Jesper Berg, 24 May 2021
Good luck finding a major bank in Europe that hasn’t breached money laundering regulations.
In Denmark, the two largest banks, Danske Bank and Nordea, are both currently subject to criminal investigations. BNP Paribas received the highest-ever fine in 2014, when it settled with U.S. authorities and had to pay $9 billion for sanctions violations. Many others — from HSBC and Standard Chartered in the U.K. to Deutsche Bank and UBS and Credit Suisse — have had to answer for offenses.
These cases show that living up to money laundering regulations is difficult, but not doing so is one of the biggest risks to a bank’s reputation. Banks and authorities share the same goal — to stop the bad guys — but both are struggling to find a way forward. While the European Union has proposed establishing a dedicated authority on the crime, company expenses to combat laundering are ballooning.
Research we conducted at the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority suggests a less expensive solution: Improve the technology for monitoring and reporting suspicious bank activity. Doing so could significantly cut down on money laundering, though it would also raise questions about privacy that would need to be addressed.
Banks are generally required to do three things to combat laundering: Know their customers and their expected patterns of transactions; monitor transactions and examine those that seem atypical; and report suspect behavior to the government.