Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.
Woman behind high stacks of ring binders and lots of papers| AccountingWEB |AML burdens starting to feel like a full-time job
istock_stacks-of-paper_fermate

AML burden starting to feel like a full-time job

by

Keeping up with the complexity of anti-money laundering regulations is starting to feel like a full-time job for bookkeepers. That’s why Rebecca Williams wants to take the burden out of AML at the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping.

13th Feb 2024
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

Bookkeeping can be an attractive profession for those looking to balance their work around their other responsibilities, but the amount of anti-money laundering (AML) compliance can quickly become overwhelming, practice owner Rebecca Williams said ahead of her “How I learned to love AML” session at the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping (FAB). 

The founder of Eccounting Made Easy has raised concern that many bookkeepers feel at ease with the numbers part of the job, but they soon feel browbeaten by the complexity of the AML regulations. 

“A lot of the information out there says, you can sit these exams and then you can create a bookkeeping business around you, you can work from home, you can work around the kids and you can have a well-balanced lifestyle with work. So it becomes a really attractive option for a lot of people,” explained Williams. “But when they start to look at the AML guidance it becomes overwhelming quite quickly, because they presume they are just going to be focusing on the numbers and communicating with clients, but they don’t see the other side where they have all this compliance they have to adhere to – and it’s very, very wordy”. 

It’s becoming a full-time job

This issue is not unique for bookkeepers, with accountants also sharing their frustration with the burdensome AML compliance. And since Russia invaded Ukraine, AML scrutiny has only got tougher, leading to increased pressure and scrutiny from the professional bodies. So much so that Williams said that the bookkeepers she’s spoken with see keeping up with compliance as a full-time job. 

“At this point in time, trying to keep up with AML, even if you understand the basics, has become a full-time job,” said Williams. 

She added that there is so much guidance, bookkeepers feel as if they’re getting a big red book thrown at them and being told to run with it. 

“So naturally, you’re going to panic, aren’t you?” she said “And think, ‘I don’t even know how to tackle this or where to start. What should I read first? What do I need to have in my practice? And how do I go about it?’” 

That’s why the session at FAB is specifically tailor-made for bookkeepers with the aim of helping attendees improve their compliance and make the whole process less scary. Williams will also be teaming up with AccountingWEB’s resident AML expert David Winch at the festival for a session exploring the state of the nation of AML in 2024.

Still a lot of AML misconceptions

Williams said sessions like these are important for bookkeepers and accountants because there is a misconception with AML that you do once and then come back 12 months later, review and update it – but that’s not the case anymore. 

“AML is a constantly moving machine – you can’t just pick it up and leave it, you’ve got to keep on top all the time. You have to be aware at all times.”

She said this requires hyper-vigilance to the point where you see a transaction and you instantly question whether it is in line with your expectations of what the client is doing or what they’re telling you, and if it’s not, you then investigate. But she questioned whether new bookkeepers starting up would know whether a transaction is in line with industry averages. 

AML becomes even harder when practitioners don’t see the value. Williams always worked in practices where a lot of focus was put on AML (for example, if they didn’t have the right documentation for AML, they didn’t touch the job). But for other practices, especially smaller ones, AML falls to the bottom of the priority list because it’s not a fee-earning job. 

However, the conversation has shifted recently, where accounting and bookkeeping firms have followed solicitors and have started to charge a nominal fee to cover the admin of onboarding a new client. Williams sees this as one way practitioners can dedicate the time to AML and do the job correctly. 

Wanting to give back

Williams’ desire to give back and help bookkeepers through the maze of AML regulation is driven by her own challenges over the course of the nine years she spent studying accountancy and bookkeeping qualifications. 

As a visual learner she admits she never learned anything in the classroom. She now doesn’t want anyone else to feel the way she did when she was studying. “I’ve always tried my very best to break topics down in a way that I feel they would understand. So when it came to AML, I realised there are so many people struggling with it. 

“Having had so much experience with the AML regulations over the past 15 years, I now almost feel duty-bound to support bookkeepers and point them in the right direction. 

“It gives me a lot of joy when I can see somebody has now understood what might have created sleepless nights.”  

Hear more from Rebecca

It’s no surprise then that Williams is so keen to share her personal experience and help practitioners to navigate the headache-inducing world of AML. 

Williams will be speaking at the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping on 13 March. 

