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Face to face

What does this mean for MLR

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The ATT asks me every year what percentage of my clients have I never met face to face. 

In the past I've considered "face to face" means "in person". But maybe it doesn't. An increasing number of them have been "met" over a Teams or Zoom call. I've been able to verify that their photograph from their passport/driving licence matches the person I saw online.

I've emailed the ATT about this, and said my percentage answer might be 0 if they agree that those online methods are "face to face". However, I'm not hopeful of getting an answer very fast, so I had to file my registration application today, to ensure I met the deadline.

How would you interpret this question?

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By Hugo Fair
21st May 2022 19:10

Interesting question ... to which I can't guess the ATT's answer.

My opinion is that "face to face" still means in-person (not virtually), as per all the dictionary definitions that I can find (which however all pre-date Covid).
That's no doubt partly because I don't fully trust the 'truthfulness' of the technology - witness the number of people on these calls who appear to be in downtown New York when you know for a fact that they haven't left the UK ... and I'm sure there's software to make the person realistically look like someone else.

BTW I presume when you say that you "verify that their photograph from their passport/driving licence matches the person I saw online" ... the comparison is with a physical passport/driving licence (or a 'true copy' thereof) in your hand - not just the client holding it up to the camera during the Teams/Zoom call?

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By DKB-Sheffield
21st May 2022 19:29

FWIW I don't rely on physical verification of a passport (etc.) alone - whether in person, on Zoom etc. I'm not comfortable with being able to spot a good 'forgery'. All my verifications are run through an ID verification service (I believe ATT has a list of approved providers). That way I have - not only a copy of the ID - but a report to say it has been verified! It costs a bit, and still may be wrong, but I have peace of mind knowing an approved checking service also got it wrong!

Appreciate that doesn't answer the question. Certainly needs referring to ATT for the specific answer. They did relax the requurement for face-to-face meetings during COVID... but, they clearly haven't updated the annual return to define whether their relaxation on allowing e-conferencing is also deemed a relaxation of the question on the form! Sense would suggest it does, however, if it doesn't, stating 0% is clearly an incorrect answer to the *actual* question being asked (per Hugo's definition)!

Good spot Moonbeam! I wonder how many others have actually asked ATT what they mean by 'face-to-face' in the COVID (and post-COVID) era?!

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By Moonbeam
21st May 2022 21:17

I also told ATT that I use a 3rd party company to verify ID, in particular matching the address, DOB they've given me and their passport/driving licence. I didn't mention that in this post because that wasn't the point of the post.
The problem with the ATT is that I don't think they have enough staff to even answer the most basic questions.

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Replying to Moonbeam:
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By Hugo Fair
23rd May 2022 10:56

See very helpful post/link from Lisa Thomas below.

Seems like ATT already had fairly comprehensive guidance on this issue ... and it's good news for you.

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By Moonbeam
23rd May 2022 11:07

It's a pity the ATT didn't provide comprehensive guidance on what they mean by face to face when completing their MLR registration document in that case.

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By D V Fields
21st May 2022 23:47

Probably a good example where the “rule makers” are “out of touch” or “not thorough” enough.

“Face to face” would in my view typically mean “in person” but with technology and other advances I would concede that view might be challenged. Therefore if I were setting the rules and wanted “face to face” to mean a physical presence and not some alternative then I would use terminology less ambiguous like “in person” or “physical presence” to hopefully clarify.

If I had set the rules of “face to face” and someone argued a “face to face Zoom (or similar) meeting” I would be updating my guidance accordingly.

Others may think differently.

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By Mr_awol
23rd May 2022 12:18

I'm not sure its that ambiguous whether Zoom counts as Face to Face TBH.

Face to Face meetings are in person and Zoom calls are virtual meetings. That much is pretty simple.

The OPs question appears to have been whether Zoom was 'as good as' and whilst I'd be tempted to say it pretty much is, that doesn't make the answer to the AML form any different (although it does make the question a little outdated perhaps).

