Comment: HMRC guidance step in the right direction for property AML

Commenting on HMRC guidance to estate and lettings agencies on their obligations regarding money laundering issues, Martin Cheek managing director at AML experts SmartSearch said: “In their new guidance HMRC specifically references the higher risks of virtual property transactions. However, this needn’t be the case.

“The pandemic forced most transactions to be conducted digitally and for those without a robust anti-money laundering policy in place, that heightens the risk of being exposed to the threat of financial fraud.

“In this new normal we find ourselves in, face-to-face identification processes are no longer viable, and nor are they necessarily reliable. But that shouldn’t mean doing deals entirely online should run a greater risk. In fact digital ID verification is more secure and accurate than expecting a customer to turn up in person with a piece of paper in hand to prove who they are.

“The new guidance from HMRC is a positive step in the right direction in the battle to stop money laundering through property. And by using a system such as SmartSearch TripleCheck, estate and lettings agencies can negate the risk of an online transaction and vet a prospective client in seconds.”

AML experts SmartSearch comment on FinCEN leak – ‘A betrayal that cannot go unpunished’

Responding to the FinCEN files revelations, John Dobson CEO at AML experts SmartSearch said: “This is nothing short of a betrayal for all those thousands of businesses doing their bit in the global fight against money laundering and financial fraud.

“We speak to customers in the UK and the US day-in, day-out, who are all working hard to make sure they have the best tools and technology available to prevent money laundering, and to be compliant with the law. While at the same time, if these documents can be believed, one of the world’s biggest banks has effectively turned a blind eye and enabled criminals to take full advantage.

“These revelations couldn’t have come at a worse time of course, with so many businesses reeling from the ongoing affects of the Covid 19 pandemic, and the extra security threats that has created. Events like these are hugely damaging for the banks involved but also for all the other banks who are trying to stamp out money laundering, and it cannot go unpunished.

“Over the years SmartSearch has developed more and more enhanced levels of security for its customers in a bid to stay ahead of the criminals. Never for a moment did we consider we’d have to stay one step ahead of the institutions we thought we were trying to protect.”

FCA must flex its muscle as threat of financial crime rises – SmartSearch

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has confirmed that so far in 2020 no criminal prosecutions under the current anti-money laundering legislation have been made, despite its stated intention in 2019 to do so.

The revelation came from a Freedom of Information request, which also said it has discontinued half of its 14 investigations into possible breaches of AML rules in the UK.

Commenting on the findings, Martin Cheek, managing director at AML experts SmartSearch, said: “Due to the Covid-19 crisis we face an increasing threat of financial crime in the UK, and indeed around the world.

“So at a time when we should be ensuring every effort is made to crackdown on that increased threat, it’s a concern that the FCA has halved the number of cases it is investigating, and has yet to bring a single criminal prosecution.

“There has of course been some welcome enforcement activity with hefty fines handed out in recent months. However, now more than ever it would send out the right message if the FCA were to really flex its muscle and bring the full weight of their enforcement power to bear on offenders.”

The FCA said in a statement that it has changed its approach so that it is now conducting investigations into suspected breaches of the money laundering regulations that might give rise to either criminal or civil proceedings.

With less than four months left of the year it remains to be seen whether any criminal prosecutions will yet be brought about in 2020. But SmartSearch say that just as importantly, the FCA need to play a key role in encouraging firms to move with the times and use more secure technology to protect themselves against fraud and financial crime.

Cheek added: “The FCA faces a real challenge in dealing with the fallout of Covid-19 in terms of the increased levels of fraud and money-laundering, as criminals seek to take advantage of the situation.

“Unfortunately, there are still too many firms operating outdated processes that have not kept pace with the increasingly sophisticated methods employed by criminals, and they are vulnerable in this current climate.

“While we understand that methods of investigation may have changed at the FCA, it’s going to be important to see a criminal prosecution brought soon in order to draw a line in the sand and convert their intention into action.”

SmartSearch named one of UK’s top tech firms for second year running

Pioneering anti-money-laundering firm SmartSearch has been named in the Sunday Times Sage ‘Tech Track 100’ for a second successive year. The list, published on Sunday, recognises Britain’s 100 private tech companies with the fastest-growing sales over a three-year period.

Earlier in the year, the Yorkshire-based firm also reached 15th position in the Sunday Times Profit Track list, which focuses on profits rather than revenues.

SmartSearch is the UK’s leading provider of anti-money-laundering (AML) software. Its unique one-stop digital platform means regulated firms can meet all their ‘Know Your Customer’ and due diligence needs.

Full electronic identity verification and AML checks take just seconds to perform and can be conducted remotely, online or via a fully-integrated app, with no need for the customer to provide physical ID documents. For additional security, a passports or driving licence can be scanned digitally and advanced facial recognition technology used to authenticate customer identity.

SmartSearch has also recently begun piloting its groundbreaking ‘TripleCheck’ technology, which combines electronic verification, biometric facial recognition and digital fraud checks, to create the most robust and secure AML system available on the market.

The firm’s success and continued growth in the UK have recently led to expansion into North America, with the launch of SmartSearch into the US market in July.

