Data doom and delight


With writing a post once a week only (I’ve fallen into writing longer posts less frequently – hope that’s OK), there’s sometimes a bit of a delay until I get round to dealing with something that’s been in the news.  Personally, I think that’s no bad thing – we’re sometimes too quick to react, and a bit of mulling never hurt anyone.  All of which is a preamble to saying that today’s topic is a set of data that was published on the Politico website on 19 May 2020.  It’s titled “The world’s dirty money by the numbers”, but really it’s looking at the situation in the EU.

Whenever you look at crime stats, the numbers are huge – to the point of being unimaginable – so you can try dividing it until it does make sense.  Apparently money laundering worldwide could total $4.5 trillion in 2020 [I’m guessing these are pre-pandemic estimates for GDP].  So that’s $4,500,000,000,000 in a year, which is $12,328,767,123 a day, or – and this figure is actually possible to grasp – $142,694 a second.

Personally I have no gripe with the fact that only 10% of SARs made in the EU are further investigated immediately, while 90% sit on file in case they’re needed – surely that’s the nature of policing in any field.  But it is interesting to read that we in the UK are the most avid reporters of suspicion – you’re gonna miss us when we’re gone [or maybe not].

I was fascinated to read the reasons behind SARs; as I work so frequently in the Channel Islands, I’m used to “tax concerns” topping the list, but taken across the EU, “fraud and swindling” [great word] runs it a close second.  And who knew that 3% of SARs mentioned “counterfeiting and product piracy” as the suspected predicate offence?

And in these days of contactless payments and cyber-currencies, it seems that criminals are touchingly traditional.  The cops at Europol put it best: “While not all use of cash is criminal, almost all criminals use cash at some stage during the money laundering process.”  Part of the problem for the EU is its ongoing love affair with high-value banknotes, which are rarely seen by ordinary folk but are much hoarded and treasured by criminals.

Finally, it is a little depressing to read that two-thirds of managers with compliance-related responsibilities are hesitant to report suspicious activity externally as “it might sour our relationships”, while 73% say they focus on “box ticking” to be regulatory compliant, instead of actively trying to prevent issues.  And 72% (the same ones? could be…) are aware of financial crime taking place in their global operations in the last twelve months.  Here’s hoping that the Politico number-crunchers update this information regularly, to remind us both what we’ve achieved and how far there is to go.