Anti-money laundering approach must be risk-based, warn solicitors’ leaders

Changes to the money laundering regulations should focus on increasing the effectiveness of efforts to tackle money laundering through a more risk-based and proportionate approach, the Law Society of England and Wales said today as it responded to HM Treasury’s (HMT) call for evidence.

HMT is currently examining the overall effectiveness of the UK’s anti-money laundering (AML), regulatory and supervisory regimes.

The call for evidence will inform the examination of the current regulations, through which HMT is seeking to ensure they are operating as intended and to determine whether the professional body supervisory structure could be improved.

“The legal profession plays an important role in the fight against economic crime and takes its anti-money laundering responsibilities very seriously,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“While we welcome HMT’s commitment to making the AML regime proportionate and effective, the current regime does not promote a risk-based approach and instead drives ‘tick box’ compliance, to satisfy overly prescriptive requirements, which is a particular challenge for small firms.”

The current AML regime places disproportionate compliance obligations on the legal profession, most notably on small firms, necessitating activity which does little to prevent money laundering, the cost of which is ultimately passed on to consumers.

The AML system is designed with the financial sector in mind so any reforms need to be informed by the evidence of its current application across different sectors and, particularly, address the different issues faced by the legal profession.

I. Stephanie Boyce added: “At its centre, the UK AML regime should be effective at reducing money laundering and terrorist financing. It must be built on an evidenced-based assessment of the risks and what works to mitigate those risks.

“A risk-based approach will be most effective, as it requires regulated persons to focus more fully on those clients and situations which present the greatest risk, rather than conducting a less rigorous, but nonetheless onerous and costly, assessment across a broader range of matters which is not effective in tackling money laundering.

“The current regime’s ‘tick box’ method undermines the effectiveness and proportionality of the measures and drives up costs for legal services consumers. We look forward to helping develop and apply a regime that is both proportionate and effective in tackling economic crime and is workable for our members.”

Notes to editors

Read our consultation response in full

HM Treasury launched the consultation on 22 July 2021 where it sought views on the systemic effectiveness of the UK’s anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing regulatory and supervisory regimes and how they contribute to the overarching objective of countering economic crime.

Read about the UK government’s AML call for evidence

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