AML transaction monitoring thresholds are a critical aspect of a risk-based approach to anti-money laundering (AML) for banks and financial institutions worldwide. These thresholds play a fundamental role in transaction monitoring, which involves continuously reviewing customer transactions for unusual patterns or red flags that may indicate illegal activity.

Money laundering is the act of camouflaging the illegal origin of money which may be earned through illegal activities like drug trafficking, fraud, and trying to make them appear legitimate. Money laundering usually involves placing the money in the financial system through a series of seemingly legitimate transactions to hide its source.

In South Africa, banks are at great risk of the backlash of money laundering as they are known to cause financial system instability as large amounts of laundered money can distort financial markets and erode trust in the banking system. The laundered money can also be used for crime funding criminal activities, perpetuating a cycle of crime and consequently eroding public trust.

These problems highlight how important anti-money laundering programmes are to South African Banks. Here, we shall address AML transaction monitoring thresholds for banking systems in South Africa.


How does the AML Transaction Monitoring Threshold In South Africa Work?

South Africa has a robust Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulatory framework designed to fight and prevent financial crime while protecting the integrity of the financial system. This framework involves a collaboration between various institutions including the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) which serves as the central AML authority in South Africa. 

The FIC is responsible for receiving and analyzing suspicious activity reports (SARs) from financial institutions like banks, insurers, and designated non-financial businesses (DNFBs). After receiving these alerts, the FIC then disseminates this intelligence to relevant authorities like the South African Police Service (SAPS) for further investigation and prosecution.

Another body responsible for fighting money laundering in South Africa is the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). Though they are not directly involved in money laundering. The SARB plays a crucial role in preventing money laundering through its regulatory and supervisory functions including issuing ND supervising AML regulations. They also collaborate with the FIC and other bodies, sharing intelligence and identifying potential money laundering activities in South African Banks.

Some other AML regulatory bodies in South Africa are the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA), and the Prudential Authority (PRUD) also play crucial roles in AML compliance. These bodies issue AML regulations and guidance for different sectors within the financial system, sometimes including banks.

These bodies are backed up by the foundation of South Africa's AML framework which lies in the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) of 2001 (as amended). 

This act mandates the establishment of the FIC, outlines the reporting obligations of AIs, and defines suspicious activity. Subsequent amendments to FICA, such as the FICA Amendment Act of 2017, have further strengthened the regulatory framework by introducing enhanced customer due diligence (CDD) measures and expanding the scope of AIs.

South Africa's AML regulations are heavily influenced by the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global standard-setter for AML and Counter-Terrorist Financing (CFT). 


What Are AML Transaction Monitoring Thresholds?

AML transaction monitoring thresholds are pre-determined amounts set by banks for customer transactions. 

In the case that a customer's transaction exceeds this threshold, an alert will be triggered for the bank to make further scrutiny. 

These thresholds come in handy for banks in South Africa as a key tool in identifying potentially suspicious activity that might be money laundering. The question most ask now is: “What approach do South African banks mostly use in their AML transaction monitoring thresholds?”


How do South African Banks set AML transaction monitoring thresholds?

Most South African banks use a risk-based approach for setting AML transaction monitoring thresholds. This is because the traditional "one-size-fits-all" approach to transaction monitoring thresholds is not enough for the current financial landscape. It has to give way to a more nuanced risk-based approach. This method helps South African banks tailor thresholds to the specific risk profile of each customer and their transactions.

The benefit of this approach is that it reduces false positives as by considering risk factors, analysts can focus on truly suspicious activity, thereby minimising investigations of legitimate transactions.

It also improves efficiency as resources are allocated effectively for investigating higher-risk customers.

In addition, it enhances fraud detection as tailored thresholds can better identify red flags for specific customer profiles.


What are the Factors To Consider When Setting a Risk-Based AML Transaction Monitoring Thresholds?

Several factors are weighed when setting risk-based thresholds including:

  • Customer type (individual vs. corporate).
  • Source of income
  • Geographic location
  • Past transaction history. 

Higher risk profiles warrant lower thresholds for closer scrutiny. The type of transaction itself can also influence the risk assessment. For example, large wire transfers might warrant a lower threshold than debit card purchases.

Another factor to consider when setting a risk-based AML transaction monitoring threshold is the absolute amount of a transaction is still a factor. However, its significance is evaluated within the context of the customer's typical spending patterns. A large sum for a low-risk customer might be more suspicious than a similar amount for a high-risk customer.

Sudden spikes in transaction frequency, even if individual amounts fall below the threshold, can also indicate suspicious activity.

Transactions to high-risk countries or entities on sanctions lists can also trigger lower thresholds for further investigation.


