Reflections of 2016

Compliance monkeyAs the sun gets lower, the evenings longer and we get closer to the end of a year I cannot help but think what a year it has been and begin to reflect.  For me personally it has been a year that has been full of hard work, assistance and resolution of problems and all this led me to the beautiful Island of Bermuda to undertake a contract for a client.  Not only a fantastic opportunity to show case my skills and knowledge but a joy to work for some fantastic people and meet old and new friends as well as to experience another regulatory culture. While I would rather be pondering the last year and this post from a pool in Bermuda instead of next to a fire on a brisk cold day, Guernsey still very much holds my heart, though Bermuda is a close second.

In looking to the challenges of the future and what the next year may hold for us is it time to reflect on the past year, the regulatory framework and what is needed to ensure that our business moves forward, prospers and continues to uphold the regulatory standards and meet future challenges, and there is no better way to do this than look back over the last year.

There have unfortunately been instances where the Guernsey Financial Services Commission (GFSC) has had to take enforcement action in 2016, never an easy decision but essential in today’s world to assist in the safeguarding and continual success of our international reputation and prosperity.  I do not think it is right to dissect these cases as these are disclosed on the GFSC website but rather look at what lessons can be learnt to avoid a repeat to our businesses and to protect the Directors and Stakeholders.

Risk, Identification and Verification

Most of these incidents reported by the Commission are in respect of Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing (AML/CTF) within businesses.  That is not to say that all these incidents related to actual financial crime but rather that businesses were not meeting the standards and expectation imposed by our regulatory framework to ensure that verification documentation mitigated the risk of the Island being utilised by criminals.

The identification and verification of customers and controllers to a business relationship is a continuing matter that is reported by the GFSC.  In many cases business’s application of a “risk based approach” had failed to ensure that the due diligence and enhanced due diligence for customers and required parties to a business relationship or occasional transaction, had been obtained and met the standards required by the regulatory framework, inclusive of rules and guidance issued by the GFSC for certification and the suitability of certifiers. It must be remembered that wherever you are licensed you must meet that jurisdictions regulatory requirements as a minimum!

Monitoring and Sanctions

Periodic monitoring of customers was another area where businesses struggled.  It was found in some cases that this monitoring was not undertaken or if undertaken did not meet the regulatory requirements. It was found that risk assessments were inadequate and not reviewed as required by a business’s policy and procedures to meet the obligations of the GFSC, especially where customers had been assessed as high risk.  The review of the rationale for the business relationship and transactions undertaken was found to missing or inadequate, leading to the GFSC questioning whether appropriate and effective policies and procedures were in place inclusive of suspicious activity reporting.

The review of customers to Sanction lists was also noted as an area of concern. While this may be undertaken at the start of a relationship and periodically is it suitable just to wait for these trigger events?  Is the review of transactions subject to sanction screening to ensure that sanctioned legal persons or those entities that they control are not financed? It may be that the GFSC believe terrorist financing to be a low risk to the Bailiwick but this will do nothing to deter terrorist financiers if they find a gap in our defences.  A definite area I think the GFSC will look to assess when conducting on-site examinations and through thematic reviews in 2017, so be warned!

Corporate Governance

Corporate Governance has also come to the forefront not only in the AML/CTF area but also in more prudential assessments of a business.  In all cases enforced by the GFSC the findings go back to the corporate governance requirements of the regulatory framework with the accusation that directors failed to ensure that they acted to ensure that the business could meet the Guernsey regulatory requirements.  THE GFSC also in some cases questioned the independence and integrity of directors due to the regulatory failings identified.  Not only will this area come more to forefront with shareholder activist and the spotlight of international bodies but also from the GFSC to ensure that Directors are suitable and safeguarding Stakeholders and the business.

