The new Fintel Alliance: Top lawmakers unite to fight financial crime

AUSTRAC chief executive Paul Jevtovic

Australia’s AUSTRAC is leading a formidable global charge against organised crime, terrorism, money laundering and tax evasion through the newly created Fintel Alliance. Chief executive Paul Jevtovic tells INTHEBLACK about its priorities and how he sees accountants’ role in fighting financial crime.

“Fintel Alliance will be relentless in its pursuit of the money trail of serious financial crime. There will be nowhere in our financial system for criminals to hide,” says a press release developed to help promote the new Fintel Alliance, and it’s no exaggeration.

The Fintel Alliance, led by AUSTRAC (Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre) and representing a collaboration of 19 major financial and government bodies – and counting – was announced at a launch in Sydney on March 3. Its heart may beat in the harbour city but its intentions are far from local. With powerful partners across the country and around the globe, this new agency is shaping up to be organised crime’s worst nightmare.

“Globally as well as domestically, we face a serious threat from organised crime and terrorists, and that threat is not abating,” says AUSTRAC chief executive Paul Jevtovic.

“We really are up against it when you think about the fact that criminals or terrorists don’t work within laws, they don’t work within jurisdictions, they are well-resourced and they are a formidable enemy. We have to think about how we can combat them and it is my strong view, and has been for some time, that we need to maximise the greatest assets we have – our collective partnerships.”

Speaking at the launch, the former CPA Australia chief executive Alex Malley said the scope of the threat to financial systems could not be underestimated.

“The rise of the digital economy has been transformative but has brought with it significant risk and the opportunity for serious financial crime.  The Fintel Alliance is ground-breaking in the level of collaboration and cooperation that will be achieved between Government and the private sector.”

Fintel Alliance brings AUSTRAC together with organisations such as Australia’s four big banks. There’s also Macquarie Bank, Paypal, Western Union and various law enforcement agencies, including the NSW Police Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

Fintech Australia is on board, as are the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Specialists such as counter terrorism expert professor Greg Barton and Roger Wilkins, former president of the Financial Action Task Force, have also joined in various roles.

International interest has been sparked with the inclusion of the UK’s National Crime Agency. Further announcements of international partnerships are expected soon.

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A natural progression in financial crime fighting

Long before the Mossack Fonseca data leak known as the Panama Papers, Jevtovic was passionate about forming a body that would boast the scope, expertise and power to represent a serious threat to those who choose to channel and hide funds around the globe for nefarious purposes.

The Fintel Alliance is the realisation of the work he has been doing for several decades.

“The bringing together of government agencies and industry, to me, is one of the strongest weapons that we have against terrorists and criminals,” Jevtovic says.

“The cost of organised crime in Australia has been estimated to be somewhere in the vicinity of A$36 billion per annum, and we think that’s quite conservative.”

Trillions of dollars held in Australia are at risk, he says. Superannuation funds, for instance, are an obvious target.

Without a unified and organised movement against the increasingly sophisticated criminal element, the integrity of the financial sector could be at risk.

How the Fintel Alliance will work

A strategic advisory board made up of representatives of a number of the member businesses and agencies, as well as thought leaders in the area of financial and other crimes, will set and guide strategic priorities.

At an operational level, representatives from the various member bodies will be co-located so they can work side-by-side, some permanently and some a few days a week.

Most exciting to Jevtovic is the fact that each individual from a specific organisation represents thousands of others within that partner business.

For example, a bank representative working within the Fintel Alliance may be just a single person, Jevtovic says, but this individual could actually represent tens of thousands of bank employees who can also contribute to the Alliance’s objectives and thinking.

What will the Fintel Alliance mean for accountants?

Accountants, too, are a very important partner, Jevtovic says.

“Right now, we work with the accounting profession on a number of levels. We have good engagement with the profession and there are many things we learn from that profession.

“There can be no denying that within the accounting profession there are those who have sold their services to organised crime, so we need to work with the [honest] 99 per cent of the profession to make sure that we harden the profession, so that those people are readily identifiable and we can deal with them swiftly.”

Jevtovic’s goal is as grand as the agency he has created: to create a collaborative network so all-encompassing that Australia becomes the most difficult place in the world for criminals to do business.

“There are thousands of partners here in Australia that we would love to have working with us,” he says.

“Our intention is to one day, through the use of technology, create an environment where all reporting entities will work with us in one form or another. As a result, they will also be the beneficiaries of what the Fintel Alliance represents.”

Fintel Alliance priorities

1. Hunting the money mules

Disrupt criminal networks by identifying their money mules (often recruited through job websites) whose bank accounts are used to forward proceeds to third parties. Block funds before they are sent offshore. 

2. Panama Papers 

Continue a Serious Financial Crime Task Force investigation into tax fraud, money laundering and other criminal enterprises revealed by the Mossack Fonseca data leak known as the Panama Papers. Understand methodologies used by criminal entities. 

3. Private sector assistance

Help private sector partners to more easily identify and report suspicious transactions.

4. Law enforcement efficiencies 

Help law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute criminals more quickly, and also work with law enforcement to better understand financial networks of organised crime syndicates.

5. Build knowledge and insights

Hand in hand with the academic world, to create an innovation hub and various courses, particularly the Financial Intelligence Analyst Course, to build knowledge and skills to prevent, detect, understand and disrupt financial crime.

Read next: The post-Panama tax landscape

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