City firm rebuked by SRA over AML training failures

Top 50 firm Withers LLP has been rebuked by the regulator after failing to adequately train staff in anti-money laundering measures.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority said the firm failed between June 2017 and October 2019 to ensure employees were given regular training to recognise and deal with potentially suspect transactions.

A decision notice published today states that the SRA asked in 2018 whether staff had been trained in money laundering, terrorist financing and transfer of funds regulations in the previous year. New regulations had come into force the previous year and all firms were obliged at that stage to train staff about them. It was established that just two-thirds of relevant employees had been trained by the end of 2018. The training of the remaining one-third was completed by early October 2019.

When the SRA brought formal allegations, Withers confirmed that employees had been made aware of regulations as part of a wider review of policy, but training had taken ‘longer than anticipated’.

The firm has admitted its failing and accepted it breached SRA rules to comply with regulatory obligations, maintain public trust and train workers to maintain an appropriate level of compliance.

Opting to rebuke the firm rather than pursue any financial penalty, the SRA said the agreed sanction was a ‘proportionate outcome in the public interest’, creating a credible deterrent to other firms and showing the risk of not providing adequate training.

The SRA said there was no evidence of lasting harm to third parties, the breach had been remedied and there was a low risk of repetition. Withers’ early admissions were also taken into account.

The firm said it did take some other steps to make relevant employees aware of the relevant anti-money laundering legislation, and has now trained all relevant employees.

The firm has also agreed to the publication of the notice and to pay £1,350 costs.

(The Law Society Gazette, 16 March 2020)

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