With the Guernsey regulatory framework changing to meet the international requirements which are evolving it is difficult for any Director to ensure that their Business remains compliant.  Businesses in this ever-changing environment are at risk of falling behind the times.  While only minor infringements of the regulatory framework may be the result, if these infringements are many, systemic and material they may require to be reported to the GFSC.  By the Board bringing these issues to the GFSC, in some cases, remediation without the threat of enforcement can be undertaken, it is after all in the GFSC interest that businesses remediate and enhance themselves to meet the regulatory framework.  It is best to be able to show and have evidence that the Board have discussed the issues affecting the business and the action to be undertaken rather than hearsay in any regulatory inquiry!

Reflections

So, reflect on this year, look at the enforcement cases to ensure that you do not fall foul of history, review your business plans and business assessments to make sure you have the policies and procedures in place to meet the regulatory framework and the requirements of the Business.  Review the Compliance function is it suitable and sufficient? Consider its independence or whether there needs to be independent oversight or outside assistance?  Does the compliance monitoring facilitate management information that is required for Directors to undertake their duties and safeguard the business and stakeholders?  Look outside of your own regulatory regime to other sectors as if something is happening in one there is a good chance that those developments will feed in to your own sector’s regulatory requirements.  Look outside to other jurisdictions as developments there may impact on the regulatory framework where you are.

If you have a last Board meeting of 2016 or even an early 2017 Board meeting set the agenda to reflect on 2016 ensuring that history does not repeat itself. If you do find that you are not in compliance, please ensure that you have the issues and remediation documented whether you consider it material or not to report to the GFSC.

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Instruction 01/2016

Compliance monkeyThe Commission have released their latest Business from Sensitive Sources Instruction, no 01/2016 (“the Instruction”) for Financial Services Businesses and Prescribed Businesses replacing the previous instruction 04/2015 that was issued back in November 2015.  The upshot is that Myanmar, Loa PDR and Vanuatu are now included in Part B of the Instruction which lists countries and territories with improving Global AML/CTF Compliance, while Algeria, Angola and Panama have been removed altogether from the Instruction. For Financial Services Businesses and Prescribed Businesses, it would appear to be that they can now apply a risked based approach to relationships or transaction through or from Myanmar, Loa PDR and Vanuatu, and as much is said in the Commission’s statement on their Instruction, but is that really the case?

A quick look at Chapter 3 of the Handbook and rule 58 sets out the Commissions requirement for designating high risk Business Relationships or Occasional Transactions.  These characteristics are those identified in section 1 (a) to (c) of Regulation 5 of the Criminal Justice (Proceeds of Crime) (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Regulations, 2007, as amended (“the Regulations”) and also those connected with Parts A or Part C of the Business from Sensitive Sources issued by the Commission. At first glance it would therefore appear that Business Relationships or Occasional Transactions with Myanmar, Loa PDR and Vanuatu do not necessarily need to be high risk as they are on Part B of the instruction.

What is important to realise is that section 5 (1) (c) (i) of the Regulation states that customers established in or situated in a country or territory that does not apply or insufficiently applies the Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) recommendations on Money Laundering must be designated as high risk.  As part B of the Instruction relates to countries or territories who are improving but not meeting the FATF requirements on Money Laundering it would indicate to me that Myanmar, Loa PDR and Vanuatu, still require to designated as high risk in order that a Financial Service Business or a Prescribe Business can meet their obligations under the RegulationTO13-3s.

If this is not confusing enough for any Director, Compliance/ Risk Officer or Money Laundering Reporting Officer, please also be aware of your banking arrangements and relationships.  Though this Instruction on the face of things allows you to apply a risk based approach which may or may not be in line with the requirements of the Regulations, your Bankers may not deem these jurisdictions to be anything other than high risk.  You may have decided as a business to apply a risk based approach but if this is not in line with your Bankers you may find yourself in bother.

The only advice I can give is make sure that your risk designation of a client meets the requirements of the regulations and that of your Bankers.

