How this cloud-based tech solution is helping protect Kiwi businesses from money laundering.
Think money-laundering doesn’t affect New Zealand? Jenine Colmore-Williams asks you to think again, and has developed software to help keep the crims at bay.
Money laundering wasn’t exactly on Jenine Colmore-Williams’ radar until, while living in London, her neighbour fell victim to a scam. “She was approached by a crime syndicate who persuaded her to help move their money to another country. They presented her with £10,000 to pop into her own bank account, which she then transferred to another account number. It’s what’s called money muling, and it was really horrifying and distressing for my neighbour to find she had been tricked into laundering money.”
Some years later, Colmore-Williams was back in New Zealand to raise her children and working as a global talent strategist within HR teams in the banking and technology sectors. While in a role at Westpac, she began to deeply understand how the (then relatively new) Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act was impacting top tier banks as they grappled with the legislation and how to comply.
When the government began considering how the legislation would be rolled out to SMEs – particularly the legal, accounting, luxury goods and real estate sectors – Colmore-Williams spied an opportunity.
“I sat down over a good bottle of Chardonnay and thought ‘Actually, this is not going to be easy’. It was clear to me that if a tier-one bank – which has all the human resource it could possibly need, and all the resources and expertise in the world – couldn’t easily pull off AML compliance, how was an SME going to do it?”
Colmore-Williams concedes she’s the person others would least like to be stuck next to at a dinner party. “Honestly, they hear the word ‘compliance’ and their eyes glaze over,” she laughs. It’s when she breaks down the impact money laundering is having on New Zealand that her table-mates’ ears usually prick up.
“It affects our communities, our businesses, our economy, and our borders,” she explains. She refers to the Panama Papers (2016) as an example. “We had 15,000 trust accounts opened in our country by foreign owners and millions upon millions laundered through those accounts. We’ve had scandals out of Russia and Latvia, with shell companies opened here and money laundered through them. And think of our gangs, and the phenomenal amount of money laundering that they do.”
The total each year? Around $1.35 billion, laundered through New Zealand. “That’s money that’s not being funnelled through our tax system. How many more nurses, teachers or police officers could that fund? What could Pharmac do with 1.35 billion?”
Colmore-Williams’ solution for SMEs who fall under the Act is her cloud-based software platform, Dimension GRC. The GRC part stands for Governance, Risk and Compliance, and her subscription-based programme makes it simpler for SMEs to tackle AML compliance using her new, end-to-end product. “My vision was to do for compliance what Xero did for accounting,” says Colmore-Williams. “The time and cost of compliance is huge for SMEs. I wanted to bring that down to something simple, elegant and easy so that compliance isn’t a big millstone around their necks.”
Dimension GRC “finds all the needles in the haystack for the business owner,” continues Colmore-Williams, and presents them in a dashboard environment – again, similar to Xero’s interface. Plus, the initiative is insights-driven, meaning that SMEs are able to distil their customer data down and refine their product or service offering. “Through the compliance process, businesses begin to deeply understand their customers in a way they never have before – such as whether they have trust funds across multiple jurisdictions, if they are married, if they are active in other countries. They can start looking at customers through a different lens and use the insights to move their product or service offering to meet the needs of their customers.” An example? “We’ve had a legal firm that has simplified its trusts offering as a result of these insights – from 12 different trust structures down to just five.”
Still, will New Zealand companies get excited about what a cloud-based system can offer in the compliance space? Colmore-Williams says yes, more now than ever. “Lockdown has presented us with new challenges and high numbers working remotely. Therefore, the oversight of compliance has become fragmented.”
Those using a paper-based system are at risk, she says, when workers operating in isolation begin making subjective decisions. Using regulatory technology like Dimension GRC solves the problem. “An accountant can sit with their client and input their AML details right away – or send them a secure link if they’re remotely located. The client can then upload their passport or drivers’ licence, and any other documentation they might need, and it’s all kept together in a cloud-based solution.
“Data protection, customer privacy and many other components of compliance are so much more easily managed when they are sitting in technology, locked behind sound walls and centralised,” Colmore-Williams concludes.
“Compliance falls apart when you haven’t got continuity. And tech provides that.”
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