The significance of cash thresholds in fighting money laundering and terrorist financing

Table of Contents

Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing are global concerns. They have an adverse effect on the economy and society. Governments across the world have enacted various laws and regulations. One of the important controls implemented by regulators across the world is establishing cash thresholds, i.e., setting up cash transaction limits to ensure that criminals don’t indulge in large-scale placement of their illicit money.

Definition of cash thresholds

Cash thresholds are the limitations on cash transactions that regulatory authorities impose to monitor them. Cash threshold is a monetary limit and if the transaction value exceeds that limit, the regulated entities are required to report it to the authorities.

This article focuses on the significance of cash thresholds in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. We will understand how criminals generate illicit cash by committing predicate offences and try to place it into the legitimate economy and how regulators try to control it, and the blog throws light on the following:

  • Importance of UBO identification in cash transactions
  • Challenges in implementing cash thresholds
  • Best practices to implement cash transaction limits effectively
  • Role of technology in enforcing cash thresholds

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Overview of how cash thresholds function in AML/CFT framework

Overview of money laundering and terrorist financing

Money laundering and terrorism financing are foremost matters of interest worldwide. These are types of financial crimes that are damaging the international financial system. These crimes can also affect people’s security, economic stability, and a country’s integrity.

Money laundering involves hiding the origin of illegal funds and placing them in the legal financial system. Terrorist financing means funding activities related to or causing terrorism. Thus, both are financial crimes plaguing the global economy.

Importance of fighting ML/TF for global stability and security

These are transnational crimes that affect many countries worldwide. So, regulators need to implement proper AML/CTF measures to prevent or mitigate these threats. Fighting against ML and TF guarantees strong financial systems and economies worldwide.

By fighting against ML and TF, you can also contribute to global stability, security, and integrity in the following ways:

  • The proper drafting and implementation of AML/CFT regulations help curb financial crimes, creating a stable, trustworthy, and secure financial system.
  • The AML/CFT measures aimed at blocking illicit funds from entering the financial system help prevent and detect financial crimes. They also ensure that legitimate businesses are not used as conduits for conducting illegal activities.
  • The fight against terrorist financing helps ensure the safety and security of citizens.
  • Various ML/TF countermeasures like cash transaction limits help track funds generated from other illegal activities like corruption, drug or human trafficking, bribery, and fraud. Thus, these measures help reduce crimes in the world, making it secure and better.
  • The implementation of proper AML/CTF measures contributes to international cooperation in the fight against the ML/TF.

How can cash transactions be used for money laundering and terrorist financing?

Cash payment is the most convenient way for customers to buy products and services. At the same time, it’s the most accessible medium for money launderers to commit crimes. Financial criminals use cash to launder money or finance illicit activities.

Money Laundering

Cash transactions can enable any of the three stages of money laundering – placement, layering, and integration. Whether it is placing illegal funds in the legitimate financial system, creating layers to hide its source, or bringing back the illicit money into the financial system in a clean form, cash transactions facilitate all three.

Money laundering and cash transactions:

  • Conducting small cash transactions from different bank branches or accounts.
  • Using illegal cash to buy property and then selling it at lower prices.
  • Overvaluing or undervaluing the property price to launder the difference.
  • Using illegal cash to buy luxury items and resell them to make the transaction legitimate.
  • Using cash-intensive businesses like restaurants to mix dirty money with legal revenues.
  • Placing illegal cash between legitimate cash transactions and showing higher business revenues.
  • Processing illicit cash transactions through shell companies or offshore bank accounts.
  • Using money mules to conduct multiple small cash transactions across borders.
  • Using dirty money in cash form to buy insurance or securities.
  • Converting illicit cash into different currencies through currency exchange services.
  • Using illegal cash in gambling and casinos and requesting a cheque for the remaining amount to make it look legal.
  • Moving cash across borders by over or under-invoicing or misrepresenting the quantity or quality of goods.

