Anti-Money Laundering (AML) – How It Works and Why It Matters


Money laundering is the process of concealing the origins of illegally obtained money. Typically, criminals will attempt to launder money to hide their illicit activities from authorities and avoid detection and prosecution.

In recent years, money laundering has become an increasingly global phenomenon, with criminal organisations using ever-more sophisticated methods to move and conceal their funds. As a result, the fight against money laundering has become a top priority for law enforcement, financial regulators and other organisations worldwide.

In order to combat this problem, governments have implemented several anti-money laundering (AML) regulations. This article will provide an overview of AML regulations and explain how they work to combat this global issue.

What Is Anti-Money Laundering (AML)?

Anti-money laundering (AML) laws and regulations prevent criminal organisations from using the financial system to launder their ill-gotten funds. These laws typically place many requirements on financial institutions, such as banks, to help detect and report suspicious activity.

In the UK, the primary AML legislation is the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) by the Parliament of the UK. Giving the power to seize any funds derived for or intended to use in crime.

In the case of the United States, the main AML law is the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) of 1970. The BSA requires financial institutions to maintain records of their customers’ transactions and report any suspicious activity to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a division of the US Department of the Treasury.

Other jurisdictions have similar laws in place. For example, the European Union has the Directives on Money Laundering, which requires financial institutions to take measures to prevent money laundering, including customer due diligence and reporting of suspicious activity.

Understanding Anti-Money Laundering (AML)

It is important to understand that AML laws are not designed to criminalise money laundering itself. Instead, they are designed to make it more difficult for criminals to launder money by making it easier for authorities to detect and trace suspicious activity.

To comply with AML regulations, financial institutions must put in place some processes and procedures, such as:

Know Your Customer

Whenever you read about Know Your Customer (KYC) in the context of financial regulations, it refers to Know Your Customer rules. Financial institutions must take steps to verify the identity of their customers and understand their risk profile. That typically includes collecting customer information such as name, address, date of birth, and identification documents.

KYC requirements vary depending on the jurisdiction, but financial institutions must take reasonable steps to ensure that their customers are who they say they are and are not engaged in illegal activity. A clear example of this measure relates to the cryptocurrency industry, which has struggled to comply with KYC regulations due to the anonymous nature of digital currencies and other crypto assets.

Cryptocurrency exchanges are now forced to implement know-your-customer (KYC) checks. These checks typically require customers to provide their personal information and submit documents such as a passport or driver’s license for identity verification.

Customer Due Diligence (CDD)

Customer due diligence (CDD) is a process that financial institutions must use to identify and assess the risks posed by their customers’ proposed transactions. While KYC mainly focuses on identifying the customer during their account creation, CDD is an ongoing process that must be conducted throughout the customer relationship.

The specific requirements of CDD vary depending on the jurisdiction, but in general, financial institutions must take steps to understand their customer’s business, including their ownership structure, sources of funds, and typical transactions. This information must then be used to assess the customer’s risk profile and determine whether their proposed transaction is suspicious.

Suppose a financial institution suspects that a customer’s transaction may be related to money laundering, terrorist financing, or other criminal activity including fraud. In that case, they must file a suspicious activity report (SAR) with the relevant authorities. Note that Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) are considered to pose a higher risk and therefore require enhanced due diligence.

How does Anti-Money Laundering work?

The working logic of AML compliance works similarly for all countries. After a customer is deemed high-risk, their transactions are continuously monitored for irregularities. They might be placed on a sanctions list or have their transactions blocked if anything suspicious is found. Financial institutions are also legally required to share any information that could be used in an investigation.

This process is all done through a risk-based approach powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). AI and ML help assess customer risk, automatically screen transactions, and monitor suspicious activity. It’s a huge shift from the traditional compliance model, which is rules-based and very manual.

This model is not only inefficient but is also prone to human error. With the new risk-based approach, the working principle of anti-money laundering compliance is much more effective and efficient.

In which business can anti-money laundering be used?

Any business that deals with money can be subject to compliance programs and be required to have anti-money laundering (AML) protocols in place. However, some businesses are considered to be at higher risk than others and, as such, may be subject to anti money laundry laws and regulations.


Banks and other financial institutions are considered to be high-risk businesses when it comes to money laundering. After all, they are the primary targets for criminals looking to launder money. Therefore, banks are subject to anti money laundering regulations.

In the UK banks are required by law to comply with anti-money laundering (AML) laws and Know your Customer (KYC) requirements to prevent criminals and terrorists from using financial products or services to illegally move money around. This is achieved with legislations such as the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) and the Electronic Identification and Trust Services for Electronic Transactions Regulations (eIDAS).

