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Refinitiv MENA regulatory summit debates impacts of global regulatory change

March 2019

Refinitiv MENA Regulatory Summit Debates Impacts of Global Regulatory Change in response to financial crime

MENA Financial Crime Survey reports 44 % of respondents have fallen victim to financial crime in the past five years, while 87% expect their technology to develop over the next two years

Dubai, UAE: March 19, 2019 – Refinitiv held today the 13th MENA Regulatory Summit in partnership with the Union of Arab Banks and the MENA Financial Crime Compliance Group. More than 40 panellists debated the global regulatory landscape and its influence on the MENA region, including financial crime risk, de-risking, financial inclusion and the digital revolution in financial services, such as cyber security, cryptocurrency and blockchain.

Wissam Fattouh, Secretary General of Union of Arab Banks (UAB) and Chairman of the MENA Financial Crime Compliance Group (MENA FCCG) , said: “For several years, the Union of Arab Banks has been closely monitoring the development of correspondent banking relationships. UAB has organised a series of activities and awareness campaigns in several countries across the globe including the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Oman, Jordan, Turkey, among others.”

He added: “We are in a serious battle against criminal minds, fighting to put an end to their illicit behaviour and safeguarding Arab banks and societies by defining the concepts of money laundering and terrorism financing.”

Mr. Fattouh noted that today we are witnessing increased reliance on financial technology which aims at improving operation efficiently and reducing human intervention in baking operations. “The absence of successful Regtech applications my result in risks that transcend cybersecurity. The Arab banking sector is one of the largest sources of development and lending for private and public sectors. By the end of 2018, the Arab banking sector assets reached 3.5 Trillion dollars which represents 140 percent of GDP, while the sum of deposits reached 2.2 trillion dollar and loans touched 2 trillion dollars,” he pointed out.

Mr. Fattouh cited a study by the Union of Arab Banks noting that 52 million Arab citizens are illiterate, 7 million of whom are between the ages of 15 to 25 and 4.5 million who have not attended school. “The UAB has developed a series of social initiatives ranging from social awareness sessions and training programs to promote financial education.

Bryan Stirewalt, Chief Executive of the DFSA said: “Financial crime risks are a key regulatory priority for the DFSA and an important area of focus for the UAE. The DFSA has been one of the key stakeholders involved in the UAE’s FATF evaluation preparations and will continue to support the FATF Mutual evaluation process as it goes on. The DFSA and our regional and international regulatory peers share a common goal in fighting financial crime. Given the enhancements to the UAE framework and the recent updates to the DFSA’s AML framework, the DFSA will be hosting a dedicated Financial Crime Conference on 25 March that will cover the UAE National Risk Assessment, AML Federal Legislation as well as the DFSA Financial Crime Prevention Program for 2019.”

Mr Abdul Hafiz Mansour, President of MENA FATF 2018 and Secretary General of the Special Investigation Commission, Lebanon FIU, noted: “We have come a long way since the introduction of the 40 recommendations three decades ago. In the 1990s, these recommendations became the standards in protecting the global financial system from money laundering.”

He added: “Regulators are now reaching out to the private sector. Regulators are now becoming more effective because of the private sector’s input.” Speaking about the development of the Anti-Money Laundering system, Mr. Mansour noted that the AML regime works on the basis of reporting. “It is up to compliance officers and the private sector to spot suspicious transactions. The reporting function is critical because that is the starting point to combat financial crime,” he said.

Maryam Al Suwaidi, Deputy CEO of Financial Markets Operations Sector Securities & Commodities Authority (SCA), noted that supervision is a key role that SCA assumes. “We have been actively engaging with the private sector since 2017 to cover a wide range of compliance related themes,” she noted.  

Lana Pebley, Chief Compliance Officer, Ras Al Khaimah Freezones, discussed the active efforts by UAE free zones to conduct national assessments that concern fighting financial crime. “We have seen major law and regulatory transformation in the UAE. The regulatory entities have put huge effort to come up with best industry practices that meet the standards of developed countries around the world.”

The 5th Refinitiv MENA Financial Crime Report was revealed at the opening session. According to the survey findings, 44 % of respondents have fallen victim to financial crime in the past five years. About 87% expect their technology to continue to develop over the next two years, while 70% anticipate an increase in investment in compliance over the next two years.

When asked about their experience of crime, responses for both money laundering, bribery and corruption were identical at around 12%, yet the uptake of ABC programs has been low over the five years of the survey.

Speaking about the report findings, Nadim Najjar, Managing Director, Middle East and Africa, Refinitiv, said: “Every year the report produces  valuable insights, but this year’s edition is particularly thought-provoking as it features five key trends including the growing interest in technology, rise of personal liability as a regulatory risk, increased anti bribery and corruption regulation activity, emergence of ambitious new compliance programs driven by regional governments, and the pursuit by small banks to upgrade their systems.”

“The findings report a flattening of investment into skills and training, which may indicate a swing away from human resources to technology, at least in the short term. MENA-based organizations are just as exposed to the growing regulatory risk as their global counterparts, and yet responses to this year’s survey questions show that less than half of participants have an ABC program in place,” he noted.

Mr. Najjar pointed out that many countries in MENA have ambitious plans to integrate their economy regionally and globally. “An analysis of survey responses per country indicates that Know Your Customer is the number one rated financial crime program. Respondents from all countries had KYC in their top three programs and eight of the 12 rated it as their top program,” he added.

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