John Dobson, CEO at SmartSearch said, “We have achieved significant year-on-year growth ever since we started SmartSearch in 2011. This is testament to the hard work of the whole team, and it is wonderful to see this recognised in these prestigious listings.

“Never before has electronic verification and anti-money-laundering software been more important. Criminals are developing ever more sophisticated techniques, and global watchdogs have warned that fraudulent activity is on the rise in the wake of Covid-19.

“The restrictions put in place due to coronavirus have made it more important than ever that the wide range of financial and professional services firms likely to be targeted by money-launderers, have access to the very best technology to combat this threat.

“We have created a solution that is quick, affordable and almost instantaneous – as well as being significantly more reliable than manual document checks. A fully digital AML solution is the only way for firms to stay compliant while working remotely.”

EQ launches Mortgage Services

EQ Credit Services, part of the international technology-led services and payments specialist EQ (Equiniti Group plc), is pleased to announce the launch of Mortgage Services.

Consumer credit technology specialist EQ Credit Services will offer Mortgage Services, an end-to-end loan servicing platform, to banks, building societies and other specialist mortgage providers. The service will see clients move to its API-led platform – EQ Borrowbox – and supported by a team of experienced case management experts that specialise in significant life events.

An early adopter of the combined technology and service offering has been Hodge Bank, the later life lender. Hodge brought its mortgage collections and servicing capabilities in-house, enabling it to launch an online management portal for its later-life mortgage customers.

Based on EQ’s award-winning lending platform, EQ Borrowbox has an open API approach and is built with both lenders and consumers in mind.

The platform will handle all aspects of mortgage provision, from customer acquisition and underwriting to back-end and servicing capabilities, also allowing real-time monitoring to improve risk identification and management.

Richard Carter, Managing Director at EQ Credit Services, commented: “We are delighted to be launching our mortgage-focused offering. EQ has deep pedigree in the later life market from our pensions and annuities experience, making lifetime mortgages a natural starting point for us in the broader mortgage sector.

Our experience of working with the FCA means clients can be assured that our regtech solutions will help them develop customer-centric digital services, using secure, repeatable processes to deliver reliable outcomes for borrowers.”

Mark Webster, Mortgage Account Director at EQ Credit Services, added: “EQ has a proud history of working with clients across the lending sector to support their ever-innovating provision of competitive, flexible loans for customers. I am excited to bring this platform’s end-to-end service, modern technology architecture and high-quality team to mortgage providers, to help them deliver the best possible outcomes for their customers.”

Just Appoints Emma Gervasio To Assist With Virtual Enforcement

Emma Gervasio has been appointed by Just to assist in the final developments of its virtual enforcement solution. Emma has previously worked with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service on the strategy, design, rollout planning and testing of the Virtual Hearings service. Emma’s experience and learning from this project is an invaluable asset to the Just virtual solution.

AML specialist SmartSearch breaks into US market

Leading UK anti-money-laundering (AML) firm SmartSearch is today launching operations in the USA.

Expansion into the US market follows a period of sustained growth that has seen the firm frequently named among the UK’s fastest-growing companies, and a leader in the increasingly important ‘RegTech’ sector. SmartSearch’s unique ‘one-stop’ Know Your Customer (KYC) and AML platform enables clients to perform full electronic ID verification and screening in just two seconds, and provides ongoing monitoring to alert users to any change in a client’s status.

Simple to use and manage, SmartSearch enables firms to streamline and automate their customer onboarding process, leaving them free to run their businesses. The full suite of AML checks can be performed remotely, with no need for face-to-face contact or physical documents to be exchanged. There is also a fully-integrated SmartSearch app to allow checks to be performed ‘on the go’. With the Covid-19 pandemic still a significant factor in many US states, this provides a significant competitive advantage for SmartSearch compared to manual document checks.

The platform has also recently incorporated biometric facial recognition for additional security, and there are well-advanced plans for further enhancements.

With experts and global watchdogs warning that there is an increased risk of money-laundering in the current crisis, firms need to be especially vigilant. SmartSearch provides a safe and cost-effective solution to meeting all regulatory requirements and protecting businesses from fraudulent activity.

SmartSearch expects that its solution will prove popular with US clients, as chief executive John Dobson explains: “We have developed a bespoke product for the American market so that US firms using SmartSearch have the same absolute confidence as those in the UK, that their AML checks are up-to-date and fully compliant with relevant legislation at all times.

“Our combination of cutting-edge technology and friendly, efficient customer service means SmartSearch is already one of the UK’s leading RegTech firms. Our client retention rate of 98% is testament to the high level of service we consistently deliver.

“We want to bring those assets to bear in the US market, while continuing to deliver day in, day out for our UK clients.”

Just expands its board of directors with another senior appointment with extensive experience of debt market integration

Just, the enforcement market integrator, has appointed Victoria Oliver as its Director of Client Development to assist in the delivery of its strategy to become the creditor’s first choice for enforcement needs.

Victoria has over 18 years’ experience working in debt recovery, having held senior roles at Fredrickson International, Lowell and Qualco, where she spent over five years as Head of Strategic Projects, Governance and Business Transformation and more recently was part of the team that developed a strategy and won the Debt Management Services integrator framework for UK Government.

