I work as a lawyer and as part of my job I have to comply with money laundering regulations. You will probably all have come across these. They’re the rules which mean you have to give details of your name, address, date of birth, blood group and star sign if you want to open bank accounts, speak to any government bodies or rent DVDs of Disney movies for your kids.
In my line of work, it often means I have to tell a new client “Well, before I can apply for your divorce for you, I need two forms of identification, one of which must have a recent photograph and one of which must bear your current address. I need to photocopy those and certify the copies which I will then keep forever. This is just to check that you are who you say you are and not an international terrorist laundering your ill-gotten gains by pretending to get divorced.” No wonder the clients look at me like I’ve lost the plot.
I know the idea of the regulations is to stop bad people from being able to move their funds around, but would they really want to do that by approaching a local lawyer for a divorce? Or to sort out a problem with their double glazing? I also have a real concern that the fact that you have to hand over proof of your identity to do anything these days (try opening a savings account online if you don’t believe me) means that dozens of copies of your personal information are floating about in the records of big companies and institutions all over the place. Heck, I have files in my office with information like that on pretty much all of them. Doesn’t that just mean that there is far more scope now for unscrupulous employees of such places to make a wee bit of cash on the side by using or selling that stuff? Or am I just overly cynical? (I’m a lawyer so cynicism does kind of come with the territory).
And the problem now is that people who work in financial and other institutions now won’t do ANYTHING without interrogating you for as much personal info as they can, even when it is patently not required by any kind of regulations. It’s just downright nosy. Want a for instance? This is the conversation I had with the guy who answered the phone at the online Bank where I have a savings account. Bear in mind (1) I had to produce all sorts of vouching of my identity to open the account in the first place; (2) all of the money in the account was transferred there from my account with a major High Street bank and (3) I had already, to get to speak to the guy, gone through all the security checks involving my mum’s maiden name and what colour the cake was at my fifth birthday party.
ME: I’d like to withdraw £X please.
HIM: Certainly, that will be transferred to your account with Big High Street Bank – when would you like that done?
ME: As soon as possible, please.
HIM: OK. Now, can I ask what you want the money for?
HIM: I need to ask what you want to withdraw the money for?
HIM: For money laundering regulations.
ME: But………it’s my money. I paid it into that account.
HIM: Yes but I have to ask you the purpose you want to withdraw it for
ME: But…..but……you’ve already money laundered me when I opened the account, the money came from my bank account. It’s going back to my bank account. Why on earth would you need to know what I want to do with the money once I withdraw it?
HIM: Well, according to my screen, I need to ask you….
So I told him I needed it for drugs.