AML compliance vs AML risk management: Closely aligned despite striking differences

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AML compliance vs AML risk management: Closely aligned despite striking differences

Understanding AML compliance vs AML risk management is essential. In the realm of AML, businesses use compliance and risk management as substitutes. Both are crucial for any business entity. So, you must understand the differences between risk management and compliance in AML.

Anti-money laundering compliance is an ‘in-trend’ term for businesses nowadays. Another similar term that has been in use for quite a long time is risk management, specifically in the case of financial institutions. While the former talks about adherence to rules, the latter entails managing threats to a business. 

In this blog, we will explore the distinctions between the two. First, we will understand what AML compliance and AML risk management mean. Then, we will discover the similarities and differences between AML risk management and compliance.  

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Compliance and risk management: Term differences

What is compliance?

Compliance means adhering to regulations, laws, and rules. It means you are ethical in your business practices. You do what the government and the law expect you to without deviating from the business morals. Thus, it is a reactive exercise to show your country and regulator that you follow the rules.

Suppose you are a business in the UAE. You must follow the local rules and regulations related to your operations, license, environment, labour, and many other aspects. The process of following these rules and how well you are able to do it means compliance.

AML compliance vs AML risk management

By complying with laws, the regulator or relevant authority will not impose penalties or fines on you. Also, you will not face any legal cases for non-compliance. Thus, by complying, you save yourself from financial losses, legal ramifications, and reputational damages.

What is risk management?

Risk management means managing the risks to your business. How do you manage them? You identify these risks, categorise them, measure their probability and impact, and develop strategies to mitigate, control, or manage them.

You can try to avoid risks in the first place. Or, you can try to reduce their impact on your business activities. Whatever you do, you can plan it before the risks affect you. Thus, it is a proactive action from your side based on your expectations of potential risks.

When there is a change in the business environment, potential risks change. So, you must keep changing your risk management strategies. Thus, risk management requires you to be more strategic in your thinking while planning for it.

Thus, compliance and risk management differ in many aspects. But, when you consider these terms related to money laundering, some more differences crop up. Let’s explore these differences between AML risk management and compliance.

AML compliance vs AML risk management: Definitions

AML compliance

AML compliance means adhering to the regulations to protect your business from money laundering. It involves creating a framework that includes policies, procedures, practices, and internal controls to guide the fight against money laundering. Moreover, this framework or strategy is unique to each business’s needs and activities.

AML compliance requires businesses to comply with the local AML regulations. As per the UAE AML/CFT laws, you need to:

  • Create an AML compliance department and appoint an AML compliance officer
  • Assess the money laundering risks to your business from several factors so that you can fight them
  • Create a risk-based AML compliance program that enables adherence to each requirement of the law
  • Monitor transactions to identify suspicious ones
  • Conduct KYC, screening, and due diligence of customers to identify threats
  • Conduct training of your employees on AML-specific aspects
  • Implement technology solutions or manual systems to facilitate compliance
  • Create reports on suspicious transactions and customers and report them to authorities

AML risk management

If you check the aspects of AML compliance, risk management is an integral part of it. It requires you to identify the money laundering risks from your:

  • Customers
  • Transactions
  • Geographies
  • Delivery methods
  • Products and services

After risk identification, it entails analysis, rating, and categorising. Based on the levels of risks identified, you can take a risk-based approach for your AML compliance. It allows you to determine:

  • Stern AML measures for high-risk customers
  • Less strict AML actions for moderate-risk customers
  • Relaxed AML strategies for low-risk customers

These measures include:

  • KYC of customers, which is typical for every risk type
  • Customer due diligence, which is standard for every customer
  • Enhanced due diligence for high-risk customers
  • Monitoring of transactions of high-risk and medium-risk customers
  • Ending the relationship or cancelling the transaction is possible only in the case of high-risk customers

Differences between AML risk management and AML compliance

AML compliance vs AML risk management is crucial but challenging to understand. However, you must remember that to comply with AML regulations, you need to follow the rules. Risk management is a strategy to ensure that you adhere to these rules.

Differences between AML risk management and AML compliance

Superset vs subset

A crucial aspect of the AML compliance vs AML risk management contest is to identify which concept includes the other.

AML compliance is the set of activities you must undertake to adhere to the UAE regulations. AML risk management is a broader term that includes strategies, policies, and procedures an organisation implements to identify, assess, and counter ML/TF risks. Thus, AML compliance is a subset of AML risk management.

Compliance has always been a part of risk management. Further, there is something called compliance risk management, wherein the risks associated with non-compliance are identified, assessed, and managed.

Reactive vs proactive

AML compliance is a reactive exercise. As a business entity in the UAE, you must follow UAE’s AML regulations. To avoid penalties, you must adhere to each requirement. Thus, you react to a mandate by the government.

In contrast, AML risk management is a proactive exercise. You must protect your business from money laundering risks so you can take action to prevent or mitigate them. Thus, you act before these risks affect you.

Legal vs strategic aspect

Another factor that differentiates AML compliance from AML risk management is the business aspect covered.

AML compliance is a legal requirement in the UAE. Since you are one of the financial institutions, DNFBPs, or VASPs, you must follow the UAE’s AML regulations. So, the goal is the same for all of you, although your compliance journey might differ.

