. The 2022 review set out four possible models for a future AML/CTF supervisory system and the Consultation further develops these four models, assessing them against three consultation objectives: (a) supervisory effectiveness; (b) improved system coordination; and (c) feasibility.
The proposed models
In 2017, the Government created the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (“OPBAS”). OPBAS was designed to ensure robust and consistent supervision of AML/CTF across the nation’s 22 PBSs. The Consultation proposes that OPBAS be given enhanced powers to increase the effectiveness of supervision by the PBSs.
The Consultation states this proposal would be most immediately feasible, as no structural changes would be required to the current regime. Evidently, this proposal would have little to no impact on the Gambling Commission’s regulation of AML/CTF, however it is possible that the Gambling Commission may seek to mirror any additional accountability mechanisms that this model would introduce.
2. PBS Consolidation
The Consultation proposes that instead of enhancing OPBAS, the number of PBSs be reduced. Specifically, either two or six PBSs would retain responsibility for AML/CTF supervision, whereby two oversee the legal and accountancy sectors respectively across the UK, or two PBSs oversee the legal and accountancy sectors respectively in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Two further variants proposed under this model relate to HMRC’s supervisory role for accountancy and trust or company service providers being removed or reduced.
Again, this model would retain the current system of supervision by PBSs but would reduce the inconsistency and complexity of the current system due to the number of PBSs. It is unlikely that this model would significantly impact the Gambling Commission’s regulation of AML/CTF.
3. Single Professional Services Supervisor
The Single Professional Services Supervisor (“SPSS”) model, as the name suggests, proposes that one single public body (existing or new) supervise all legal and accountancy sector firms for AML/CTF, and possibly some or all of the wider sectors currently supervised by HMRC. The Consultation suggests that the SPSS would be independent of any ministerial department, but accountable to HM Treasury. Its nature as a public body, accountable to Parliament, may be considered more appropriate: (a) because of the broad set of intervention powers it will hold; (b) because its policy remit can be set out in legislation; (c) to facilitate better information sharing; and (d) because it will be more flexible.
Again, it is unlikely that this model would significantly impact the Gambling Commission’s regulation of AML/CTF.
4. Single Anti-Money Laundering Supervisor
The Consultation’s proposal for a Single Anti-Money Laundering Supervisor (“SAS”) represents the most significant proposed change to the AML/CTF supervisory regime in the UK, and one that would change how Licensees are regulated in respect of AML/CTF.
The SAS, which would be a public body, would undertake all AML/CTF supervision in the UK, with the Gambling Commission and the other existing statutory supervisors and PBSs relinquishing their AML/CTF supervisory duties entirely. Similar to the SPSS model above, the SAS would benefit from being an operationally independent public body ultimately accountable to Parliament and HM Treasury.
The Consultation acknowledges that supervisors should take a risk-based and data-led approach to their AML/CTF supervision and it goes without saying that unless seamless communication and data-sharing between supervisors exists, there will be inconsistencies. One overarching supervisory body, such as the SAS, may therefore be best placed to consider data from all sectors and apply a consistent standard of AML/CTF regulation.
From Licensees’ perspective, there has been confusion about the Gambling Commission’s approach to AML/CTF for some time, particularly in relation to the inevitable cross over between AML/CTF and safer gambling, affordability and vulnerability. Licensees may therefore consider that the SAS model will introduce consistency to the AML/CTF supervision of casinos that operate in the UK and introduce a more proportionate and coherent regime. However, Licensees should note that were the SAS model to be introduced, they would be faced with: (a) dual regulation which will inevitably introduce an additional burden; and (b) supervision by the SAS, a newly created regulatory body that will almost certainly have less industry expertise than the Gambling Commission.
Responding to the Consultation
Whether or not the SAS is the favoured model will be influenced by the responses and evidence submitted to the Consultation. The Consultation is open until 30 September 2023. HM Treasury encourages responses to be submitted through its secure online survey, but responses can also be emailed to [email protected]. We recommend that all Licensees review and respond to the Consultation.
Please get in touch with us if you would like assistance with preparing a response or with any AML/CTF compliance or enforcement matters.
With credit and sincere thanks to David Whyte for his invaluable co-authorship.