Warning notice

Money laundering and terrorist financing

First issued on 8 December 2014 - updated 2 March 2018


Whilst this document does not form part of the SRA Handbook, the SRA may have regard to it when exercising its regulatory functions.

Who is this warning notice relevant to?

This warning notice is relevant to all regulated persons who have a legal obligation to ensure that they:

  • do not facilitate money laundering or terrorist financing
  • do report any suspicious transactions.

This notice highlights warning signs which you should be aware of, and which may require you to take action in order to avoid committing a criminal offence or breaching your professional obligations under the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Handbook.

The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (MLR 2017) came into force on 26 June 2017 replacing the now repealed Money Laundering Regulations 2007. As a result law firms may need to make changes to their procedures and systems. Read guidance on the key changes.

The SRA mandatory outcomes

You should have regard to the specific outcomes under the SRA Code of Conduct 2011 Outcome 7.5 - to comply with your legal obligations under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, the Terrorism Act 2000 and the MLR 2017.

You must ensure that you do not facilitate money laundering, even when money does not pass through your firm's accounts. Your firm should have appropriate policies and procedures in place to protect it from being used for money laundering or terrorist financing Outcomes 7.2 and 7.3.

Our concerns

The SRA supervises those it regulates for compliance with money laundering legislation. Firms must move into compliance with the new regulation's. We are concerned that some firms have not made enough progress towards compliance by failing to have adequate systems and controls to prevent, detect and report money laundering.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an independent inter-governmental body, issued a report in 2013 highlighting the vulnerabilities of legal professionals to money laundering and terrorist financing, in which it identified 42 'Red Flag Indicators'.

Being aware of these indicators or warning signs of money laundering and terrorist financing should assist you in applying a risk based approach to meeting your obligations under the Money Laundering Regulations 2017 and other money laundering legislation. If red flag indicators are present in your dealings with a client, you should ask further questions and consider making a suspicious activity report to your firm's Money Laundering Reporting Officer (MLRO) or the National Crime Agency, as appropriate.

Our expectations

We expect all firms and individuals regulated by us to comply with money laundering legislation including taking appropriate steps to conduct customer due diligence when required to do so by the Money Laundering Regulations 2017. We expect firms and individuals to be aware of, and act properly upon, warning signs that a transaction may be suspicious.

The warning signs highlighted by FATF include:

If the client:

  • Is secretive or evasive about who they are, the reason for the transaction, or the source of funds.
  • Uses an intermediary, or does not appear to be directing the transaction, or appears to be disguising the real client.
  • Avoids personal contact without good reason.
  • Refuses to provide information or documentation or the documentation provided is suspicious.
  • Has criminal associations.
  • Has unusual level of knowledge about money laundering processes.
  • Does not appear to have a business association with the other parties but appears to be connected to them.

If the source of funds is unusual, such as:

  • Large cash payments.
  • Unexplained payments from a third party.
  • Large private funding that does not fit the business or personal profile of the payer.
  • Loans from non-institutional lenders.
  • Use of corporate assets to fund private expenditure of individuals.
  • Use of multiple accounts or foreign accounts.

If the transaction has unusual features, such as:

  • Size, nature, frequency or manner of execution.
  • Early repayment of mortgages/loans.
  • Short repayment periods for borrowing.
  • An excessively high value is placed on assets/securities.
  • It is potentially loss making.
  • Involving unnecessarily complicated structures or steps in transaction.
  • Repetitive instructions involving common features/parties or back to back transactions with assets rapidly changing value.
  • The transaction is unusual for the client, type of business or age of the business.
  • Unexplained urgency, requests for short cuts or changes to the transaction particularly at last minute.
  • Use of a Power of Attorney in unusual circumstances.
  • No obvious commercial purpose to the transaction.
  • Instructions to retain documents or to hold money in your client account.
  • Abandoning transaction and/or requests to make payments to third parties or back to source.
  • Monies passing directly between the parties.
  • Litigation which is settled too easily or quickly and with little involvement by you.

If the instructions are unusual for your business such as:

  • Outside your or your firm's area of expertise or normal business, or if client is not local to you and there is no explanation as to why a firm in your locality has been chosen.
  • Willingness of client to pay high fees.
  • Unexplained changes to legal advisers.
  • Your client appears unconcerned or lacks knowledge about the transaction.

If there are geographical concerns such as:

Enforcement action

Failure to comply with this warning notice may lead to disciplinary action, criminal prosecution or both.

Further information

Read full guidance on the 2017 Money Laundering Regulations.

Raed resources and information about AML compliance.

If you want technical advice about the questions, you can contact our Ethics Guidance helpline.

Please use www.sra.org.uk/aml to link to this page.