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Replying to D V Fields:
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By gillybean04
24th May 2022 14:16

I don't see face to face as ambiguous as I do in person or physical presence.

How close would one have to be, to satisfy in person or physical presence? Can someone have a physical presence somewhere without personally being present at any specific moment in time?

A zoom call is, for me at least, face to screen and never face to face. Face to face, for me at least, means not just in the same room/location, but of close proximity and with interaction.

It's not even their face you are seeing on zoom, but a digital representation of their face. Which will be compiled by their hardware/software and sent to your computer to be interpreted by its hardware/software.

In normal circumstances, computers might just alter shades of colour or other small details. But there are settings and programs that allow more significant changes and can even create videos overlays so it looks (and sounds) like someone else is saying them.

https://youtu.be/AmUC4m6w1wo

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By bendybod
24th May 2022 11:16

I've done what you've done with new clients who were unable to come in to the office due to national restrictions or location.

I ask them to forward their documentation to me by post or email and then compare that to the person on the other end of a zoom meeting.

Personally, I have not included these as face to face but the number is a relatively small proportion of my current client base. As you say, the proportion may well increase as there are some clients who have moved towards zoom meetings for convenience - it takes less time out of their day to have a 20 minute chat at their desk rather than an hour or two to drive here for that 20 minute chat.

There are still situations where I would recommend them coming in to talk numbers across the table but that's on a client by client basis.

I do try, where I haven't met a client, to arrange to meet them if I happen to be somewhere close to where they're based for some reason.

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By Rgab1947
24th May 2022 11:35

Tough during Covid to meet face to face (Unless a member of a certain address then provided there is booze its OK).

With the ability to have clients all over the world (Many Indian based accountants do work for European based companies) think face to face is past its sell by date.

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By Software Seeker
24th May 2022 11:39

I had an AML review recently (ironically, over Zoom, rather than physically face-to-face). I asked the question about whether Zoom calls can be treated as face-to-face for AML purposes. The reviewer said yes they are - but always on a risk-assessed basis. So, for instance, the lower the initial risk, the more acceptable a Zoom meeting is for ID purposes. My firm's ID procedures (per my policies and procedures document) are always either a physical meeting, or a Zoom meeting (if physical is not possible) where the client will hold up their passport, etc. alongside their face and I will take a photograph. I always perform electronic ID checks. This procedure was acceptable to the reviewer, and appears to fit with what the guidance says (link provided earlier in this query by Lisa).

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Replying to Software Seeker:
By Moonbeam
24th May 2022 12:04

Not all the people I "meet" over Zoom turn out to be clients, so it would be odd for me to ask them to hold up a passport alongside their face.
I think I'll have to continue saying mine are not face to face meetings for the purposes of MLR.

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Replying to Moonbeam:
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By Software Seeker
24th May 2022 12:41

This is done at the client onboarding stage, which is when I carry out the AML procedures. Yes, it would be strange to ask to hold up the passport, etc. at the initial meeting.

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Replying to Software Seeker:
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By Mr_awol
24th May 2022 12:32

AML review by whom, and how are you defining 'can classed as face to face'.

I would argue that they clearly aren't, and since the OP is referring to ATT (whose own guidance refers to Zoom where face to face isn't possible - i.e. implying that Zoom is most definitely NOT face to face) i would say it could be misleading to throw around comments like 'Zoom can be classes as face to face'.

On the flip side, if your AML review simply confirmed that the Zoom call is 'as good as' F2F for the purposes of identifying your client, then I'd agree. I just dont think that is/was the question here.

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Replying to Mr_awol:
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By Software Seeker
24th May 2022 12:50

ATT. Face-to-face for AML purposes defined as physical and/or Zoom. Yes, Zoom is not face to face, however it is acceptable as a means of establishing client ID. Yes, the AML review confirmed that a Zoom call is as good as F2F for ID purposes. And, yes, that wasn't the question asked; just thought it might be helpful to know for a fellow tax adviser as it is related.

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