Terrorist financing

Cash transactions also enable the four stages of terrorism financing – collecting, storing, moving, and using funds for terrorist activities. Since one can use cash in any of these stages, terrorist financing becomes possible with cash transactions in the following ways:

Terrorist financing and cash transactions:

  • Direct cash transactions to buy weapons, explosives, or any other items necessary for terrorism.
  • Using cash to support the living needs of terrorists.
  • Buying luxury items with illicit cash and selling them later to raise funds for terrorist activities.
  • Terrorists run cash-intensive businesses like casinos, restaurants, etc., and disguise illicit money as cash generated from legitimate business activities.
  • Cash can be transported across borders via individuals, bags, or vehicles using multiple routes to avoid detection.
  • Creating charitable and religious organisations to receive cash donations and use them in terrorism activities.
  • Misrepresentation of quality, quantity, or value of goods in international trade to fund terrorism.
  • Terrorists over or under-invoice goods across borders for international trade to hide illegal cash movements.
  • Using cash to support terrorist movements across borders by blending them with refugees or migrants.
  • Using students, tourists, or other mules to transfer cash across borders to fund terrorism activities.

Why do criminals prefer cash transactions?

Criminals prefer cash transactions to conduct various activities for the following reasons:

No records

Cash transactions leave no trail, so criminals prefer them.

Involvement of third parties

It is easier to include third parties or intermediaries in cash transactions. No need to maintain records of such persons and use as many to add layers of complexity.

Convenience

Cash is a preferred way of conducting a financial transaction in several jurisdictions. In particular, cash-intensive businesses like restaurants, casinos, and retail stores. One can mix illegal money with the revenues of such businesses to show exaggerated revenues.

Easy and fast

Cash transactions are easy and fast, involving no hassles or tedious procedures.

Easy to smuggle

It is easier to smuggle cash across jurisdictions.

Convertible

Cash is the preferred payment method to buy luxury goods or deposit in bank accounts. Thus, one can convert dirty money into legitimate money.

Easy to hide

It is easier to hide illicit cash. Moreover, one can break down a large cash transaction into several smaller valued ones. Whatever way one uses, one can avoid thresholds or restrictions.

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Cash thresholds and AML/CFT regulatory requirements

The UAE has laid relevant cash threshold requirements under AML/CFT regulations to curb ML/TF. Here is the list of Cash Transaction Limit in UAE:

Cash Transaction Limit for Real Estate Agents and Lawyers

Real Estate Cash Transaction Limit for Free Hold Real Estate Buy/Sale Transactions:

Real Estate Agents and Lawyers are required to report any single cash transaction or several transactions that appear to be interrelated equal to or exceeding AED 55,000/- to the UAE FIU in the form of a Real Estate Activity Report (REAR).

Cash Transaction Limit for Dealers in Precious Metals and Stones

Gold, Jewellery, Precious Stones Cash Transaction Limit:

Dealers in Precious Metals and Stones are required to submit Dealers in Precious Metals and Stones Report (DPMSR) with the UAE FIU for any single cash transaction or several transactions that appear to be interrelated equal to or exceeding AED 55,000/-.

Other AML/CFT Regulatory thresholds

Customer Due Diligence

Ocassional Transaction Limit:

Customer Due Diligence is a mandatory requirement for establishing a business relationship. In case of occasional transactions, if the transaction value equals to or exceeds AED 55,000/-, Customer Due Diligence must be performed.

If the occasional transaction involves a wire transfer equal to or exceeding AED 3,500/-, customer due diligence must be performed.

Further, Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) have to carry out customer due diligence when conducting occasional transactions in favour of a client for amounts equal to or exceeding AED 3,500, whether the transaction is carried out in a single transaction or in several transactions that appear to be linked.

Threshold related to DPMS and Applicability of AML/CFT Laws

Dealers in Precious Metals and Stones when they engage in carrying out any single monetary transaction, or several transactions which appear to be interrelated, whose value is equal to or greater than AED 55,000 are required to follow AML/CFT obligations under the AML/CFT legislative and regulatory framework of the United Arab Emirates.

Record keeping

UAE requires regulated entities to maintain records of all transactions for five years. However, the record keeping duration varies from one supervisory authority to another. 

  • The Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) mandates Virtual Assets Service Providers (VASPs) to maintain records for a duration of 8 years
  • Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) requires DNFBPs to maintain AML/CFT compliance and CDD records for 6 years.
  • UAE Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) requires regulated entities to maintain AML/CFT compliance and CDD records for 10 years.

This applies to transactions above and below the cash thresholds.

Customs Declaration Form

Besides AML/CFT regulations, Travellers entering or leaving the UAE carrying currencies, negotiable bearer financial instruments, precious metals, or precious stones of value exceeding AED 60,000 have to submit the customs declaration form.

