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Why Anti-Money Laundering Should Be a Top Priority for Financial Institutions

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anti-money laundering
anti-money laundering

Why AML Should be a Top Priority for Financial Institutions

The to-do list for any financial executive is surely daunting. From navigating technology changes to managing talent effectively, there’s many initiatives competing for attention.

One issue that’s been in the headlines for many years is anti-money laundering (AML). When criminals are able to successfully hide the illicit origins of their cash, both the financial institution and society suffer. So, what makes AML more important now than it has been in the past?

Rising up the Priority Ladder

Today’s infographic from McKinsey & Company explains the factors which have brought anti-money laundering urgently to the forefront in recent years.

1. Regulatory Action

Enforcement actions related to AML have been on the rise. Since 2009, regulators have levied approximately $32 billion in AML-related fines globally.

2. Threat Evolution
Criminals are using more sophisticated means to remain undetected, including globally-coordinated technology, insider information, and e-commerce schemes.

3. Reputational Risk

AML incidents put a financial institution’s reputation on the line. There’s a lot at stake: today, the average value of each of the top 10 bank brands is $45B.

4. Rising Costs

Most AML activities require significant manual effort, making them inefficient and difficult to scale. In 2018, it cost U.S. financial services firms about $25.3B to manage money laundering risk.

5. Poor Customer Experience

Compliance staff must have multiple touch points with a customer to gather and verify information. Perhaps not surprisingly, one in three financial institutions have lost potential customers due to inefficient or slow onboarding processes.

It’s no wonder anti-money laundering has now become a top priority for many CEOs in the financial industry.

A Wave of Innovation

In the last five years, there has been an explosion of “RegTech” startups—companies that address regulatory requirements using technology.

Global RegTech Investments, 2014-2018

YearAmount Invested (USD)
2014$923M
2015$1,110M
2016$1,150M
2017$1,868M
2018$4,485M

Over 60% of these are focused on solving Know Your Customer (KYC) and AML issues. What does this technology look like in practice?

Customer onboarding

A hypothetical U.S. retail firm, ABC Electronics, applies online to open an account at AML Innovators Bank. Their information is verified and screened using a fully automated process.

If they are determined to be a lower-risk client, they will be fast-tracked through the approval process with decisioning in six hours or less. For high-risk clients, decisioning occurs within about 72 hours.

Transaction Monitoring

ABC Electronics requests to send multiple international wire payments to various beneficiaries. Each transaction is automatically screened based on various factors:

  • A same name or subsidiary transfer carries the lowest risk
  • Transfers to a known, similar industry in a high-risk jurisdiction carry medium risk
  • Transfers to an unknown industry in a high-risk jurisdiction carry high risk

These transaction scores, combined with algorithms that track a client’s expected vs. actual transaction behavior, will update ABC Electronics’ risk rating in real time.

Management oversight

As risk updates occur, ABC Electronics’ rating is integrated into AML Innovator Bank’s overall portfolio risk.

Senior risk management teams will be able to view a heat map that highlights the highest risk areas of the business.

Structural Change, Big Gains

Just as financial crimes continue to evolve, so do AML schemes.

How can organizations stay ahead of the game? They can focus on actively managing risk, deliberately investing in technology and analytics, and prioritizing areas where RegTechs will have the highest near-term impact.

By investing in AML, financial institutions create competitive advantages:

  • Improved efficiency
  • Superior customer experience
  • Scalability
  • Readiness to adapt to new regulations
  • Reduced reputational risk
  • Ability to attract top talent

With such benefits on the table, one thing is clear: Anti-money laundering efforts are more important now than they have ever been.

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Markets

5 Big Picture Trends Being Accelerated by the Pandemic

In some cases, COVID-19 has sped up societal and economic trends that were already in motion. Here we examine five examples.

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As every email introduction has reminded us in 2020, we’re living in “unprecedented times”.

