Regulatory review of 30 Swiss banks uncovers inadequate money laundering risk analysis

Switzerland's financial markets authority claimed a recent review of over 30 banks found that "a large number" fail to meet basic requirements for money laundering risk analysis.

Aug 24, 2023 - 19:17
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Regulatory review of 30 Swiss banks uncovers inadequate money laundering risk analysis

Switzerland's financial markets authority said Thursday that an in-depth review of more than 30 banks conducted this spring found that "a large number" failed to meet basic requirements for analyzing the risk of money laundering.

The authority, known as FINMA, said the review was prompted by repeated signs of shortcomings in money-laundering risk analysis during its regular visits to financial institutions.

The poor assessment of the banks — which were not identified by name — is significant because Switzerland ranks No. 1 worldwide in wealth management. Consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, in its Global Wealth Report 2023 released in late June, projected that Hong Kong is poised to eclipse Switzerland as a booking center for wealth by 2025.

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Switzerland has long had a reputation for banking secrecy, though some money-laundering experts say it has at least partially cleaned up its act in recent years — such as by exchanging more information to help combat tax evasion by depositors.

"FINMA reviewed risk analyses of over 30 banks in spring 2023," the report said. "In doing so, it was found that a large number of the risk analyses examined did not meet the basic requirements for such an analysis."

The authority cited "some cases" in which banks failed to provide an adequate definition of risk tolerance for money laundering, which would involve setting limits to lower risks.

In essence, the authority suggested many of the banks should do more to fight money laundering, and it provided guidelines — even with a suggested table of categories — for banks to follow.

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For example, it said the reviewed banks often did not set necessary exclusions for some countries, client segments, and services or products, such as for "politically exposed persons" — individuals with a prominent function or role — in some countries. Nor did most of the banks establish proper ways of allowing for exceptions, the authority said.

The review "regularly" found that banks had not broken down risks "individually or comprehensively" or that some types of risks relevant to the banks went uncovered. Some banks did not compile key figures on risk exposure to money laundering among their clients.

Authorities in Switzerland and beyond have unearthed a string of money laundering cases involving Swiss financial institutions in recent years.

In June last year, a Swiss court fined Credit Suisse over $2 million for failing to prevent money laundering linked to a Bulgarian criminal organization more than a decade ago. An array of troubles at Credit Suisse, long Switzerland's No. 2 bank, threatened to shake global financial markets earlier this year and led to its takeover by rival UBS two months ago.

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