Thus, cash thresholds are a significant part of AML/CTF regulations. With these limits, one can detect and report suspicious transactions.

Why is it important to identify UBOs in cash transactions?

By the risk factors of cash transactions, you would have understood why AML measures are necessary for them. These AML measures enable an intense fight against cash transaction threats. You can also prevent possible money laundering and terrorism financing activities.

Such appropriate AML measures include KYC and CDD. Identifying UBOs is a critical element of KYC and CDD. So, make it a practice to identify the ultimate beneficial owners of cash transactions.

A UBO means an individual controlling, owning, or benefitting from an entity. They might not be the apparent owners, but they receive all the benefits or control the operations in the background. In the case of a cash transaction, it means the individual that benefits from the cash transaction.

Identifying UBOs of cash transactions helps figure out the actual person behind a cash transaction and check if they are sanctioned individuals, PEPs, or persons with criminal history. If there are any red flags around the UBOs, you can take a risk-based approach, conduct EDD and submit SAR/STR as per the facts of the case.

Significance of cash thresholds in fighting ML/TF

Cash transaction limits play a huge role in the early detection of a possible crime. Here are the points highlighting the significance of cash thresholds in fighting money laundering and terrorist financing:

Helps identify suspicious activities

Cash transaction thresholds help identify suspicious activities where customers resort to purposefully keeping transaction amounts below the regulatory reporting thresholds.

Helps fight ML/TF effectively

Cash transaction thresholds enable the identification of suspicious activities. You can stop them or conduct further investigations to confirm the suspicion. Thus, these cash transaction limitations help you strengthen your fight against money laundering, terrorism financing, and other crimes.

Ensures regulatory compliance

Setting cash transaction thresholds helps you detect reportable transactions to the UAE FIU. Hence, it ensures regulatory compliance with UAE’s AML laws.

Ongoing monitoring

Cash transaction thresholds help in the ongoing monitoring of a business relationship. One can study various trends and patterns and identify customers who structure their transactions to avoid them being reported to the authorities.

Discourages illicit activities

Cash transaction thresholds discourage illicit activities because it makes it difficult for criminals to make large-scale cash deposits.

Helps take a risk-based approach

Setting a cash transaction limit helps you identify customers conducting such risky transactions. You know their risk levels and define enhanced due diligence measures for them. Thus, you can take a risk-based approach to AML measures against money laundering and terrorism financing.

Facilitates international cooperation

Defining cash thresholds and implementing them helps follow global best practices and FATF recommendations. It shows commitment to the global fight against financial crimes by facilitating cross-border investigations.

Challenges in establishing and enforcing cash transaction thresholds

So, you can see that the significance of cash transaction thresholds is in the prevention of financial crimes. However, it is not easy to establish these thresholds, here is the list of challenges:

Structuring

Criminals tend to structure transactions in such a way that they are able to avoid reporting thresholds. The detection of this is resource-intensive, and not all small and medium-sized businesses are equipped to detect such transactions.

Use of multiple accounts

Another way criminals avoid cash thresholds is by conducting transactions through multiple accounts. When they use different accounts in the same or different financial institutions, they can avoid detection.

Resource-intensive

Cash threshold necessitates transaction monitoring to detect and analyse various trends and patterns. This increases operational burden.

False positives

Another challenge of cash thresholds is the number of wrong suspicions they generate. Many transactions exceed the cash transaction limits when they are linked, so you mark them as suspicious and generate reports. However, on further investigation, many of them will be false. Dealing with such false positives can overwhelm you and regulatory authorities.

Data quality

Data quality is also a critical test in such cash thresholds. The customer data you check has little to no information on all factors. Or the data is inaccurate. Handling all these data quality issues is a big challenge while enforcing cash thresholds.

Varying AML/CFT regulations

The problem in cash threshold implementation occurs at the time of cross-border transactions. The varying limits around cash transaction reporting make it difficult to detect illicit transactions. It becomes challenging when a customer prefers transactions in jurisdictions with no cash thresholds or limits.

Privacy concerns

Data privacy is a challenge while enforcing cash thresholds. Per the transaction monitoring requirements under AML, one needs to collect a lot of personal information about the customers. Customers might find all these queries invasive and not cooperate or form a business relationship. Thus, compliance with data privacy laws becomes a challenge with implementing cash transaction thresholds.

