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East Midlands and Northern Ireland Marked as UK Hotspot for Financial Crime Attacks

With 54 per cent of banking and finance firms reporting new cases of money laundering attempts and one in seven falling victim to financial crime, a new survey has warned that criminals are becoming both increasingly active and increasingly agile in their attacks.  

Fifty-four per cent of firms in the finance and banking sector have seen a rise in criminals attempting to launder money or commit financial crimes through their businesses in the last year while 14 per cent have been the victim of money laundering or financial crime in the past six months.

The findings sound a stark warning to regulated firms that organised criminals are increasingly active, and that the threat of financial crime is tangible.

They are revealed in a survey of 500 regulated UK businesses in the legal, property and banking and finance sectors by anti-money laundering (AML) software provider SmartSearch.

The businesses were questioned during May as part of SmartSearch’s continuing ‘Electronic Verification Uncovered’ campaign, which argues that regulated businesses should use digital onboarding to ensure they effectively identify and screen clients.

In total, almost half of the regulated firms who participated in the survey had seen an increase in the number of attempts to commit crime through money laundering or financial crime.

Regionally, businesses situated in the East Midlands and Northern Ireland were the most likely to come under increased attacks from financial criminals – where 63 per cent and 71 per cent respectively of firms had seen a rise in illegal activity.

But other regions were only slightly less vulnerable – up to or more than half of the regulated firms in Wales (56 per cent), Yorkshire (53 per cent) and the West Midlands (50 per cent) also had to deal with increased attempts at money laundering and financial crime.

Meanwhile, even in areas where firms were apparently least likely to find themselves under increased attack – the North East (33 per cent) and Scotland (37 per cent) – the issue still affected more than a third of those surveyed.

According to the findings of the survey, size was also a deciding factor in how likely it was for a firm to be targeted. Those with more than 500 employees were almost twice as likely to see an increase in criminal activity compared to those with less than 50 people.

Martin Cheek, managing director of SmartSearch
Martin Cheek

Reflecting on the findings of the survey, Martin Cheek, the company’s managing director, comments that the results represent the “reality of financial crime,” accelerated by the heightened activity of these criminals,

“These statistics should ring alarm bells for all regulated businesses – especially those which continue to rely on manual checks to onboard new individual customers and businesses,” he comments.

Despite the increased threat of financial crime, up to a quarter of the surveyed firms admitted that they still carried out manual checks on hard-copy documents such as passports and utility bills.

Furthermore, a worrying 16 per cent of them were unaware of digital ID and digital AML solutions, despite electronic solutions being recommended in the 2020 Money Laundering and Terrorist Finance Act.

Explaining the inadequacies of these manual solutions, Cheek notes how “organised crime gangs can easily make convincing forgeries of ID documents” and that digital alternatives remain “the most effective way for regulated firms to remain compliant, as well as avoiding the fines and reputational damage which breaches of the regulations can bring.”

“Money laundering often involves the proceeds of the misery caused by some of the world’s worst crimes,” he continues. “These findings clearly show that investing in robust and ongoing electronic verification is the smartest way to help to prevent those crimes – and to keep regulated firms compliant.”


  • Tyler is a fintech journalist with specific interests in online banking and emerging AI technologies. He began his career writing with a plethora of national and international publications.

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