No doubt, even after a viable vaccine is released to the general public and things begin to return to some semblance of normalcy, there will be long lasting effects on society and the economy. It’s been said that COVID-19 has hit fast forward on a number of trends, from e-commerce to workplace culture.

Today, we’ll highlight five of these accelerating trends.

The following article uses charts and data from our new book Signals (hardcover, ebook) which covers the 27 macro trends transforming the global economy and markets. In some cases, where appropriate, we’ve added in the most recent projections and data.

#1: Screen Life Takes Hold

Smartphones have drastically altered many parts our lives – including how we spend time. In the decade from 2008 to 2018, screen time on mobile devices increased 12x.

increasing screen time

Fast forward to today, and screen time is up across the board, with some of the most dramatic increases seen among kids and teenagers. 44% of people under the age of 18 now report four hours or more of screen time per day – up from 21% prior to the pandemic.

Gaming is another digital segment that has benefited from the pandemic. Video game revenue spiked in the springtime, and sales have remained strong going further into 2020. Companies are hoping that casual gamers won over during lockdown will continue playing once the pandemic has come to an end.

gaming sales growth

Acceleration signal: International bandwidth and internet traffic was already increasing steadily, but COVID-19 stay-at-home activity has blown away previous numbers.

international internet traffic growth

Even as more workplaces and schools begin to operate normally again, it’s doubtful that screen time will drop back down to pre-COVID levels.

#2: The Big Consumer Shake-Up

The consumer economy has been innovating on two fronts: making physical buying as “frictionless” as possible, and making e-commerce as nimble as possible. COVID-19 broke old habits and sped up that evolution.

Innovations in real world shopping appear to be moving in the direction of cashierless checkouts, but in order for that model to work, people first need to embrace contactless payment methods such as mobile wallets and cards with tap payment.

So far, the pandemic has been an accelerant in moving people away from cash and pin-and-swipe credit cards in lagging markets. Once people get used to the convenience of contactless payments, it’s likely they’ll continue using those methods.

cashierless retail

Of course, no conversation about e-commerce is complete without talking about Amazon. The company has seen consistent growth in subscription revenue in recent years, and the company’s actions have a wide-reaching effect on the rest of the industry.

amazon revenue and speed

Much like the gaming industry, e-commerce companies like Amazon are hoping that people who dabbled with online ordering during the pandemic months, will convert into lifelong customers.

Acceleration signal: E-commerce penetration projections have shifted upward.

ecommerce forecast

In hindsight, 2020 could be an inflection point where e-commerce gained a much bigger slice of the overall retail pie.

#3: Peak Globalization

Globalization went on a tear starting from the mid-1980s until it hit a plateau during the financial crisis. Since that point, global trade as a percentage of GDP has flat-lined in the face of trade wars, and now COVID-19.

globalization plateau chart

Trade was obviously impacted by the pandemic, and it’s too early to say what the long-term effects will be. One thing that is clear is that the information component of globalization is becoming an even more important piece of the world’s economic puzzle.

globalization pillars

Even before COVID-19 took hold, the global services trade was growing 60% faster than the goods trade, and was valued at approximately $13.4 trillion in 2019.

Acceleration signal: The dip in merchandise trade looks eerily similar to the one that took place in 2008.

merchandise trade

#4: The Wealth Chasm

On the high end of the wealth spectrum, billionaires are worth more than ever.

billionaires compared with countries

Meanwhile, in the broader economy, inequality has grown over the last few decades. Those in the top 50% wealth bracket have seen increasing gains, while the bottom 50% have seen stagnation.

This issue is sure to be compounded by economic turmoil brought on by COVID-19. Younger generations face the dual challenges of being more likely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, while also being the least likely to have savings to cover an interruption in income.

In fact, nearly half of people in the 18–24 year old age group have nothing saved at all.

financial impact of covid-19

The longer the economy is affected by COVID-19 measures, the more of a wedge will be driven between people who have continued working and those who are employed in impacted industries (e.g. tourism, events).

