The financial services industry, particularly banks, has stepped up efforts in gearing up its intellectual capital base to manage risk and money-laundering activities, says Alison Thom, principal consultant at leading executive search and consulting group Mindcor.

Thom, with more than 15 years’ experience in the financial services industry, spanning two continents, says while South Africa is a leader in managing risk exposure, which contributed heavily to the country’s relative insulation from the global financial meltdown, it is however playing catch-up when it comes to implementing a robust anti-money laundering framework.

Globally, Thom says banks constantly need to re-evaluate their anti-money laundering structures and systems as legislators continually move the goalposts in an attempt to stamp out the scourge.

She says internationally, the industry has woken up to the reality of a lax risk and anti-money laundering framework as a bank is fined and the industry, including the consulting sector, has recently hired some 600 top experts in the field to beef up the support structures available to the banking sector.

“Risk management and anti-money laundering activities have become a major concern for financial services institutions across the globe, because the potential consequences when the environment is porous can bring an institution to its knees,” warns Thom.

There is also the possibility of ending up behind bars if negligence on the part of the employee can be established, adds Thom.
“It is imperative that individuals with the right skills set are assigned these responsibilities.”

She says this is the reason behind the drive to prioritise anti-money laundering initiatives within the major banks in South Africa. However, what is of concern is the relatively small skills pool from which to fill these vital roles within banks’ risk and anti-money laundering task teams.

Traditionally, the anti-money laundering activities were shared between a compliance specialist with anti-money laundering and risk management skills and the legal department.

“Increasingly, we are finding that the candidates who perform better at these roles tend to also have a legal background, in the form of an LLB qualification or an equivalent. As Mindcor, we see our role as guiding the client by bringing our industry knowledge and understanding of how the global environment is evolving to ensure that we are not simply ticking boxes but ensuring that a key strategic role is fulfilled within the businesses.
“We look into the future direction of the sector, and then advise clients on the type of skills set they should groom today in order to anticipate the expected business environment.”