When you follow these rules accurately and on time, you are AML-compliant. These requirements include submitting:

  • Suspicious Transaction Report and Suspicious Activity Report
  • Funds Freeze Report and Partial Name Match Report
  • DPMSR and REAR reports
  • HRC and HRCA reports
  • PNMR and FFR reports
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

On the other hand, AML risk management is a strategy to enable AML compliance. You must identify, categorise, rate, and assess risks to manage and mitigate risks. During this process, you generate KYC, CDD, PNMR, FFR, DPMSR, REAR, STRs, and SAR records.

Your risk management differs from that of other organisations because the risks differ. Even in the same industry, the impact of these risks differs because your operations and business models vary. So, you need to create a unique strategy for AML risk management to help you with legal and regulatory compliance in AML.

Current vs futuristic

AML compliance is more of a current process. It defines your legal obligations for this year. So, this year, you have to follow these specific AML requirements. So, you know what you have to do. You are legally obligated to follow these rules, which makes you compliant for this year.

On the other hand, AML risk management ensures you are safe from money laundering risks now and in the future. You have to predict the risks your business will face from money launderers. You need to consider the emerging threats of predicate offences as well. Thus, it makes you more of a planner for the current and future risks.

Tangible vs intangible

The tangibility of the process is a crucial point in AML compliance vs AML risk management.

AML compliance is a tangible process. You have to follow specific rules to comply with industry standards. If you follow these particular requirements of the AML regulator, you become AML-compliant. If you do not follow them, you will have to face penalties. Thus, you will suffer financial losses, reputational damage, and legal proceedings.

In the case of AML risk management, there are no concrete rules. You have to analyse the business environment in which your firm operates. You need to predict and evaluate the possible ways criminals can launder money through your business processes. Thus, it is unique to every firm. If you cannot control or mitigate these risks, your business suffers. The money laundering risks will affect your business, causing losses in terms of customers, credibility, and money. 

However, the FATF has recommended that regulated entities follow a risk-based approach, and similarly, the UAE Federal Decree Law No. (20) of 2018 and related cabinet decisions require reporting entities to do the same. By virtue of this, AML risk management is embedded in the AML compliance requirements.

Tickmark exercise vs continuous process

AML compliance is more of a checklist-based process. The AML compliance department ensures the business adheres to each requirement and tickmarks it. If you miss any of these, you have to pay a penalty. Once you adhere to the requirements, your work ends.

In contrast, AML risk management is not a tickmark exercise. It’s not like you have submitted a report, so you are done with it. It is a continuous process. You need to keep identifying the money laundering risks your business faces. Analyse them. Find ways to mitigate, prevent, or manage them. So, you must continue the AML risk management exercise to reap complete benefits.

Besides these differences between AML risk management and compliance, there are also some similarities. These include:

  • Risk management tactics and compliance strategies keep changing. As and when the regulations change, you need to make changes in your AML compliance program. Moreover, the money laundering risks, macroeconomic climate, and industry trends keep changing, leading to amendments in your AML risk management policies.
  • Both AML compliance and risk management become better with the help of technology. Innovative solutions and technologies make these procedures smoother. The technologies use data analytics, artificial intelligence, and other advanced concepts to ensure your process is faster, smoother, and more accurate.
  • Both AML compliance and risk management need decision-making at the top level. Since identifying and managing money laundering risks is critical, the top management must set the tone. Only when you ensure AML compliance and risk management culture at the top, you can maintain it across the firm.
  • One significant challenge in both these procedures is maintaining a good customer experience. Customers demand a seamless user experience. If you are unable to do that, you might lose customers. So, while managing AML compliance and risk management, you must ensure the processes are not time-consuming or intrusive for them. On the other hand, collecting all information is also essential for successful procedures.

Setting the similarities and differences aside, your primary focus must be to protect your business from money laundering threats. To do this, you need to create a robust AML compliance program. This program will include a well-defined AML risk management strategy. In combination, it will help you meet UAE’s AML regulations and prevent risks.

Exploring these differences and similarities enables you to fit both into your strategy. You can determine the efforts, resources, timelines, and overall alignment with business operations. This is how you can prevent potential threats and create value for your business. To help you achieve this objective, partnering with an expert AML consultant like AMLUAE will help.

How can AMLUAE help you?

AMLUAE has revolutionised the AML compliance landscape in the UAE. We help clients strategise risk management and compliance in AML. Be it just one part of AML compliance or the entire journey, you can rely on us for quality services.

Your business can enjoy our expertise in:

  • Monitoring transactions and identifying suspicious ones
  • Conducting KYC and due diligence of customers
  • Identifying money laundering risks to your business and assessing them
  • Developing a risk-based AML compliance framework personalised to your entity
  • Imparting AML training to your employees
  • Preparing and submitting STR, SAR, and other industry-specific reports to authorities

By partnering with us, you get a streamlined AML compliance process for the fight against money laundering risks.  

Access AMLUAE’s expert AML compliance services,

To say goodbye to your business’s money laundering risks.

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About the Author

Pathik Shah


Pathik is a Chartered Accountant with more than 25 years of experience in compliance management, Anti-Money Laundering, tax consultancy, risk management, accounting, system audits, IT consultancy, and digital marketing.

He has extensive knowledge of local and international Anti-Money Laundering rules and regulations. He helps companies with end-to-end AML compliance services, from understanding the AML business-specific risk to implementing the robust AML Compliance framework.