Acceleration signal: Growth in the net worth of billionaires has been largely unaffected by COVID-19.

billionaire wealth

#5: The Flexible Workplace

As of 2019, over half of companies that didn’t have a flexible or remote workplace policy cited “longstanding company policy” as the reason. In other words, that is just the way things have always worked.

Of course, the pandemic has forced many companies to rethink these policies.

remote work preferences

This grand experiment in remote work and distributed teams will have an impact on office life as we know it, potentially reshaping the entire “office economy”. The impact is already being felt, with global commercial property investment volume falling by 48% in Q3 2020.

Acceleration signal: Thousands of people are moving out of pricy urban areas, presumably because they are able to work remotely from a cheaper location.

migration from urban areas

If you like this post, find hundreds of charts
like this in our new book “Signals”:


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Business

How Holiday Spending Compares Around the World

This graphic illustrates some of the largest and most anticipated retail holidays by region and explores their origins.

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How Holiday Spending Compares Around the World

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

While COVID-19 has triggered a tsunami of challenges for retailers the world over, they can take solace in knowing that retail events throughout the year can contribute to an uptick in sales.

But consumer spending for events like Back to School, Halloween, or Easter pales in comparison to what people spend between Thanksgiving and New Years—otherwise known as “the holidays”.

The graphic above explores holiday spending across the world, as well as some of the major events that contribute to it, based on MoEngage and AppFollow’s Holiday Marketing Guide.

Retail Events by Region

While Christmas is celebrated in some form across most parts of the world, U.S. consumers spend more than any other nation, with retailers raking in an estimated $1 trillion in sales in 2019.

As another major retail holiday, Black Friday originated in the U.S. but has since become a global phenomenon. In 2019, sales for the one day event reached a staggering $7.4 billion in the U.S. alone, but it was surpassed by Cyber Monday, which garnered a total of $9.4 billion in sales.

Over in India, holiday season spending in 2019 reached a total of $46 billion due to a number of events such as Amazon’s Great Indian Festival. Orders were placed during the event from over 99% of India’s postal codes, and on the busiest day, more than 600 flights delivered Amazon orders to customers.

In other parts of Asia, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day is quickly becoming a highly anticipated event attracting attention from consumers in other parts of the world. But while it recorded $38 billion in revenue in 2019, it was meager in comparison to Chinese New Year sales during the same year, which topped $149 billion—although it does not take place during the holiday months covered in this graphic.

2020 Trends Impacting Retailers

Despite many retailers banking on the success of these holiday events, they are up against some critical challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic Uncertainty

According to the report, consumers have become more cautious about their spending, due to economic uncertainty of their finances. In fact, personal savings rates in the U.S. reached a historic 33% in May of this year.

More Value-Conscious Buyers

It’s no surprise that consumers’ concerns about the economy and their job prospects are affecting how they spend their hard-earned cash. They are spending less on items that may be considered a luxury, and investing more on things that can add value to their lives day-to-day, like media and entertainment.

Reluctance to Shop In-Store

Tightening lockdown restrictions and social distancing have raised some questions around how much of a role brick and mortar stores will play this year for consumers. Interestingly, a study shows that 36% of shoppers now prefer shopping online, up from 28% before the pandemic.

Supply Chain Issues

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on retail supply chains, resulting in a number of issues arising such as labor shortages and transport restrictions. This has put many retailers under tremendous pressure to reimagine how they can best serve their customers.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Holiday shopping in 2020 will be anything but typical. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are having to adjust to changing consumer behaviors to ensure they make it through to 2021 intact.

With tightening restrictions across the world, brick and mortar stores are becoming less of an option for millions of people, challenging retailers to focus efforts on their online experience.

Forrester predicts that total retail sales in North America will decline in 2020 overall, while online sales will increase by 18.5%—growth not seen since 2008.

Whether the reimagined supply chains of 2020 can keep up with more online demand is another question.

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