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Fighting financial crime with data

Financial crime remains a massive problem, not only in the UK, but across the world. It can, and does, affect almost everyone. The average cost of financial crime has increased significantly, estimated to cost trillions each year. And it continues to rise.

The risks relating to financial crime are always evolving as new technologies and crime trends emerge, so it’s important that we continue to stay ahead of and tackle the challenges that surround it.

Prevention and detection are a key defence against financial crime, and at NatWest Group we have an important part to play to protect people, families and businesses. It’s everyone’s job here to detect and prevent financial crime. But we also have thousands of dedicated specialist colleagues running high quality detection and prevention solutions across every area, enabled by leading technologies.

Meet Roopa

I spoke to Roopa Morar, a Data Analytics Manager in one of our Financial Crime Analytics teams. After spending three years in our fraud department, she’s redirected her skills to take on a new project in financial crime.

Focusing on prioritisation, Roopa uses customer data and risk factors to understand thousands of transaction monitoring alerts, and determines which ones are of the highest concern. Roopa and her team then help us to keep these alerts within our risk appetite – one of our regulatory requirements.

Transaction monitoring involves monitoring a customer's banking activity, such as transfers, deposits, and withdrawals. This monitoring lets us identify unusual behaviour which could indicate suspicions of money laundering or other financial crime. The teams use predefined rules to root out behaviour, such as unusually large cash deposits and sudden changes in transaction frequencies.

‘It flags anything that breaches the criteria of a rule,’ Roopa explains. ‘There’re various reasons that’ll raise a flag, and we get thousands of those in the space of a month. As a bank, we have a duty to raise those.’

Complex and varied data

Roopa works with a whole host of data, including different tables and systems to ultimately put it into a logic or a model that will help prioritise the alerts. The data can be structured or unstructured depending on what format an alert has been raised in, or whether the data has been entered manually or through an automated system. ‘The data we use is varied’, Roopa tells me. ‘It depends on the quality of the data as well, and how much we need to cleanse it before we can even use it.’

Working on this project is giving Roopa a better understanding of financial crime, ‘not only from the bank’s perspective in terms of the controls and systems we have to protect customers from financial crime, but also what different financial crime typologies there are out there. And what kinds of suspicions are being raised, and why certain alerts were raised.’

She especially learns from working with her colleagues in Financial Crime. ‘You get a good understanding of what’s the highest priority to look at. And priorities change all the time, whether it's a new emerging financial crime threat or something in our controls criminals are trying to exploit. You get a really good understanding of what the issues are. From a data perspective it’s exciting, because we want to do all we can to help. Whether it’s using data and innovative or effective ways of filling that gap, or having that control in place.’

Protecting the bank and our customers

Transaction monitoring plays a big part in helping us protect our customers, letting us spot suspicious transactions and potentially preventing thousands or millions of pounds from being laundered.

Not only do our teams collaborate across our business, they also work externally with industry bodies, law enforcement, regulators, and governments, including the National Crime Agency. This gives us extra intelligence in actioning new and existing threats, and prioritising data.

‘We’re trying to mitigate against financial crime and protect the bank. We need to meet our regulatory requirements and make sure that we've got the right controls in place to detect financial crime. The work that I'm doing is more of the detection that's already taken place. We filter out the most risky or suspicious alerts so that they get looked at first.’

Transferable skills

We use many different tools to gather raw data and derive the insights we need to protect the bank. As you might expect given our many controls and systems to protect our customers, and the many financial crime typologies out there. And we’re still investing heavily in technology, processes and systems, as well as training our colleagues.

We’re continually embracing new languages and technologies, including data visualisation, and various cloud-based technologies. These tools help us to interpret data in a more meaningful way, and help our colleagues digest relevant information to mitigate risk for our customers.

‘Any codes or new languages I’ve used on new systems are all very transferable. I can continue to use them in the future, learn more about the financial crime technologies and understand the risks involved. It's constantly evolving, so I think being on this project will potentially help me to become a subject matter expert in the transaction monitoring space, and to understand more of the data side of things as well. It's quite niche but also extremely rewarding in the long term!’

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