The “How I learned to love AML” session is at 12.40pm in the Bookkeepers Retreat. She will then share the stage with AML legend David Winch at 2pm in the Any Answers Live theatre for the “State of the Nation: AML in 2024” session. Finally, she will be sharing her personal journey in “How I set up a bookkeeping practice from scratch”, offering tips from the frontline at 3.40pm in the Bookkeeping Retreat.  

Don’t miss out! Book your FREE ticket for FAB and become ready for whatever AML regulations throw at you in 2024!

Replies (28)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

avatar
By FactChecker
13th Feb 2024 18:39

Sounds like some good general points (even if I don't *love* the tendency to shoehorn 'love' into every title relating to help with an unpleasant task)!

But ... "since Russia invaded Ukraine, the AML regulations have only got tougher" - really?
The inference is of some direct correlation between the invasion and brand new regulations, which is news to me.
Possibly there's a slightly greater focus on compliance with existing regs (in particular with regard to the rather basic check against the list of those sanctioned - which is not a big list and unlikely to crop up for 99% of small/medium agents and practices)?
Or have I missed something?

Thanks (4)
Replying to FactChecker:
Richard Hattersley
By Richard Hattersley
14th Feb 2024 09:17

You make a fair point, Fact Checker. Scrutiny has certainty increased over the past year, as noted by OPBAS in its recent report earlier this year. I have tweaked the copy to clarify this and added a link to this for further reading.

As a fan of Dr Strangelove, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with you about the sticking 'love' in the title.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
avatar
By FactChecker
14th Feb 2024 12:39

Thanks, Richard. It's much clearer now.

I presume your filmic reference is to the sub-title of that film: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" ... a sardonic use of the word with which I'm comfortable!
[see ... I've almost got my “alien hand syndrome” under control now]

Incidentally the film, as well as being an all-time favourite, is a rare example of where a film adaptation of a book massively improves on the original (Red Alert not being that good a piece of literature although sufficiently radical at the time).

Thanks (2)
Replying to FactChecker:
avatar
By johnjenkins
14th Feb 2024 14:25

Stop trying to Sellers it.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By johnjenkins
14th Feb 2024 09:44

We all know why compliance is becoming more stringent. Fines galore and no other reason. It doesn't matter how much compliance you have it doesn't stop money laundering, drug barons, fraud, scammers. In fact money crime is on the increase.

Thanks (10)
Replying to johnjenkins:
avatar
By philaccountant
14th Feb 2024 09:52

Indeed.

Actually tackling the problem of money laundering is far too difficult and would involve some tough conversations with some very wealthy people in London. Much easier to just shake down the little guy/gal for a few quid and leave the London Laundromat to fester.

Thanks (4)
avatar
By 2TunTed
14th Feb 2024 10:01

It is certainly the case that the sharper focus in the last year or so has produced a flurry of activity around all things AML and the AML Industry continues to grow apace. This makes a lot of sense if you think that everyone is a crook and on the fiddle and perhaps that is what Government thinks.
Alternatively, on the basis that proverbially s*** still happens, it could just be the Government's way of making it look like they are doing something and shoving responsibility elsewhere, either because they can be bothered or because they don't want to make the investment that is required to do it properly. In the light of recent events it could of course be all of the above.

Thanks (3)
avatar
By petestar1969
14th Feb 2024 10:05

Hmm, AML compliance will be a full-time job if done properly..

Its not just bookkeepers that struggle with it, especially around the issue of SAR's.

I know at least one accountant who thinks the only reason for filing a SAR is the client failing the ID check....

Thanks (1)
avatar
By Ammie
14th Feb 2024 10:11

Piling an ever increasing statutory burden on the public and professionals to paper over the cracks of government shortcomings will reach breaking point, then what?

Those members of the public who fail compliance checks and are turned away, will end up where? In times of desperation those may well find unlawful activity the only realistic solution the whole premise on which AML is based to prevent.

The world has lost its focus and the way forward.

Thanks (9)
Replying to Ammie:
avatar
By johnjenkins
14th Feb 2024 10:23

You have a fan.

Thanks (2)
Replying to johnjenkins:
avatar
By Rob Swan
14th Feb 2024 11:54

...or two!