The Sum of All the Parts

Compliance monkeyThe Guernsey Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Terrorist Financing (“AML/CTF”) framework has continually developed to take in to account good practice, external pressures, requests and recommendations of onshore governments, quangos and international organisations  to ensure that financial crime in all its guises is effectively tackled. The Commission have sought to and I would say that they have largely achieved a cohesive framework that effectively mitigates against the use by criminals of Guernsey as an international finance centre while not over burdening the Financial Service Business operating here.

This cohesive framework has been achieved over the course of the years by open dialogue with local industry bodies, licensees and working effectively and productively with those outside of Guernsey to achieve a proportionate approach for  the products and services that are provided to clients wishing to utilise the jurisdiction. Most notably in 2013 the AML/CTF framework in Guernsey changed extensively and this resulted in general insurance products being removed, but did it remove all the products and services that can classified as General Insurance?

With regard to the Insurance sector in Guernsey, a legal entity can be licensed for general business or for long-term business. Long term business is defined in the Insurance Business (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2002 as contracts on human life, human longevity, marriage and birth, linked long-term, permanent health, capital redemption, pension fund management and credit life assurance. Due to the nature and the requirements of some clients, an insurance licensee with a general business categorisation may want to offer some of these products to their clients to supplement the range of products and services they currently or can offer their clients, but without the need to be licensed for long-term business.  Section 2(4) of the Insurance Business (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2002 does allow for an Insurance licensee to elect that a contract for a term of not more than 18 months that may be regarded as a long-term business contract and can be deemed to be general business.

This would appear to allow a general insurer to fit such products into their licence requirements e.g. general insurance, without the requirements to adhere to the Guernsey AML/CTF framework as per the changes that were made to the Commission’s AML/CTF Handbook (” Commission’s Handbook”), in 2013.  It should be noted that the treatment of these products, though allowed to be done in certain circumstances by an Insurance licensee does not change the definition of those products in the Insurance Business (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2002.

In the Criminal Justice (Proceeds of Crime) (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Regulations, 2007 at schedule 1 it states that a Financial Services Businesses for the purposes of the Regulations are detailed in part 1 of the schedule, except where they are incidental or are other activities as listed at Part 2 of the Schedule. Part 1 of the schedule includes the carrying on of “Long Term Business as defined by the Insurance Business (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2002 as being a Financial Services Business for the purposes of the Regulation and the Commission’s Handbook, it does not include any change in the treatment of an Insurance product by an Insurance Licensee. The Commission’s Handbook at section 4.8 specifically deals with the treatment of life or other investment linked insurance policies and as such these appear to directly fall in to the Guernsey AML/CTF regime. Effectively this is saying that if a product falls under the long-term definition stated in the Insurance Business (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2002 though a Licensee it may regard it as being General business they remain subject to the AML/CTF Regulations. Thus a licensee must adhere to the requirements of the Commission’s Handbook and AML/CTF framework when dealing with such products.

The sum of all these parts would indicate that an Insurance licensee effecting or carrying out life or other long-term products regardless of how a Licensee may be able to classify these products as general business under the Insurance Business (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2002, they would still fall under the AML/CTF regulations and Commission’s Handbook by way of the requirements of the Criminal Justice (Proceeds of Crime) (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Regulations, 2007 held at schedule 1. An Insurance Licensee regardless of how it treats such products under its licence would be required to have in place an effective AML/CTF framework.  A licensee must be able to evidence the suitability of its AML/CTF framework and compliance with the AML/CTF requirements pertaining to its business to the Commission.

An Insurance licensee must ensure that at all times they meet the requirements for the minimum criteria for licensing, schedule 4 of the Insurance Business (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2002. This includes a requirement to meet and adhere to any rules, codes, guidance, principles and instructions issued from time to time under any other enactment as may be applicable to the business, and this would also be inclusive of the Guernsey AML/CTF framework.

Missing the Elephant in the room.

These last few weeks I have been thinking back to myCompliance monkey time in Law Enforcement. Those of you who can remember back that far probably have an image of a young surfer dude who turned up in the most scruffiest uniform, collar half in half out, requiring either a haircut or beard trim, usually both and never mind the lack of tie!

