It's safe to say that the world is now a global financial system. With this interconnectivity and interdependence come criminals seeking ways to disguise their illegally obtained funds, making them appear legitimate. This process, known as money laundering, undermines financial stability and fuels criminal activity. To combat this, governments have established Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations. 


AML is a comprehensive framework of laws, policies, and procedures designed to prevent criminals from laundering dirty money. AML programs play a critical role in this fight by equipping financial institutions and other designated businesses with the tools to identify and report suspicious activity, ultimately safeguarding the financial system and protecting society from crime.


In this article, we shall be examining who is required to have an AML program by law.


What Are The Entities Required To Have An AML Program?


The fight against money laundering hinges on a strong network of institutions adhering to Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations.  This includes a designated group of businesses required to establish and maintain robust AML programs.


A. Financial Institutions (FIs) Regulated by the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA)


The Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) or its equivalent in other countries serve as the cornerstone of AML regulations in the United States. It mandates that certain Financial Institutions (FIs) develop and implement comprehensive AML programs. These FIs encompass a broad range of entities directly involved in handling financial transactions:


  • Traditional Institutions: Banks, credit unions, and savings and loan institutions are at the forefront of BSA compliance. They deal with a high volume of financial activity, making them susceptible to money laundering attempts.
  • Money Services Businesses (MSBs): Businesses offering money transmission services, check cashing, and prepaid cards fall under the BSA umbrella. The anonymity associated with some of these services necessitates strong AML controls.
  • Securities Dealers: Broker-dealers, investment advisors, and other entities involved in the trading of securities are also required to have AML programs. The potential for large-scale transactions in this sector necessitates vigilance against financial crime.


The Risk-Based Approach


The BSA mandates a risk-based approach to AML compliance. This means that the complexity and intensity of an FI's AML program should be commensurate with the level of money laundering risk it faces. Factors such as the size and type of transactions, geographic location, and customer base all play a role in determining this risk profile.  For instance, a small credit union serving a local community might have a less complex AML program compared to a large international bank handling high-value transactions.


B. Other Businesses Identified by Regulations


Beyond traditional FIs, the reach of AML regulations extends to other sectors deemed vulnerable to money laundering activities. Here are some examples:


  • Casinos: The vast sums of cash handled by casinos make them a prime target for money launderers. AML programs help casinos identify suspicious activity and report it to the authorities.
  • Real Estate Brokers: Large cash transactions in real estate deals can be a red flag for money laundering. AML programs equip real estate brokers with the tools to verify the source of funds and report any suspicious activity.
  • Certain Insurance Companies: Life insurance policies with large payouts or those allowing for anonymous beneficiaries can be exploited for money laundering. Specific types of insurance companies may be required to implement AML programs to mitigate these risks.


The Importance Of Regulatory Guidance 


It's crucial to note that the list of entities required to have AML programs can vary depending on the specific regulations of each jurisdiction. Businesses should stay up-to-date on the latest AML requirements issued by their relevant regulatory bodies.  Consulting with financial regulators or seeking guidance from AML compliance experts is highly recommended, especially for businesses operating in high-risk sectors.

What Are The Tools Used By Businesses for AML and Financial Crime Protection?


AML professionals leverage a range of tools to prevent financial crime,  which can be broadly categorized into technology and non-technology based solutions:

1. Technology-Based Tools; AML Software


These software platforms automate various AML processes including:


  • Customer Due Diligence (CDD/KYC): Streamlines customer onboarding and identity verification, helping identify high-risk individuals or businesses.
  • Transaction Monitoring: Monitoring transactions and other account activities for suspicious patterns that might indicate money laundering or other financial crimes.
  • Sanctions Screening: Checks customers and transactions against sanctions lists issued by governments and international bodies.
  • Risk Assessment: Analyzes customer data and transaction activity to assign risk scores, helping prioritize resources for investigation.


2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)


Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are now turning the world around, helping solve complex problems. These advanced technologies are increasingly used in AML for:


  • Scenario Testing: Simulates potential money laundering schemes to identify vulnerabilities and improve detection methods.
  • Risk assessment: Uncovers hidden connections between individuals and entities involved in suspicious activity. A good example of this is the Youverify customer risk assessment solution.
  • Unsupervised Learning: Identifies anomalies in transaction patterns that might be missed by traditional rule-based systems.


3. Non-Technology Based Tools


Not all tools used in AML have to be technology-based, they could be quite practical including:


  • Customer Due Diligence (CDD) Policies and Procedures: Establishes clear guidelines for collecting and verifying customer information, understanding their business activities, and assessing potential risks.
  • Suspicious Activity Reporting (SARs): Requires reporting any suspicious activity to the relevant authorities, enabling further investigation.
  • Training and Awareness Programs: Educate employees on AML regulations, red flags for suspicious activity, and proper reporting procedures.
  • Internal Controls: Implement robust internal controls to prevent criminals from exploiting weaknesses in systems and processes.


By effectively utilizing this combination of technology and well-defined procedures, AML professionals can significantly enhance their ability to detect and prevent financial crime.


What Are The Factors Determining the Need for an AML Program?


The requirement for an AML program isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Several factors come in handy to determine whether a business needs to implement AML safeguards. These factors include:


A. Type of Business Activity


The nature of a business's operations significantly impacts its money laundering risk profile. Here are some activities that raise red flags, calling for an AML programme for the business:


  • Large Cash Transactions: Businesses that regularly deal with large amounts of cash, such as casinos, car dealerships, and precious metals traders, are more susceptible to money laundering attempts.
  • Handling Financial Instruments: Businesses that handle negotiable instruments like checks and money orders can be exploited by criminals to move illicit funds. Examples include check cashing services, money transmitters, and certain retailers accepting large check payments.
  • Providing Anonymity: Businesses that offer anonymity in financial transactions are particularly vulnerable. This includes virtual currency exchanges, prepaid card providers, and certain types of online gambling platforms.


B. Geographic Location


The money laundering risk profile also varies based on a business's location. Here's the impact of geography:


  • Countries with Higher Money Laundering Risks: Countries with weak financial regulations, high levels of corruption, or involvement in the illegal drug trade are considered high-risk zones. Businesses operating in such locations are more likely to encounter money laundering activity. Businesses in countries like Nigeria, Venezuela, Columbia, Afghanistan and Myanmar may need to acquire AML programmes for their operations.
  • Following International AML Standards (FATF): The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sets global AML standards. Countries that adhere to these standards require businesses within their jurisdictions to implement AML programs. Following FATF guidelines ensures a business is aligned with international best practices in combating financial crime.


Bottom Line


Vigilance against money laundering today is more crucial than ever crucial. By understanding the factors that heighten money laundering risks, businesses can determine if they need an AML program.  Implementing a robust AML program, combined with staying informed about evolving regulations, empowers businesses to play a vital role in safeguarding the financial system and protecting society from criminal activity.

The nature of AML regulations is dynamic and everyone involved: governments, corporations, businesses and individuals need to stay updated on the latest trends to continue to keep the financial world safe.


To safeguard your businesses and other financial activities from the cold hands of money laundering and other dire financial issues, book a demo with Youverify to see how we already help 1000+ global businesses achieve this.