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Does the thought of a six-figure fine keep you awake at night?

I should imagine that it does. 

The SRA has long since said that they will become more 'muscular' in their enforcement action and so it would appear to be. The recent £100,000 fine of a prominent law firm for deficiencies in their AML processes would seem to bear this out.

The firm in question reported themselves, quite properly, in accordance with the Codes of Conduct for what they perceived to be a lapse in their systems and procedures, dating back to 2017 and 2018.

Back then, they had acted in a number of multi-million pound property transactions on behalf of charities and other clients who, it turned out, had links to sanctioned individuals. Furthermore, there would appear to be little or no sufficient record of them having ascertained the source of funds for the transactions.

By common consent, there was no evidence of any wrongdoing having taken place, no money laundering was going on and no harm was caused to any clients. It might appear, however, that any red flags that were alerted were overlooked.

The firm was fined as an ABS (where unlimited fines have been the norm) and the SRA allowed a 40% reduction in light of the various mitigations, but still the fine exceeded £100k.

So what are we all to do if we are to avoid similar treatment? I would suggest the following:

  1.  Review all our old files (for at least the last 6 years) where there may be deficiencies in our systems and procedures, or where we did not adequately check on sanctions list membership or source of funds (I guess that might be all of them..!!)

  2. contact our bank to increase your overdraft facility to accommodate the risk of an upcoming fine

  3. ensure that our systems and procedures are corrected for the future and adjustments are made where necessary

  4. contemplate some fresh AML training given the recent SRA Warning Notices

  5. self-report. 

There is admittedly not much incentive to self-report, but on the other hand, things would be 40% worse if we find things, and then try to cover it up and sweep it under the carpet.

On the one hand, we lose - and on the other, we cannot win.

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