By Dan Byrne for AMLi
BELGIAN BANKS have joined forces to push for a centralised platform for information-sharing to combat financial crime.
The calls are coming directly from the CEOs of ING Belgium, KBC, Belfius and BNP Paribas Fortis – the four biggest banks in the country by market share, assets and branches.
A central channel was vital to allow banks the opportunity to share information with each other, and with court officials, police and government financial watchdogs, the four chief executives told a parliamentary finance committee hearing.
“We are asking to engage as a real partner in the fight against money laundering,” said Belfius CEO Marc Raisière, who criticised the current system for relegating banks to the role of “a reporter of suspicious transactions to the anti-money laundering unit.”
The move would closely resemble actions by major Dutch banks earlier this year – who have established an inter-bank “battle group” for transaction monitoring.
The purpose of the Dutch model, according to one commentator, was to “identify unusual patterns in payments traffic that individual banks cannot identify.”
Meanwhile Karel Baert, CEO of the Belgian banking sector federation Febelfin, compared the proposed platform to already established analogues like the UK’s Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce (JMLIT) – set up in 2015.
“Belgium lacks an overarching platform to communicate information in a secure environment,” he told the hearing. “This requires a change in the law to determine which information we can share,” he said, drawing comparisons with analogues in other countries such as
While advising against a pure JMLIT carbon copy, Baert praised it as a good source of inspiration for any future model to be set up in Belgium.
Among the more specific request made to the Belgian Parliament about finance information; banking authorities want full and concise lists on politically exposed persons (individuals deemed at risk of fraud connections due to their job, background or network of contacts).
They also want to see full details of beneficial owners, which banks had said is becoming increasingly difficult to determine through independent sources, Belgian news service De Tijd reports.
The Parliamentary hearings themselves were part of Belgium’s response to the FinCEN files revelations in September.
Massive amounts of leaked suspicious activity reports (SARs) made by banks to authorities, showed that both sectors knew of billions in potentially criminal transactions, but did little to halt them.
Since the leak, Belgian officials have been trying to trace where things went wrong for its four main banks – all of which featured somewhere in the files.
Out of over 2,000 SARs, 365 mention at least one of the banks in some way.
This data corresponds to international transactions from Belgium to nations across the world, with values ranging from the low hundreds to multi-millions.
The hearings had a two-pronged approach – the first stage focusing on testimonies from those Belgian journalists involved in the FinCEN investigation, and the second focusing on the banks themselves.
Belgian lawmakers will now consider the testimonies of both the journalist and banking officials before deciding on next steps.
The right information, at the right time, to the right people
The calls for centralised information sharing represent a common argument amongst European banks in the wake of FinCEN: they could have done more if they knew more.
While the media have heaped focus on large dirty money transfers that European banks facilitated – and while authorities have largely blamed their lack of action on capacity issues – the banks have repeatedly said that more feedback is essential to improve in future.
In October, Swedbank CEO Jens Henriksson told a European Commission hearing that “the only way to come to terms with the problem is through dialogue between banks and regulators.”
Meanwhile, research fellow at King’s College London Centre for Defence Studies Dr Martin Navias recently stressed that good information from authorities was vital for banks to accurately combat terrorism financing.
“We need intelligence from state authorities to help us identify issues,” he told a compliance conference last week, defending banks’ performances in the wake of scandals like FinCEN.
It comes as part of an emerging back-and-forth between banks and authorities on where responsibility in each sector starts and ends.
Banks have called for more information exchange, but experts such as Danske CCO Phillippe Vollot have asked that they ‘pick up the phone’ themselves to get it.
Meanwhile, banks continue – and are encouraged to – file reports on any suspicious transactions they see, but authorities push back against any over-reporting as a way for banks to ‘wash their hands’ of dirty money.
“You can’t flood us with information,” Swedish financial regulator spokesperson Christian Lynne Wandt told a Nordics FinCrime symposium last week.
“We need the right information to reach the right person at the right time, but I appreciate that it’s a very hard thing to do.”
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