Hidden Flows and How Danske Bank Revealed Regulatory Gaps
Global regulators have spent the past decade ensuring banks have enough capital to survive the next crisis.
But it’s now clear there are other risks which the industry may not be properly equipped to handle.
In Denmark, the financial regulator overseeing Danske Bank A/S says there’s no shortage of tools to monitor income, capital, liquidity and other bottom-line quantities. But when it comes to tracking the money that flows into and out of a bank, the regulatory toolbox is a bit thinner.
Jesper Berg, the man who heads the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority in Copenhagen, says a key challenge is that “historically, risk analysis tools are built on the basis of balance sheet data and income data, and neither of those two sources shows flows.”
The shock of Danske’s $230 billion dirty-money scandal has drastically shifted the regulatory agenda in Denmark. The bank’s admission that billions in suspicious transactions flowed from the former Soviet Union, through a tiny Estonian branch and into the West until 2015, has forced Europe to pay attention to widespread laundering in its backyard. Berg has made clear he thinks Danske is far from alone.
The Danish FSA is now fielding inquiries from supervisors in other countries eager to learn from its experiences. Denmark this year pushed through a series of much tougher rules designed to prevent such financial crime, including raising fines by 700 percent and adding jail sentences to the penalties that bank executives can face.
Europe’s fifth anti-money laundering directive went into force in July and a sixth was proposed in October. The European Banking Authority meanwhile is proposing special AML committees for individual banks.
The FSAs of both Denmark and Estonia are themselves being investigated in the case, as are Danske’s auditors, for not doing more to stop the alleged laundering sooner. But Berg, who took over as head of the Danish FSA in late 2015, says the current regulatory framework has some holes.
“When you look down over millions of accounts and billions of transactions, it’s sometimes difficult to find the famous needles in the haystack,” he said.
Danske is under criminal investigation in multiple jurisdictions, including in the U.S., and investors are bracing for substantial fines. The bank’s share price has plunged more than 40 percent this year amid the uncertainty.
Danske has invited its customers to meetings across the country to apologize and explain the case, according to letters sent to account holders. The bank says it’s already contacted 25,000 clients, and has sent invitations to another 150,000, according to comments made to the finance workers union. More invitations will follow, it says.
Berg says it’s one thing to have caught Danske, thanks in large part to evidence provided by a whistle-blower. But he worries that there’s still plenty of dirty money out there looking for another path into the West.
“The big issue in this part of the world is money that wants to get out of Russia,” he said. “And that problem is still out there.”
Author: Frances Schwartzkopff