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New AML supervisory group brings fee concerns

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7th Aug 2017
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Professional bodies have welcomed the Treasury’s new Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS) group, but reservations over fees and powers still remain.

Responding to the government’s March consultation reviewing the new AML oversight body, all professional body AML supervisors (PBSs) noted that cost should be proportionate. Accountancy bodies, in particular, warned that increased costs could cause their members to move to HMRC supervision.

The government introduced the OPBAS as a way to strengthen supervision and to create a crackdown on illicit finance. The new professional body oversight group, which will be housed within the FCA, aims to bring consistency to all professional bodies, 22 of which offer accountancy and legal services.

OPBAS cost and fees concerns

The cost of the OPBAS on a PBS has been a much-debated subject on AccountingWEB. Malcolm Trotter, the chief executive of the International Association of Bookkeepers, warned back in March that the increased fees enforced on the professional bodies would likely be passed on to firms.

Several months later, the expected supervisory body fees and costs continue to vex professional bodies. Responding to the consultation, several PBSs argued that fees should be distributed according to several factors, such as the risk a PBS or its members pose, the size of the PBS or the number of members providing services subject to the MLRs.

Disciplinary and investigative concerns

While the issue of cost and fees remains a thorny subject, the PBS respondents were in agreement that the OPBAS investigatory and disciplinary powers would ensure effective oversight. However, several PBSs voiced concerns about inconsistent standards due to the OPBAS’s focus on where professional bodies and statutory supervisors monitor the same sector – such as accountancy.

While supportive of the greater oversight, some PSBs raised concern about the OPBAS’s direct contact with their members, as they wanted to remain the first point of contact. These professional body respondents noted that OPBAS directly requesting information from their members would undermine their role. But some consultation respondents agreed that OPBAS should have a right to participate in on-site supervisory visits.

The consultation review also discussed how the AML supervisory regime may evolve over time, as a result of professional bodies stepping down or being removed. From this discussion, some PSBs noted that other bodies should invest more, while a trade body expected that over time one supervisory body model would be the best long term solution.

In its response, the government said that although it recognises the strengths PBSs bring to AML some may need to invest in their supervisory functions or step down. Adopting the OPBAS standards, HMRC will serve as a supervisor of accountants and trust and company service providers. The Revenue will publish an annual report on its AML supervisor work. 

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