Those who worked with me will probably remember a person who worked manically yet methodically, questioning everything, discussing and testing theories before providing a list of potential targets for Officers to stop and check out. I am very proud to have been one of the highest seizing drugs Officers during my time, but all this could not have been done without the above, the support of my senior officers (and at times I pushed them to the limits) and the Law Enforcement Officers and teams I worked with, who looked at the whole.

In recent weeks there has been a lot of international interest in the offshore world regarding tax avoidance and tax evasion as well as financial crime, which has included revelations of HSBC in Switzerland. This post is not about HSBC, what is or isn’t tax evasion or even the ethics behind tax avoidance or financial crime, but I hope to try to provide some advice where the due diligence process fails. I have previously written about how due diligence is only part of the solution. As a past Customs and Immigration Officer and now as a compliance manager and consultant these documents are essential in identifying and verifying the target/ client but this is by no means the be all or end all.

It is all about the analysis of information in front of us, checking these details and asking the questions not our pre-conceived ideas or prejudices. Do we ask the question of why our clients invest offshore or set up dynastic structures or entrepreneurial structures offshore, do we understand and test and document, this rationale and reason and do the transactions make sense and fit the profile?

As a Law Enforcement Officer I would start by building a picture of travellers, and ask myself if the analysis I had in front of me made sense. Were there any comparisons to known smuggling and people trafficking profiles? Then I would seek out the experience of my peers, asking questions and gaining in-sights, understanding and clarifying what I had in front of me. This is no different from a Financial Services Business, where you are obtaining identification details, verifying these with documentation, researching through the various open-source intelligence databases for known facts, asking questions regarding the rationale. Seeking supporting evidence e.g. tax/ legal rationale and advice for the creation of a structure, its suitability and comparing the client and business relationship to known criminal profiles.

Having assisted licensees when they have been subjected to on-site visits by the Commission the main observation is, to a greater or lesser extent, that the requirements of the Regulations and the Handbook have been met. Some licensees have gone for just meeting the required standards others are far in excess of what is required by the regulations, but all generally pass with only the criticism of lack of former names or certification not meeting the expectations of the Commission. The real bug bear for the Commission is the lack of or insufficient periodic review. Yes we screen for sanctions, yes we check the appropriateness of our due diligence and we risk assess to what we see in our verification documents and from our refreshed our database checks but is this enough? Well unfortunately no it’s not and we are missing the Elephant in the room.

We spend alot of time getting the tax/ legal advice, the rationale of the relationship and the expected transactions at the start of the on-boarding process but we seldom question these areas again in the course of the business relationship. Tax advice is valid when it is given and after that it is outdated and what was legal tax mitigation can become tax evasion, transactions vary due to life circumstances including financial crime, entrepreneurial relationships change due to economic reasons and taking advantage of situations, some which can be financial crime. The information is in front of our eyes yet we fail to look at it, react to it, analysis it and document these changes or question the rationale.

Being miles above and beyond regulation may serve little purpose apart from to annoy clients and make the offshore world difficult to invest in and access for those with legitimate reasons and rationales. You may think it looks good to a Regulator to be gold platted but that is not the case as they are only looking at compliance with the regulatory requirements. The information to detect financial crime in all its guises is in front of us, the transactions, the file notes of meetings and the tax advice or legal advice. All this allows us to analyse the client to ensure that what we have fits in to our knowledge and understanding of the them and that what we have is legal and remains legal. This though is the Elephant in the room we seldom look at and where Regulators will not look kindly on when they find it lacking, regardless of how high above the required due diligence standards you are!

In all these Financial crime and Tax evasion cases if the advice had been looked at, the transactions and rationale been reviewed in detail would things have been different? It is not OK to say things were different back in the day, it does not absolve you or anyone from financial crime or being complicit in it.

If the only thing you take from this is to look at the whole picture, analyse all the information and rationale of a client, ask any questions you can’t fathom out, and obtain answers and document your full review, this post will have been worth it.