Employee awareness and training

Establishing and enforcing cash thresholds becomes difficult if the employees are not trained. Awareness of these cash thresholds, red flags of suspicious transactions, and managing the procedure is essential. In the absence of such awareness and training, it becomes challenging to enforce cash transaction limits.

Insider threats

Insider threats are crucial challenges in any compliance-related topic. If employees comingle with criminals, the regulatory threshold enforcement becomes next to impossible.

Evolving methods of ML/TF

Money launderers keep innovating to have as many opportunities to conduct crimes. They engage in discovering techniques to circumvent AML measures. In such cases, the existing cash thresholds might not serve the purpose.

Multiple-party transactions

A big challenge in enforcing cash thresholds is complex customer transactions. Complexity increases when there are multiple parties or jurisdictions in a transaction. The multiplicity makes tracking and detection challenging.

Cash-based economies

Establishing cash thresholds in cash-based economies is a challenge. Since most of the transactions in cash-based economies are in cash, highlighting each suspicious transaction above the cash threshold and further investigating it will be an operational burden. Thus, cash thresholds in cash-intensive countries are a challenge.

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Best practices in enforcing cash transaction thresholds to fight ML/TF

To address these challenges in establishing and enforcing cash thresholds, one must adopt the following best practices:

KYC and CDD

Regulated must adopt comprehensive KYC procedures to collect all the required details of customers and carry out identity verification checks. The documentary evidence should be cross-checked, and proper due diligence must be carried out to understand the customer’s business, the expected volume of transactions, beneficial owners, and the risks associated with them. The data points resulting from KYC and CDD help create customer risk profiles. If you have these risk details on customers, it is easier to enforce cash thresholds.

Transaction monitoring software

A robust transaction monitoring software helps track transactions. It helps you create rules based on potential red flags of money laundering in your industry. Based on these rules, the software spots patterns, trends, and anomalies for you to investigate them further.

The software generates an alert if the transaction exceeds the cash threshold amount. Such software enables real-time monitoring of transactions to detect suspicion as and when they are being conducted. Thus, the software facilitates quick identification, reporting, and recording of transactions equal to or exceeding reporting thresholds.

Advanced analytics and AI

The latest advanced technologies canhelp identify linked transactions which are carried out to circumvent reporting thresholds. Data analytics allow the detection of patterns, unusual trends, or anomalies. Machine learning algorithms make pattern detection accurate. You can reduce the number of false positives and improve genuine alerts. It also helps you adapt to the evolving ML/TF risks.

Staff training

Cash threshold enforcement is enhanced if the staff is aware of its importance. Knowledge of transaction monitoring tools and cash thresholds help comply with the regulatory requirements around cash transaction reporting.

Besides training, motivating employees to align with AML/CTF initiatives is crucial.

Data privacy

Data privacy and confidentiality are common challenges in such AML compliance measures. Since you monitor your customers and their transactions, you have tons of data on them. It’s possible that you lose data, it gets hacked, or some employee leaks the data.

To solve this concern, you must implement effective data protection policies. With such data confidentiality and privacy guarantees, your customers trust you more with their details. They will give due importance to AML measures and cooperate with you.

Keeping up with regulatory updates

Despite the implementation of cash transaction threshold rules, one might commit errors in AML compliance. One must stay up-to-date with UAE’s AML requirements to avoid such mistakes. Keep checking the latest guidelines and updates on AML rules. One must also keep an eye on international AML standards.

The internal AML policies, procedures, and controls must align with national regulations and international AML best practices.

Insider threat mitigation

Insider threat is a critical challenge for regulated entities under AML laws. Insiders in the business might misuse customer data. They might also collude with customers to avoid detection of their transactions as suspicious.

One must be wary of such insider threats. Segregate the duties based on employee skills, past performance, and behaviour. Hold them accountable and responsible for the AML procedures they perform. Insider threat mitigation helps one implement cash transaction limits more effectively.

Continuous learning and adaptation

One best practice while enforcing cash thresholds is learning from past experience and innovations. One can make this possible by conducting regular reviews and health checks. One can improve upon the areas where there are gaps.

Concentrate on high-risk areas

One needs to take a risk-based approach and prioritise risks to target. Customers coming from high-risk jurisdictions, known ML/TF typologies and red flags, cash-intensive business, etc., must be taken into consideration while designing controls and cash transaction thresholds.

