Financial Crimes – The Vulnerable, The Gullible, and The Culpable

Olushola Fashola, Lecturer, Staffordshire Business SChool


Nuthall (2019) asserted that the United Nations estimates that between 2% and 5% (US$800bn–US$2trillion) of global GDP is laundered. The year 2019 saw global anti-money laundering (AML) penalties going beyond £6billion (actual value was £6.2billion which is equivalent to around $8billion), with the US imposing double the quantum of fines imposed by UK authorities (Sweet, 2020). These facts suggests financial crimes is on the rise, which is a worrying development for societies, governments, organisations, and individuals. It is therefore important that some sort of reflection (collectively or individually) be undertaken by all concerned regarding how things have deteriorated to current level in terms of emerging global narrative on financial crime. Consequently, my own lived experience within a socio-economic and institutional context offers a basis for looking at financial crime through the multiple lens of three actors – “the vulnerable”, “the gullible” and “the culpable”.

THE VULNERABLE

Some years back I was looking through job advertisements on various websites, hoping to find a flexible job that will permit me to spend more time with my young children. I did not search too long before I came across one placed by a supposedly US based company. Though, the role was described as Administrative Assistant, the job description was more of a home-based funds transfer officer. Considering that I have practice experience in banking and finance, I quickly applied and was very optimistic as to my chances of eventually getting the job. Just as I had anticipated, I was offered the job. However, mode of operation triggered some curiosity – the company will pay money into my account which I shall subsequently transfer to various recipients!

THE GULLIBLE

The unusual nature of the responsibilities attached to this job role sent alarm bells ringing. I contacted the website where I found the job to let them know of my suspicion that something was not quite right about this company and the job. The website’s initial response was to dismiss my suspicion, suggesting there was nothing unusual about either the company or the job. Whilst pondering as to the genuineness or otherwise of this job offer, I listened to the BBC money box programme focused on money mules. This made the connection between this job offer and money mule operations vividly clear. I contacted the website again, now aware of the prospect of being used as a money mule based on what I have learnt from the BBC programme. This time, the response was an apology and commitment to bar the company from using the website. Prioritisation of corporate social responsibility can help reduce the chances of financial fraud occurring (Liao et al., 2019).   

THE CULPABLE

Whilst I did not allow this company the opportunity to pay any money into my bank account, I wonder how many people they had successfully persuaded into accepting such payments through their banks. The banking industry is central to economic growth and development, but also remains a vital part of the carefully orchestrated dastardly design of financial crimes’ architecture. The growing evidence against banks with respect to recurring culpability in facilitating financial crimes is a worrying trend that compounds erosion of public trust in them since the financial crisis of 2008/2009. Sanctions imposed on banks (see below) for offences with a bearing on financial crimes bears testimony to banking industry’s culpability.

Feb 2014: Standard Bank PLC fined £7.6m for failures in its anti-money laundering controls (BBC, 2014)

May 2015: Barclays fined $2.4bn for forex rigging (Financial Times, 2015)

June 2015: HSBC pays out £28m “compensation” to Swiss authorities over money-laundering claims (The Guardian, 2015)

November 2015: Barclays Bank (Barclays) was fined £72,069,400 for failing to minimise the risk that it may be used to facilitate financial crime by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) (FCA, 2015)

December 2019: HSBC to pay $192m penalty in US for helping clients hide $1billion dollar worth of assets for tax evasion purpose (Financial Times, 2019).

Financial service regulators may have demonstrated a commitment to ensuring banks do not act as facilitators of financial crimes through these sanctions, but the inherent culpability of the financial regulatory system in certain jurisdictions means that these fines do not address why they have become a magnet for financial crime. The public prosecutor in the HSBC/Swiss regulator case as cited in The Guardian (2015) sums up the real source of financial service industry culpability in financial crime thus:

“When we have a law that doesn’t punish financial intermediaries accepting doubtful funds then we have a problem. This problem dates from long before the HSBC affair.”

REFLECTION ON EVIDENCE

Criminals adept at committing financial crimes often targets the vulnerable. They are also very clever at deciphering individual vulnerabilities. Unemployment was a vulnerability ready to be exploited in this case. However, various other vulnerabilities can be the focus of the ploy of these criminals. For instance, search for acceptance and love (BBC 2020), desire to help others and outright greed, are a mix of vulnerabilities often exploited by advance fee (otherwise called “419”) fraudsters.

Individuals or organisations should not think they are above gullibility when it comes to financial crimes. The website involved in this case is a subsidiary to one of the major global online platforms. Yet their vetting process allowed this job advertisement to be placed; and initial response to contacting them laid bare their gullibility – a failure in their social responsibility obligation to society!

Banking industry and its regulatory framework remains an important defence line in society’s response to combating financial crime (Ryder, 2017). A basic line of defence where banks had in the past dropped their guards is with respect to “Know Your Customer” (KYC). This important anti-money laundering requirement needs full compliance for the global fight against financial crime to be successful. Specifically, a risk-based approach to KYC practice can help operators in the financial services industry balance regulatory compliance with business exigencies. Such an approach can help focus attention on potentially risky clients such as the politically exposed person (popularly referred to as PEP). The need for some sort of global regulatory alignment to ensure that there are no safe havens for illicit wealth (Nance, 2018) will require every nation to review its laws and ensure that loopholes exploited by financial criminals and their intermediaries are plugged.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Fraud triangle comprising of opportunity, incentive/pressure, and rationalization (Cressey, 1953) had received wide scholarly attention, it is perhaps time we switched attention to actors whose moral gap facilitates financial crime. Vulnerability, gullibility, and culpability represents a collection of attributes that helps financial crime to spread like wildfire and the criminals that benefit from them to take the rest of society for granted. Hence, the need for every individual and organization to undertake a self-assessment as to whether they may be tacitly facilitating financial crime as a vulnerable, gullible, or culpable actor in a dark web that leaves society morally and economically bankrupt.


