Government to launch new anti-money laundering watchdog

In March 2017, the government announced its plans to launch an oversight function for supervisors of professional bodies.

The Office for Professional Body AML Supervision (OPBAS) is tasked to achieve greater cohesiveness and partnership between supervisory bodies and law enforcement authorities. It is charged with monitoring the activities of professional body supervisors and implementing uniform and detailed levels of supervision across sectors in order to improve overall money laundering standards.

OPBAS will be responsible for issuing sector based guidance and will also possess powers to impose financial penalties against supervisors for breaches to the new money laundering regulations. At this stage it is unclear whether the new powers will be widened to have direct enforcement powers as against firms themselves.

The government issued a call for information detailing a rough timeframe, “the obligations on supervisors will be clarified, and key guidance updated and published, by June 2017, when the new regulations are implemented in line with the transposition of the Fourth Money Laundering Directive. The government will consult on the draft regulations that will underpin the Office [OPBAS] over the summer, then they will be finalised and laid before Parliament in the autumn. The government expects the Office [OPBAS] to be fully operational by the start of 2018.”

It is proposed that OPBAS will operate within the FCA’s existing governance arrangements. The focus of OPBAS is set to be on the accountancy and legal sectors which currently have 22 out of the 25 professional supervisory bodies.

AAT strongly supports the UK’s drive to combat money laundering and terrorist financing and recognises that establishing a consistent, risk based supervisory regime in the UK is paramount. We agree with the creation of an oversight function in pursuit of that aim, however we are of the opinion that the current proposal is unsustainable. This is mainly due to the lack of detail around the creation of OPBAS.

AAT responded to the call for information, “AAT’s key apprehension with the current proposal, which has previously been reported to the government, is that those not regulated by a professional body and supervised by HMRC will not fall within the scope of the oversight body. This will result in further inconsistency within the sector, thus failing to address the rationale for establishing such a function in the first place. Furthermore AAT does not believe that the proposed implementation timetable of OPBAS is workable.”

Although OPBAS is designed to reduce the amount of red-tape and confusion surrounding the practical implications of money laundering regulations, policies and procedures, there is the risk that the creation of yet another supervisory body will only add to the regulatory burden facing firms.

Farida Rahman-Wright Farida Rahman-Wright is AAT's Professional Standards Manager.

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