SARs? What SAR’s?
You mean SRA Accounts Rules? Nope.
You mean Subject Access Requests? Nope.
Oh, you mean that thing we send off to the National Crime Agency occasionally – and never hear anything back from? Yes – that’s the one.
Suspicious Activity Reports (yes, those SARs), sent to the UK Financial Intelligence Unit of the NCA, have been with us for 20 years and their reform has been much talked about over recent years. How can we make the reporting form and process more user-friendly and more geared to the kind of things we do, rather than being focussed on banking transactions?
Much effort has been expended trying to get us to report things better in order to speed up the consideration process for the good of our transactions and our clients. Comments in Shah v HSBC  suggested that we were all under a professional duty to report things in the way best engineered towards the NCA’s preferences, in order for the NCA to analyse and assimilate the information required by the reporting process.
DAMLs became the name of the game and we all got used to Glossary Codes and the use of the word UNKNOWN - rather than any alternative – in the compilation of the occasional SARs report we sent in. That said, we didn’t often engage with the process, preferring instead to cease acting in dubious circumstances.
But now, the first phase of the promised transformation has launched with the advent of the SAR’s Portal on 18 September 2023. The portal will replace the SARsOnline system over time.
Users will need to register for the Portal on first use, but we are all encouraged to do so as the old online version will no longer be operative. There is guidance available – See NCA SARs Programme (nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk)
In brief, you now get 9 fields to complete with options to choose from, tick-boxes for choosing under which legislation you are reporting (PoCA or TACT), tick-boxes for selecting the relevant Glossary Codes and various pre-selections made which obviate the need for repetition of certain information.
The intention is to make the reporting process much easier and slicker, but thought will still need to be given to the key information and, in particular, the drafting of the Reasons for Suspicion which should still be succinct and to the point, explaining any jargon or terms of art.
The key is still to enable the UKFIU (and their algorithms and computer systems) to be able to see at a glance WHO is doing WHAT, WHEN and HOW – and what steps you are actually wanting consent for.
At the same time, there is consultation going on around the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill which seeks to ring-fence any criminal property, thus enabling firms to deal with the rest of the clean ‘estate’ without it being a criminal offence to do so. This would seem to be a more practical solution than tainting the entirety of a suspect’s assets due to the influx of a (relatively) small and readily identifiable amount of criminal property.
Further, there is some refinement of the definition of the concept of the ‘professional enabler’ – emphasising that the definition is intended to catch and criminalise the deliberately complicit ‘bad guys’ and not those who happen to be professionals but have all the required processes and systems in place to assess risk, perform CDD and ask questions when things don’t seem right.
Deliberate blindness – “I don’t want to know, so I won’t ask” – would also be seen to merit some form of prosecutorial disapproval.