REFERENCES

BBC (2014) Standard Bank fined over lax anti-money laundering controls. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25864499 (Accessed 18/12/2020).

BBC (2020) Covid: Romance fraudsters ‘target lonely’ in lockdown. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-54855321 (Accessed 04/01/2020)

Cressey, D. (1953) Other People’s Money. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Financial Conduct Authority (2015) FCA fines Barclays £72 million for poor handling of financial crime risks. Available at: https://www.fca.org.uk/news/press-releases/fca-fines-barclays-%C2%A372-million-poor-handling-financial-crime-risks (Accessed 18/12/2020)

Financial Times (2015) Barclays fined $2.4bn for forex rigging. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/a255cd2a-fef8-11e4-84b2-00144feabdc0 (Accessed 18/12/2020).

Financial Times (2019) HSBC to pay $192m penalty in US tax evasion case. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/e7d51ec4-1b99-11ea-97df-cc63de1d73f4 (Accessed 18/12/2020)

Liao, L., Chen, G. and Zheng, D. (2019) Corporate social responsibility and financial fraud: evidence from China. Accounting & Finance, 59(5), pp.3133-3169.

Nance, M.T. (2018) The regime that FATF built: an introduction to the Financial Action Task Force. Crime, Law and Social Change, 69(2), pp.109-129.

Nuthall, K. (2019) FATF’s new guidelines on tackling money laundering. Accounting and Business magazine, November (Chinese Edition). Available at: https://www.accaglobal.com/gb/en/member/discover/cpd-articles/governance-risk-control/fatf-cpdnov19.html#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20United%20Nations,of%20global%20GDP%20is%20laundered.&text=Accountants%20assisting%20with%20property%20purchases,been%20laundered%20into%20legitimate%20accounts. (Accessed 18/12/2020).

Ryder, N. (2017) The financial crisis and financial crime in the United Kingdom: A critical analysis of the response by Financial Regulatory Agencies. The Company Lawyer, 38(1), pp.4-14.

Sweet, P. (2020) Global anti-money laundering fines top £6bn. Accountancy Age publication of 17 January 2020. Available at: https://www.accountancydaily.co/global-anti-money-laundering-fines-top-ps6bn (Accessed 18/12/2020).

The Guardian (2015) HSBC pays out £28m over money-laundering claims. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/04/hsbc-fined-278m-over-money-laundering-claims (Accessed 18/12/2020)


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Budgeting as a student can be hard! Learn from our students top mistakes.

Karl McCormack, Lecturer, Staffordshire Business School


Being a student is a great time in your life, but living off a budget can create stress and anxiety. We start university often with limited skill in budgeting and managing our finances. Students frequently mention spending mistakes that eat up chunks of their bank balances.

The key is to develop good spending habits starts with budgeting. Yes, it is time consuming and a real pain, but it enables us to track money coming in and going out.

By learning to budget well, you will be able to:

  • Understand your spending and adjust bad spending habits
  • Spend less on useless items
  • Save more money
  • Keep out of debt
  • Have money for emergencies or important future expenses
  • Learn and prevent future spending mistakes

Learning how to budget will save you a lot of hassle and you will be learning skills for life.

Biggest mistakes:

Not having a budget!

Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But failing to have a visual budget instead relying on memory for what you have to spend and what you have spent, often leads to thinking you have more money than you really do. It becomes difficult to gauge if something is over your budget and impossible to not overspend as you start to socialise more.

Using your debit card when you pay for something.

Everyone uses their card right? Using cash is old fashioned? But there are many more pros than cons in using cash rather than your card. Putting everything on a card creates the illusion of having more money than you think, that you aren’t actually spending. The realisation that you do not have unlimited funds, that you are a student living on a budget (now with no money) will soon kick in.

Students often say they have no idea what they were spending money on. Tapping a card  and not even registering the amount you are tapping for. This along with not looking at a  bank statements or just being confused by the names you see on it.

So stop using your card, use cash for daily expenses. Yes you still need a card (online purchases, transport, larger expenses) for necessities. But for fun expenses, things you don’t really need, pay by cash. You will notice as the cash disappears and this will give you greater knowledge of where you are spending your money.

Don’t buy textbooks before attending your first classes.

Every course has a list of recommended texts and required reading. There are certain benefits to being organised and preparing. But wait. Internet searching can often reveal the information you are after.

But what if the book is compulsory? In some lectures the tutor may refer to a core book each week and the questions can only be found in them. You may need to get your hands on a specific book then. You could try:

  • The university library
  • Classmates and friends (may have copies they are happy to share)
  • Social media chats and groups (may get a battered old copy cheap)
  • Online marketplaces
  • Online, traditional and second-hand bookstores

Lazyness! Not packing your own lunch.

Ask any student they will say a lot of money is spent on buying lunch on the days you are in uni. Often prices are not too high, but they are higher than making your own. You may start with good intentions, but as time passes the laziness creeps in and you stop packing your own lunch. Purchasing a lunch can cost £7 or £8 then a drink etc… multiply this by the number of days you are in uni and the weeks and suddenly you are talking about a large sum of money.

By knowing what you spend your money on, learning from those mistakes means you can take steps to ix it. Develop good spending habits, don’t buy things that you do not need and learn from others.

What are your own spending mistakes? What are your tips?


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