OPBAS: A supervisor of supervisors?

17 March 2017

The Government has announced its plans to launch a new anti-money laundering watchdog, the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS) that will sit within the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and be fully operational by the start of 2018.

This is part of the Government’s strategy to introduce new, stricter money laundering regulations and to step up the fight against economic crime. According to Simon Kirby, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, this will send “a strong message that money laundering and terrorist financing should not and will not be tolerated”. OPBAS will be funded by a new fee on professional body supervisors.

The Government has proposed that the OPBAS will have powers, amongst others, to:

  • Monitor the activities of professional body supervisors and work with them to ensure they meet their obligations. This is amidst concerns that the approach taken to supervision by those in sectors with multiple supervisors has been inconsistent. OPBAS will focus its work on the accountancy and legal services sectors, where there are 23 active supervisors of which 22 are professional bodies . 
  • Work with a reformed Money Laundering Advisory Committee (MLAC) to approve one set of anti-money laundering guidance for each sector. This is aimed at simplifying the anti-money laundering rules that apply to different industries, as well as closing any gaps and addressing any inconsistencies that have been created by the large number of guidelines available and that may have made it easier for loopholes to be exploited.  
  • Impose financial penalties on supervisors if the new money laundering regulations are breached.

The watchdog is likely to act as a ‘supervisor’ of supervisors. The Government is seeking further views on the mandate and powers for OPBAS with a deadline of 26 April for the consultation (see here for the call for further information).

This comes amongst a hive of activity as part of the review of the UK’s anti money laundering regime. The FCA has recently launched its consultation on new guidance for how financial services firms should treat customers who are politically exposed persons (PEPs) when meeting their anti-money laundering obligations with a deadline of 18 April (see here). This follows the announcement of the Government’s consultation on the draft money laundering regulations and response to previous consultation on transposing the Fourth Money Laundering Directive and Fund Transfer Regulation, closing on 12 April (see here). At the same time, the Government has published its Cutting red tape review of the UK’s Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terroism regime. 

Whilst consistency and clarity will be well received in a regime with multiple supervisory bodies, complex guidelines and the potential for exploitation, this needs to be balanced against the introduction of even more red tape on businesses already subject to a strict regulatory system. The Treasury is looking to accomplish just that and has highlighted that OPBAS will make the system better for legitimate businesses whilst posing the least possible burden upon them. Should this be achieved, this will be a welcome development.

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