Thanks (0)
David Winch
By David Winch
14th Feb 2024 10:36

I have to say that I am looking forward to FAB and particularly the session with Rebecca. The problem is that we have only 30 minutes and we could talk about AML for hours!
Having a good system to deal with AML will ease the burden (and IMHO AML software can be of considerable assistance).
I do have a lot of sympathy with accountants & bookkeepers who say that the 'purpose' of AML compliance is - AML compliance! In other words it's about keeping your supervisory body off your back. We have to do that, but I believe there can be benefits for the practitioner from AML compliance.
Hopefully we will have time for that debate at FAB.
David

Thanks (2)
Replying to davidwinch:
avatar
By johnjenkins
14th Feb 2024 10:50

Got to disagree, David. There is no benefit whatsoever for the practitioner. In fact there is no benefit to anyone where AML is involved.
How did Accountants survive without all this compliance malarkey years ago? Very well cos they were able to concentrate on the work in hand and develop their practice and see clients grow. What have we got now? Total stagnation. OK there are a few "high techies" that are doing well, but for the most it's a case of going from one problem to another, all because of compliance and it's expansion.

Thanks (10)
Replying to johnjenkins:
All Paul Accountants in Leeds
By paulinleeds
14th Feb 2024 16:46

I wonder how many days (not hours) I spend on AML each year, as a sole practitioner. How much more could I do in my life or for the country if I did not have to spend this time dealing with paperwork?

If I spend 30 minutes on AML on 100 clients each year, that 50 hours pa, 1.25 weeks, each year on AML. Multiply that by thousands of accountants in the UK. How much life, GDP etc has literally been wasted.

If I spent that time talking and helping the clients, I’d really know and understand more about the client …… rather than completing AML checklists and paperwork. The UK economy would benefit.

For a small practice, AML compliance just legitimises the legitimate!

Thanks (4)
Replying to paulinleeds:
avatar
By johnjenkins
14th Feb 2024 16:51

Unfortunately to HMRC and Government we are just children who need to be controlled and given parameters in the way they want. This is not how business should be run and the signs are there already of meltdown (or is it called recession).

Thanks (2)
Replying to paulinleeds:
avatar
By BryanS1958
14th Feb 2024 17:07

I couldn't agree more. AML is a complete waste of time. Criminals will find a way around it.

I imagine very few reports are filed, even fewer are acted upon, an infinitesimal number result in prosecutions taking place and even fewer result in recovery of proceeds from crime.

All at a huge cost, in terms of wasted time and resources which could be more productively spent elsewhere to help UK Plc achieve growth.

Thanks (3)
Replying to BryanS1958:
avatar
By Rob Swan
15th Feb 2024 11:05

It's hugely well known that criminals CONSTANTLY find ways round it - it's called the 'CITY' of London!! Putin's Laundromat, etc, etc.... And the recent deal with Switzerland only highlights the point. MLR/AML in one direction, Gov't action in another. Simply creating the illusion of addressing a problem which they themselves have and continue to create.

Thanks (1)
Replying to davidwinch:
avatar
By Postingcomments
14th Feb 2024 17:07

You're one of the people who cheers on pointless government rules and regs, because you make a good living from it.

Without facilitators and toadies for their regime, the regime would most likely fail and we could all be more productive with our time and your fine mind and noble intentions could be deployed elsewhere.

Btw - Your thread hunting out the upsides of AML was revealing. Your concluding post seemed to suggest that the most valuable thing in your reports (which are most likely thrown to the back of a cupboard only to be fished out and weighed at AML inspection time - the heavier the report, the more seriously we are taking all this, yadda yadda) was the introduction summarising what the firm does.

Don't get me wrong, David. You seem alright and that. It is one thing to make a living out of government admin and bureaucracy, but it is another to keep trying to convince us that it is a fantastic and valuable thing for us all. The way you go on sounds a bit Stockholm Syndromish and I Love Big Brother.

Thanks (6)
Replying to Postingcomments:
David Winch
By David Winch
14th Feb 2024 17:23

Hi, just to be clear - if I were asked to design a process to deter & detect financial crime in the UK I would not say, "Let's require every accountant & bookkeeper in the land to ID all their clients".
But I do think that, as we have to comply with the MLR, I want seek out ways to do that which can bring some useful benefit to the accountants & bookkeepers who have to do it. That is what I am arguing for.
David

Thanks (1)
Replying to davidwinch:
avatar
By Postingcomments
14th Feb 2024 17:45

Like the huge benefits HMRC says businesses will get from MTD? Even net of the software and time costs that will be needed to set it up and comply?

With the tag team of your AML consulting and some MTD software, I expect we will be working 3 day weeks and drowning in wealth as we reap all the purported benefits...................