How can South African Banks Set Effective AML Transaction Monitoring Thresholds?


1.Regular Monitoring of Customer Transaction Activity: 

The risk-based approach is an ongoing process hence,  it is advisable for South African Banks to continuously monitor customer activity. As customer behaviour and risk profiles evolve, thresholds need to be adjusted accordingly. They also need to regularly analyze historical data as common transaction patterns for different customer segments help establish baselines for setting thresholds.

2.Testing different thresholds with historical data:

South African banks can set an effective AML transaction monitoring threshold by testing different thresholds with historical data. This helps to identify the optimal balance between minimizing false positives and effectively detecting suspicious activity.

In the case of South Africa, its AML framework emphasizes a risk-based approach to transaction monitoring, meaning there's no single, mandated threshold amount for all transactions.

However, some common practices guide South African banks in setting effective thresholds including the absence of a mandated threshold as South Africa doesn't dictate a specific threshold amount that triggers a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), unlike some jurisdictions.

This flexibility allows banks to tailor thresholds based on individual customer risk profiles.

South African banks conduct thorough customer due diligence (CDD) and risk assessments on all customers. This helps categorize them into different risk tiers (low, medium, high) and set appropriate transaction monitoring thresholds accordingly.

South Africa also mandates reporting cash transactions exceeding a specific amount (currently ZAR 100,000). Banks might leverage this amount as a baseline for setting thresholds for certain customer segments, particularly those dealing with large amounts of cash.

Banks in South Africa also conduct scenario testing with historical data to determine optimal thresholds for different risk profiles. They are also allowed to consider industry benchmarks and best practices for setting thresholds.


What are the Shortcomings of a Threshold-Centric Approach?

1.Over-reliance on AML transaction monitoring threshold:

While thresholds play a role, over-reliance on them can cause criminals to adapt their methods to circumvent fixed thresholds. For example, they might break down large transactions into smaller amounts to avoid triggering alerts.

2.Over-emphasizing Transaction monitoring threshold:

Banks in South Africa also have the tendency to overemphasize thresholds leading to an overwhelming number of false positives, diverting resources from investigating truly suspicious activity.

3.Missed Red Flags:

Thresholds also have the tendency to miss red flags that don't necessarily involve exceeding a set amount. For instance, a sudden surge in transactions to a previously unused location could be suspicious, even if the individual amounts are low.


How do South African Banks Remedy These Challenges? 

South African banks are already on this as they are increasingly utilizing advanced analytics and machine learning to complement threshold-based monitoring. These tools can analyze vast amounts of transaction data to identify unusual patterns and potential anomalies that might not be captured by a purely threshold-centric approach.

It is crucial for South African banks to remember that thresholds are not a "set it and forget it" solution. Criminal tactics adapt over time so they need to continue reviewing thresholds to remain effective in detecting suspicious activity based on the latest trends and threats.

They should also know that customer risk profiles and transaction patterns can evolve over time. They need to update their customer data to help maintain a calibrated approach.

They should also accept that AML regulations can change, and thresholds might need to be adjusted to comply with new requirements.

All the above shows that Effective AML compliance goes beyond just setting thresholds. They need strong Customer Due Diligence (CDD) to identify and understand customer risks from the outset, informing the risk-based approach to transaction monitoring.

They also need advanced analytics and human expertise to identify and investigate suspicious patterns beyond just exceeding set amounts.

Regular training for bank staff on AML procedures and red flags also comes in handy in empowering banks to identify suspicious activity and report it effectively.

Not also forgetting that South African banks should have robust internal controls and clear reporting procedures are essential for ensuring effective AML compliance across the organization. You may want to know about the AML Compliance Program

Final Words

To conclude, AML transaction monitoring thresholds are vital for a strong Anti-Money Laundering (AML) program in banks. 

A risk-based approach tailors thresholds to customer profiles, allowing for efficient detection of suspicious activity. South African businesses can optimize their AML efforts by analyzing data, conducting scenario testing, and continuously reviewing thresholds.

The future of AML compliance is bright. Advancements in AI and machine learning will enable sophisticated transaction analysis. Network analytics will reveal hidden criminal networks. Increased regulatory collaboration will strengthen global AML frameworks. By embracing these advancements and adopting a holistic approach, South African businesses can stay ahead of evolving criminal tactics and ensure financial system integrity.  

To make these solutions a reality, Youverify comes in handy for South African banks. With the best AML and compliance solutions trusted by more than 2,000 clients worldwide including South African bigwigs like MTN and Standard Chartered. 

Book a demo today and enjoy peace of mind on your AML monitoring thresholds.