Commenting on joining Just, Victoria said, “I know from first-hand experience what value market integration brings to debt collection. Enforcement, in the past, has been left out of scope as integration has been considered problematic. Just has taken that challenge on, and already onboarded over 50 clients who are benefitting from a market integration approach. I am now looking forward to bringing my expertise to the executive team and introducing more creditors to the enhanced services that market integration brings.”

Nick Georgiades, Just’s Managing Director added, “Having spent nine years of my career at TDX, the UK’s largest debt market integrator, I appreciate the skills, energy and tenacity required in this role when delivering such a new and innovative approach. Victoria has been though a similar experience with Qualco; this, together with her focus on ensuring that we do the right thing for customers, suppliers and debtors means she is just the person for the job. Having provided an integrator service to some of the largest Utilities and Financial services companies in the UK, her experience will be a great enhancement to our executive team. I am delighted that she is joining us, and I am looking forward to see her transform and develop our stakeholder team so we can provide a truly outstanding service to our clients.”

Jamie Waller, founder and chair of Just, commented, “It’s important for us to have a leadership team that truly believes in treating debtors fairly and a marketplace approach to raising standards. Victoria will be a brilliant addition to our team.”

Industry’s first-ever virtual enforcement solution launched. Could this be the future of enforcement?

Just has spent its time during lockdown engaging with a broad range of stakeholders across the industry to design, build and launch the industry’s first-ever virtual enforcement solution.

Virtual enforcement will be performed by qualified and trained enforcement staff from the comfort of a desk rather than in a debtor’s home. Debtors will be able to arrange suitable payment plans and arrange a time and day for a virtual visit to take place to secure the arrangement against goods but without the distress of having an enforcement agent turn up and enter their home.

Virtual enforcement will offer a more efficient and responsible way to deal with debt during the difficult times ahead but still allow for traditional enforcement to be used where effective and when absolutely necessary. The virtual enforcement solution will also reduce the cost traditionally passed onto the debtor at this stage by 50%.

Nick Georgiades, Just’s Managing Director commented on the launch “our team have been working day and night in the design of this solution and we are confident that this is the biggest innovation brought into the industry for over 100+ years. Getting early debt resolution by positive engagement with the debtor and reducing confrontational activity from the doorstep has always been an objective of Just and since launch in September 2019 we have made great progress, Virtual enforcement is a game changer. Any enhancements in a primitive sector like enforcement are good, but one as revolutionary as this, that also brings substantial cost savings to the debtor and a better user experience for all, should be celebrated and that’s what we intend to do. We could not have achieved this without the input of key Government, customer and debt advice sector engagement and I am thankful to them for that”.

Jamie Waller, Just’s Founder and Chairman said, “we have seen a sudden acceleration of a 25-year-old trend over the last few months of – “if I can do it online, I will”. We believe the investment the public has made in using new virtual solutions is here to stay. COVID-19 gave us the opportunity to think about a solution that was not only fit for purpose during a crisis but fit for the future and that’s what we have achieved. I am even more excited that virtual enforcement reduces the cost passed onto the debtor by as much as 50%. This allows our customers to get their principle amounts faster while treating the debtor fairly. Something that traditionally in this sector has been difficult to achieve”.

Yvonne Fovargue MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Debt and Personal Finance said “It is vital that we support people in debt, particularly at this difficult time. The new virtual enforcement tool is clearly a step in the right direction. By reducing costs for the debtor, it will help to take some of the stress out of the debt collection process. I wish the same could be said for the proposed return of bailiff visits, particularly without any additional protections for those in debt. It will simply add to the problems faced by those struggling to repay”.

Benjamin Napier of Citizens Advice commented “any solution that gives the debtor the ability to engage without an enforcement agent at their door is a good thing”.

Just believe that the virtual enforcement solution provides creditors a service that is fair, proportionate, and fit for the future of enforcement in a modern world. Just chose to launch this solution on 1st July so that it will enable creditors to have this new, fare and cheaper option available for when they choose to get back to collection activity.

Scott and Mears Credit Services appoint Zakia Khalid as In-House Legal Counsel

The long established and highly regarded debt collection company, Scott and Mears Credit Services Limited who is based in Southend-On-Sea is delighted to announce the appointment of Zakia Khalid, Solicitor, as In-House Legal Counsel.

Zakia, who qualified as a solicitor in August 2008 joins Scott and Mears with a wealth of collections strategy experience, litigation and insolvency expertise along with the ability to advise clients on maximising recoveries whatever market challenges are faced now or in the future.

Chris Baddeley, Director, commented “These are exciting times for Scott and Mears which is off the back of a superb collections performance during lockdown. With the recent management changes, new collections projects in the pipeline and the onboarding of new clients we are looking at a very bright future for both our clients and the team here. Zakia is another piece of the puzzle which allows us to enhance client service and performance.”

For more about Scott and Mears please see www.scottandmears.co.uk.

Or call 01702 466 300 and speak to Chris Baddeley, Tony Kirton or Zakia Khalid.