Thanks (2)
Replying to davidwinch:
avatar
By BryanS1958
14th Feb 2024 17:59

This is part of the problem. Professional bodies tend to want to find ways to comply, rather than insisting that something is a daft waste of time and having nothing to do with it. The same applies to MTD for small businesses and landlords. A complete waste of time and resources, and of no benefit to anyone, including HMRC, who will be swamped with data and do not have the resources to do anything with it.

Perhaps we should be more like the French and go on strike every time the idiots running the asylum come up with another bright idea to keep the inmates busy.

Thanks (4)
Replying to BryanS1958:
avatar
By johnjenkins
15th Feb 2024 09:10

Spot on.

Thanks (1)
Replying to johnjenkins:
the sea otter
By memyself-eye
15th Feb 2024 09:43

Spot on 2 - I'll fish out my Gillet!

Thanks (1)
Replying to memyself-eye:
avatar
By johnjenkins
15th Feb 2024 11:02

I've got a sign writer on the books.
From little acorns big oak trees grow.
Could this be the start of a coup d'tat?

Thanks (1)
avatar
By BryanS1958
14th Feb 2024 10:55

Nice click bait - basically advertising for FAB (and, of course, Groovy).

I take the view that AML is an (un)necessary evil for most accountants and bookkeepers. Most transactions and parties of any significance have already been AML checked by banks, solicitors, estate agents, financial institutions, etc. All the accountants and bookkeepers are doing is duplicating work that has already been done.

It is difficult to think of a more costly, unnecessary and futile exercise (but don't get me started - I might start remembering HS2 and other wonderful schemes!). All it does is keep unemployment figures down by providing jobs for jobsworths and bureauprats.

Thanks (6)
avatar
By Rob Swan
14th Feb 2024 11:53

Pointless mandated box-ticking at its very best. And now they no doubt have at least a small army of civil servants dedicated to the task, it's only going to get worse. (Not in practice any more, and very glad to be free of AML. It was such a pain in the...). Like many, I did bookkeeping and all my clients also had an accountant, but we couldn't collaborate on AML! That's just plain stupid!!!! Always seemed to me AML was far more about 'AML compliance' and far less about spotting illegal activity. IMHO it would be far better for Govt./HMRC to make the whole thing informal, to issue clear and effective advice/guidance and just use the existing laws effectively. But what do I know....?

Thanks (5)
avatar
By Postingcomments
14th Feb 2024 17:24

Moving slightly sideways to this, I have been wondering lately how this current iteration of our civilisation pans out.

- Western governments can't keep spending huge deficits - and on thousands of civil servants who don't really do an awful lot, except impose and police lots of lots of rules and bureaucracy. They spend billions, but we don't see much for it - certainly not any repairs to our infrastructure - eg roads
- No one has the balls to fire half of them, cut red tape, reform the NHS, councils, every gov dept, the lot. No politician would take that on - or win.
- How do we become a productive nation again (ie so we have useful things to swap with countries who supply us with useful things, like cars, energy and widgets). As I don't think the Saudis will happily swap oil for AML advice or DEI Officers.

= We can't carry on as we are, but no one will call a change. If the path we are on is unsustainable, then by definition it will stop at some point. The when and the how is the question.

I posit that it won't happen in a peaceful, organised way. It will carry on until it collapses and is forced to change. The classic method is a big war. Then you can rebase your currency, destroy paper (claims on) wealth, redeploy workers, lower expectations and living stds etc etc. Then, when the dust settles, you can start again.

Or does anyone else have a different theory as to how this all pans out?

Thanks (5)
Replying to Postingcomments:
avatar
By Rob Swan
15th Feb 2024 11:22

I realised, in the early 80's, as I started my career in manufacturing, when Thatcherism was pushing the 'Service Economy' as the future, that without manufacturing the UK would soon become a Third World country. That's effectively what's happened and, at present, our global economic standing is largely due to a lag in the system, not a reflection of our true position. I have never understood why our leaders can never see beyond the ends of their noses. Now we are all beholden to China, which is, apparently, the only major nation with a serious long term plan. We've all got used to 'cheap' (low priced) stuff and nobody is prepared to pay the true price for life they want. Given the current situation I can't see the UK (or most of the West, for that matter) getting any better in the 21st century. I wish that wasn't true, but I fear it is. France is a resonable example of how to manage a Western country well, but... they also have their problems - and high taxes. It's not cheap.
Rant over!

Thanks (0)