Anti-money laundering firm SmartSearch says it has seen estate agency client numbers double in the past two years after several large firms faced HMRC warnings and fines.
In March, HMRC fined Countrywide £215,000 and Tepilo £68,595 as part of a crackdown on money laundering. HMRC officers visited 50 estate agents across England after they were suspected of trading without being registered as required under money laundering regulations.
Countrywide was fined for failing to ensure adequate policies, controls and procedures and for failures in conducting due diligence and proper record keeping.
SmartSearch helps businesses comply with money laundering regulations and removes the need for manual checks. Estate agents can also upload their current and past client base within 24 hours to ensure all record-keeping is up to date.
Martin Cheek, MD at SmartSearch, said: “Recent fines – most significantly the £215,000 fine handed to Countrywide – and the fact that HMRC made surprise visits earlier this year to 50 other estate agents suspected of failing to comply with AML regulations showed the estate agency sector that there would be serious consequences for anyone found not to be taking their money laundering obligations seriously enough.
“And I think a large proportion of the estate agents that have come to us in the past two years is as a result of this increased pressure on estate agents to comply or face the consequences.
“Whether estate agents are unsure of their obligations, don’t have the resources to meet them or simply don’t think AML matters, the end result is the same; they are not compliant, and that leaves them vulnerable and liable.
“Our platform offers a full-service solution that ensures estate agents are fully compliant with the latest money laundering regulations and remain compliant with any future changes in the legislation.”
Lynne Zendram, compliance manager at estate agent Wilkinson Grant, commented: “As estate agents are now considered by HMRC to be in the ‘front line’ when it comes to money laundering checks, we take this responsibility seriously and have been using SmartSearch for the past 12 months for all AML verification/PEP checks.
The ongoing monitoring of such checks is also considered by us to be important.”