In the United States, the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requires financial institutions to take steps to prevent money laundering, including implementing KYC and CDD procedures. The European Union has similar requirements under the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD5).

Capital Markets

Capital markets are another business sector considered high risk for money laundering. This is due to the large amount of money that flows through the markets daily. Criminals can easily launder profits from illicit activities by purchasing assets such as stocks and bonds.

In the UK, capital markets are usually authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and they must apply CDD measures.

To combat money laundering in the capital markets, regulatory bodies have implemented rules and requirements that market participants must follow. In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has put in place many regulations, including the Customer Identification Program (CIP) Rule.

The European Union has also implemented rules and regulations, including the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II).


As for insurance, the sector is not as heavily regulated as banking and capital markets. However, insurance companies are still required to take steps to prevent money laundering. Most companies must have KYC and CDD procedures, and some countries require insurance companies to file suspicious activity reports (SARs).


Retail is one of the lowest-risk sectors regarding money laundering because retail businesses usually deal in small amounts of cash and have a low volume of financial transactions. However, some risks are still associated with retail businesses, such as using shell companies to launder money.

As for the consumers, they only need to be aware of the CDD measures that are in place. For example, they might be required to provide identification when making a large credit card purchase or opening a new account.

Public Sector

The public sector is not typically considered at risk for money laundering. However, there have been some high-profile cases in which government officials have been accused of using their positions to launder money. As such, the public sector is not immune to money laundering risks.

In order to combat these risks, the public sector has implemented measures, such as the publication of beneficial ownership information and the introduction of anti-corruption laws.

Other industries

Other industries that may be at risk for money laundering include the real estate, gambling, and luxury goods sectors. These industries deal with large amounts of cash and have a high volume of transactions. As such, they can be attractive targets for criminals looking to launder money.

In the UK, business sectors, including accountants, financial service businesses, capital markets, estate agents and solicitors, are covered by AML regulations. They are usually authorised and supervised by authorities including the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Customer due diligence measures are applied in order to comply with money laundering laws and supervisions.

If you want to operate in these industries legally, you must usually obtain a license from the government. You will also required to implement KYC and CDD procedures.

Why is anti-money laundering important?

Anti-money laundering (AML) is crucial because it helps to prevent criminals from using the financial sector to launder money. From drug trafficking to terrorist financing, money laundering is a significant problem that can seriously affect global security.

By implementing AML measures, financial institutions and other businesses can help to make it more difficult for criminals to launder money. This, in turn, can help make the world a safer place.

From a business standpoint, complying with AML regulations can also help to protect a company from reputational damage and financial losses. In some cases, failure to comply with AML regulations can result in hefty fines and even prison sentences.

What’s the Difference Between AML, CDD, and KYC?

A number of terms are often used interchangeably when it comes to anti-money laundering (AML). However, it is important to understand the difference between these terms. In short, AML encompasses all of the measures used to prevent money laundering, while KYC (know your customer) and CDD (customer due diligence) refer to specific AML procedures.

In other words, all businesses that are required to comply with AML regulations must have KYC and CDD procedures in place. However, there are other AML measures that businesses may also need to take, such as filing suspicious activity reports (SARs).

History of Anti-Money Laundering

The act of money laundering is an old practice, but the methods have come a long way. From 2000 BCE, wealthy Chinese merchants used to move their profits outside of China, as the government did not support commercial trading. They would reinvest their smuggled funds into other enterprises, this technique is still use today.

Throughout history, money launderers have found new ways to conceal their funds from prying eyes. From gold-plated candlesticks to the birth of modern digital money like Bitcoin, we’ve seen it all.

The idea of concealing cash from others dates back centuries. But the history of money laundering has been shaped by organized crime and drug cartels that used creative strategies for concealing their ill-gotten gains so they could spend them without being detected.

With every new challenge, criminals have innovated newer ways to launder their money and maintain their secrecy with greater ease than ever before. Read on to learn more about the history of money laundering and how it has evolved over time.

Money laundering took off in the 1920s during the prohibition era. Two events precipitated this. In 1931 Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion and in 1934 the Swiss Banking Act created the principle of bank secrecy.

We can trace the origins of anti-money laundering (AML) back to the late 1970s when the Bank Secrecy Act was introduced in the United States. This act required financial institutions to report cash transactions over $10,000. The act aimed to make it more difficult for criminals to launder money through the financial system.

In the 1980s, a number of high-profile money laundering cases brought global attention to the issue. In response, money laundering became a federal crime in the United States in 1986. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was founded three years later. The FATF is an intergovernmental body that sets global AML standards.

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