OPBAS one year on: Where are we now with AML supervision?
The Office for Professional Body AML Supervision (OPBAS) officially opened its doors one year ago this month, tasked with reinforcing AML compliance – but questions still persist over its costs and awareness.
AML supervisor AAT has said it’s still "early days to make a decision about whether or not OPBAS is proving of use but many frustrations remain".
The AAT told AccountingWEB that it strongly supports the UK’s drive to combat money laundering but has questioned how consistency could be achieved when some of the biggest AML supervisors such as HMRC and the Gambling Commission, remain exempt from OPBAS oversight.
The OPBAS has a staff of approximately 20, a £1.65m budget and responsibility for overseeing 22 professional body AML supervisors, but according the AAT, awareness and understanding of the organisation remain low.
Responding to a poll of MPs the AAT commissioned to find out how favourable or unfavourable they were towards the organisation, the professional body found that 54% stated they had “never heard of this organisation”.
In fact, only 4% of the MPs polled reacted favourably, with the remaining indifferent 42% responded that they were ‘neither favourable or unfavourable’ towards OPBAS.
Phil Hall, AAT head of public affairs and public policy, said: “The fact most politicians have never heard of OPBAS is not surprising but should be a concern given government repeatedly states what an important role OPBAS is supposed to be playing in the fight against money laundering.”
One of the main frustrations which lingers from the initial announcement of OPBAS in 2017 flared again this month when the organisation announced a delay in deciding how much to charge professional bodies to be regulated.
It’s continued to be an ongoing concern for the 22 bodies, encapsulated in 2017 by the then chief executive of the International Association of Bookkeepers Malcolm Trotter slamming the organisation's levy on professional bodies to fund the regime as “not morally right” because the cost would likely pass on to their members.
While the cost will inevitably pass on to the regulated bodies, this delay further fuels the surprise many bodies expressed that OPBAS was set up without anyone knowing how much it was going to cost. It has already revised downwards its initial estimate of £2.25m of annual costs to £1.65m.
The feedback to the consultation will now wait until the beginning of March 2019. However, news that the FCA has deferred a decision on costs until then to give them more time to consider in detail the fee consultation responses means that professional body supervisors such as AAT, ICAEW and ACCA will not be invoiced for their 2018/19 fees before March 2019.
The FCA proposed in the consultation to charge a fee of £41.03 per supervised individual.
Over the last 12 months AccountingWEB has learned that OPBAS has visited all 22 professional body AML supervisors to conduct initial supervisory assessments, but not bodies have received their assessment reports.
Thoughts from the trenches
It’s not just the cost aspect that’s added frustration. When the AML watchdog opened its doors last year, Caroline Day from Kingsley Napley tweeted whether the intention of the group will also bring “unnecessary layers of bureaucratic supervision”.
However, some accountants have welcomed more AML consistency across all supervisors. In a recent AccountingWEB podcast (click play below), AML expert and managing director at F A Simms & Partners Richard Simms dismissed the fear and trepidation around the cost and hoped OPBAS would bring more supervision to the supervisors.
“I believe all of us who are compliant today with their AML will be aggrieved that others are doing nothing at all,” said Simms.
“Whether you think that is good or bad unfortunately it seems unfair that some practices work very hard to be AML compliant and those that don’t choose to be AML compliant get away with it. That can’t be right. There should be a level playing field in terms of cost and management and supervision of these things.”
Also on the podcast, AccountingWEB’s resident MLR expert David Winch joked about the idea of having a supervisor of the supervisors but his thoughts largely echoed Simms’. “We really need a level playing field. It’s a very difficult situation where some firms are spending time and money complying and other firms are playing fast and loose.”