England: Watchdog review shows fifth of law firms fail on money laundering compliance
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has found that a fifth of law firms in England and Wales are not compliant with the 2017 Money Laundering Regulations.
In March, the SRA wrote to 400 firms asking them to demonstrate compliance with the regulations.
It received 400 responses and found that 21 per cent (83) were not compliant. They either did not address all the risk areas required (43), or they sent over something other than a firm risk assessment (40) – for instance, a client or matter risk assessment.
The majority of firms, 64 per cent, were using templates. These firms’ risk assessments were generally of lower quality.
The SRA said that while templates can be helpful, too many firms appeared to take a ‘copy and paste’ approach, without thinking through the specific risks and issues faced by their firm.
The SRA was also concerned that many of the risk assessments (135 or 38 per cent) were dated recently. Although this could reflect an update of an earlier assessment, it suggests some firms may have only created one in response to the SRA’s request meaning they did not previously have a risk assessment.
The SRA will soon be writing to the 7,000 firms that fall under the scope of the regulations to ask them to confirm they have a firm risk assessment in place. It will also be carrying out an “extensive programme” of targeted, in-depth visits to firms and calling in more firms’ risk assessments.
Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: “Money laundering supports criminal activity such as people trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism. The damage money laundering does to society means that every solicitor must be fully committed to preventing it. The vast majority would never intend to get involved in criminal activities, but poor processes open the door to money launderers.
“A call from us should not be the prompt for a firm to get their act together. You need to take immediate action now if you are not on top of your money laundering risks. Where we have serious concerns, we will take strong action.”