Global information sharing

The regulatory authorities conduct a National Risk Assessment and provide information about inherent risks related to ML/TF. Regulated entities should participate in this exercise and provide all the required information and assistance to the authorities to counter the global menace of money laundering and terrorist financing.

Record-keeping

Record-keeping is a best practice for all entities. The regulated entities must maintain all the records related to KYC, screening, risk assessment, business transactions, and regulatory reporting.

Public awareness campaigns

The regulators must run public awareness campaigns around the cash transaction threshold limits so that genuine customers cooperate with regulated entities in providing the required information.

Role of technology in enforcing cash transaction thresholds

Technology is one of the key best practices for establishing and enforcing cash thresholds. It helps you fight most of the challenges of implementing cash thresholds while monitoring transactions. Technology solutions provide the following benefits:

Automated reporting with transaction monitoring systems

Transaction monitoring systems have a reporting feature. This feature allows the generation of reports on transactions equal to or exceeding the reporting thresholds.

Thus, this automated reporting feature enables accurate and timely reports that you can submit to authorities, making you AML-compliant. Technology solutions also streamline data storage and record keeping.

Data analytics and patterns identification

Technology solutions make transaction monitoring faster, more accurate, and easier. Data analytics, predictive analytics, and machine learning help you study the data and identify patterns. You can detect the possible anomalies in transactions and better understand them.

Customer risk assessment

AML software enables ongoing monitoring of a business relationship. This helps detect trends and patterns and assign appropriate risk ratings to customers. This goes a long way in prioritising resources and countering money laundering and terrorist financing.

Real-time alerts and notifications

The best feature of transaction monitoring solutions is alerts. The solution generates alerts when it spots a reportable transaction. It also notifies you of the suspicion or a pattern or trend identified in a transaction so that you can take the required action.

Predictive analytics

Transaction monitoring technology systems use predictive analytics techniques. This technique allows you to predict future outcomes. The system generates alerts when it detects a linked

transaction crossing the statutory threshold. Such predictive analytics lets you take proactive measures so that issues do not escalate.

Adaptive learning and scalability

Transaction monitoring software with cash thresholds is adaptive to changes. Over a period of time, your business grows, risks change, new customers come, transactions increase, and various other adjustments happen. Amid all these amendments, your system also updates. It adapts to the new transaction monitoring rules based on customer and transaction characteristics. Thus, your existing system learns the new patterns, assesses large cash transactions, and adapts to changes.

AML compliance automation

AML compliance is the biggest concern for reporting entities under AML laws. With such technology systems, you can perform the AML procedures efficiently. They automate KYC, CDD, customer screening, and transaction monitoring processes. Such automation helps you achieve compliance in a faster, comprehensive, and more accurate way. Moreover, there are fewer possibilities of violating cash transaction threshold compliance requirements with audit facilities.

Location-based monitoring

Such technology systems for monitoring transactions allow location-based monitoring. This means that if the transaction is from a high-risk jurisdiction, the system highlights it. Since transactions from high-risk jurisdictions are highly risky, you can put such transactions on hold and submit the necessary SAR/STR.

Summarized output

Technology solutions enable summarized results through dashboards. User-friendly interfaces provide detailed and summarized insights to help management make quick decisions. This also facilitates collaboration with other industry players and authorities.

Security

Technology solutions for enforcing cash transaction thresholds are secure and safe systems. These solutions come with biometric and multi-factor authentication features, ensuring no unauthorised access. Data encryption and secured storage facilities keep your data private and protected from cyber threats.

Conclusion

Thus, cash thresholds play a critical role in AML/CFT compliance framework. You must understand the significance of identifying reportable transactions by setting appropriate limits on cash transactions.

Since cash will always remain a critical part of most economies, implementing cash thresholds is an excellent prevention technique. Moreover, using technological solutions with AI, machine learning, and data analytics features makes them more capable.

So, use cash thresholds to detect suspicious transactions and reduce the likelihood of money laundering in cash transactions. If you need help with these AML measures, AMLUAE is your one-stop destination. We provide a wide range of AML compliance services to help your business from the impact of money laundering, terrorism financing, and other crimes. 

Enhance your defence against financial crimes,

With AMLUAE’s initiatives to prevent the risks
in money laundering.

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About the Author

Pathik Shah

FCA, CAMS, CISA, CS, DISA (ICAI), FAFP (ICAI)

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.