Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Embattled Westpac Bank Removed Compliance Officer Who Reported Money Laundering Breaches to Regulators

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Westpac Banking Corp’s experienced anti-money laundering chief was told she didn’t have the skills for the job and would have to take a more junior role after informing the bank that it faced the largest fine in corporate history, industry sources said.

Amanda Wood, Westpac’s money-laundering reporting officer, led the bank’s response to the AUSTRAC investigation over 10 months, working with managers from the global transaction services business to understand what happened and provide explanations to AUSTRAC in person and in writing.

The former senior AUSTRAC official was also one of the Westpac managers who first informed the senior echelons of the bank that it had failed to notify AUSTRAC of millions of transactions with foreign banks. All international money transfers must be reported to the money-laundering investigator.

She regularly briefed the board’s compliance committee, which had given itself responsibility for overseeing anti-money laundering and terrorism-financing policy and procedures.

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Then in May this year, senior AUSTRAC officials, including chief executive Nicole Rose, met the Westpac board to discuss the breaches.

Ms Wood was not invited. Approximately 30 minutes after the meeting ended, Ms Wood held a “debrief” meeting with her supervisor, according to a source. She was told that AUSTRAC had informed the board it regarded the breaches as very serious.

Each of the 23 million contraventions could, theoretically, incur a fine of $17 million to $21 million.

Ms Wood was also told that the bank wanted a money-laundering reporting officer who had more international experience.

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She was offered a different position with the same pay but less responsibility. Instead of managing an operational team of 50, she would oversee fewer than 10 staff and manage policy and communication with regulators.

Rather than take the job, she took a redundancy payout.

She was replaced by T. Scott Saunders, a former head of compliance at Macquarie Group. Mr Saunders was given the title global head of financial crime.

Westpac spokesman David Lording said the bank wouldn’t comment on previous or current staff.

Above-average bonuses

According to Ms Wood’s LinkedIn profile, she joined Westpac in May 2017 from Commonwealth Bank, where she was head of financial crime compliance.

Ms Wood had received above-average bonuses during her two years at Westpac, and no complaints had been raised about her performance, according to a person familiar with her employment record.

Before joining Commonwealth Bank Ms Wood was the general manager of compliance at AUSTRAC for seven years and seven months, according to LinkedIn.

Westpac’s money-laundering reporting officer, known in the bank as the MLRO, is responsible for reporting breaches of the law and bank procedures to senior executives, and overseeing bank policy on money laundering and terrorist financing.

Ms Wood was alerted to the breaches around May last year and then informed an internal committee known as the Westpac regulatory disclosure forum, chaired by the bank’s chief compliance officer, Jamie Kelly.

The committee decides when the bank should tell regulators or law enforcement agencies that it may have broken the law.

Fessing up

On July 25, last year, the committee decided to disclose the breaches to AUSTRAC, which was notified on August 15.

It began an investigation that led to civil charges being filed in the Federal Court last week. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority have also begun investigations and Attorney-General Christian Porter has said the crimes are worse than similar mistakes at Commonwealth Bank, which received a $700 million fine.

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In addition to some 23 million breaches of the law, AUSTRAC has accused Westpac of failing to adequately oversee its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing programs.

“These failures in oversight resulted in serious and systemic non-compliance with the AML/CTF Act,” the regulator said.

Six days after the charges were filed, chief executive Brian Hartzer and chairman Lindsay Maxsted agreed to resign.

 

Source: Australian Financial Review

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