Boosting public–private cooperation to stare down financial crime
8 Feb 2016|


Australian government agencies are seeking to improve cooperation with the private sector to tackle financial crime. Still, much more needs to be done, and simply enhancing existing areas of cooperation is a good place to continue the effort.

The 2015 Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement’s inquiry into financial related crime rightly noted the importance of effective and efficient collaboration between law enforcement agencies and the private sector, particularly financial institutions. Yet many concerns were raised over the current state of this cooperation.

One notable issue was the information request process between law enforcement and banks. South Australian Police expressed concern about delays in law enforcement agencies receiving requested information from banks. In turn, the Australian Banker’s Association expressed disappointment about the inability of banks to discuss what information law enforcement agencies need, and to provide context to the information passed on to law enforcement, along with a concern that trusted information sharing wasn’t ‘instinctive’ in the Australian system.

Other concerns in the inquiry include both the Victoria Police and the committee criticising the lack of consultation between financial institutions and the police, particularly in relation to new, high-risk technologies such as contactless ‘tap and go’ payment systems. And the Australian Securities and Investment Commission was criticised by both industry and the committee for its slow response to ‘live’ scams brought to its attention by affected companies.

In the anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing spaces, one of AUSTRAC’s key tools to inform the private sector about the methods used to commit crimes is through publication of its typologies and case studies report series. However, the cases it outlines are predominantly ones in which perpetrators have been charged or sentenced. After a long period of investigation and prosecution, the information isn’t timely. That’s a lost opportunity in an environment where financial crime trends shift rapidly due to technological change and criminal innovation.

That lack of timeliness is especially concerning considering the rise of ISIS, violent extremism, foreign fighters and evolving methods of terrorism financing (PDF). Those methods include self-funding via legitimate sources (such as employment income, social security payments or personal loans), crowdfunding, the use of new payment methods (such as virtual currencies and prepaid cards), the exploitation of natural resources (for example oil, gas, precious metals, and wildlife) and the selling of antiquities.

Fortunately, AUSTRAC has recognised this. It’s evolved from publishing yearly reports to releasing typologies and case studies progressively on a searchable online hub to make them more readily available. It has also introduced briefs on developing trends and  pressing issues. And it’s currently examining ways to bring government and industry into a collaborative and secure information sharing environment.

Presently there are limitations in how much information can be shared between intelligence and law enforcement agencies and the private sector. However, even within the current regulatory settings, a great deal more can be done. AUSTRAC’s innovations in information sharing demonstrate that and, if successful, could provide a lead or model for other agencies working on financial crime.

Government agencies and private industry should think creatively about how cooperation can be enhanced. A good place to start would be improving existing areas of cooperation. For example, while AUSTRAC is producing more timely typologies and case studies, very few are related to terrorism financing. Those are greatly needed by the private sector so they can understand the evolving methods of terrorism financing. Of course, much of the intelligence on terrorism financing is classified. However, case studies could be hypothetical with actual tactics sanitised sufficiently to protect restricted information.

The efficiency of bank information request processes could also be improved through greater collaboration between state and territory police and the banks. That may simply involve dialogue on better ways to exchange information, clarifying the information that’s sought and educating law enforcement on the types of information banks hold. Success in that area could lead to greater trust and collaboration on more difficult issues such as early consultation on newly developed, higher risk technologies.

As the private sector is frontline in the fight against financial crime and continues to prove an enormous source of intelligence on a wide range of financial crime issues (PDF), enhancing public–private cooperation will prove greatly beneficial to law enforcement.