FATF holds consultative forum to inform review of beneficial ownership system

On 24 November, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) held its private sector consultative forum on beneficial ownership of legal persons, which focused on Recommendation 24 Transparency and beneficial ownership of legal persons of the FATF Recommendations. FATF stated that it is undergoing a major review of this area, which may lead to a comprehensive overhaul of the system of beneficial ownership to address issues such as inconsistencies across many countries, privacy concerns, centralised registries, legitimate purposes for access, and how information should be verified.

The forum was divided into two sessions with the first being chaired by Jennie Haslett and featuring Maira Martini, Transparency International; Jason Sharman, University of Cambridge; and John Cusack, the Global Coalition to Fight Financial Crime. The panel gave a third-party view with the aim of defining and understanding the nature and scale of problem. The following challenges were identified by the panel:

  • the quality of the information and how it is being verified;
  • the importance of flexibility and adapting requirements to the risk of the jurisdiction (as it was stated that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work);
  • that rather than implementing new laws, existing ones should be properly enforced; and
  • the need for increased collaboration between all players.

The second panel was chaired by Alexandra Kadet and featured Young Led, Department of Treasury, USA; Michela Maggi, European Commission; and Mariano Garcia Fresno, Ministry of Justice, Spain. The panel shared its views on the effectiveness of the measures being implemented and the potential problems and solutions. The discussion focused on who should have access to beneficial ownership information, the balance between what needs to stay private and what can be made available, the challenge faced when involving legal entities outside of the EU, and the need to have it centralised.

The overarching consensus from the forum was that this is a very challenging issue with no perfect solutions. FATF confirmed that a number of significant challenges were identified that needed to be addressed, such as complacency among some gatekeepers, the need for discrepancy reporting to make sure registers don’t work in isolation, consequences for non-compliance, and the need for consistency of global standards and practice.

Robert Carington is Policy Executive at STEP

Modernising Lasting Powers of Attorneys in England and Wales

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) have jointly initiated a project to modernise the process of making and registering lasting powers of attorney (LPAs), which may include an element of digitisation. They will be collaborating on a series of scoping events, roundtables and surveys to obtain research that will culminate in the publication of a consultation in spring 2021 to gather evidence and inform the future of the LPA service.

On 19 November the MoJ and OPG invited STEP to attend a virtual roundtable, which was introduced by Alex Chalk MP, Parliamentary under Secretary of State in the MoJ and hosted by Nick Goodwin, Public Guardian and Chief Executive of the OPG. During the roundtable, discussions were held on two specific areas of the research and engagement so far.

Improving safeguards for the donor in relation to identity checks

There was general consensus that there need to be more advanced identity checks for donors, which would consequently improve safeguards. It is a prevalent concern of the industry that identity fraud and theft are fairly accessible particularly if someone has access to a Health & Welfare LPA and the donor is incapacitated or vulnerable. It was also flagged that ID verification online may be technologically robust but there will be a small demographic, usually the more elderly, that do not have access to a computer or smartphone for verification. It was also reinforced that it is essential that any new online system is securely piloted within the industry before it is implemented.

The importance of the role of witnesses

It was recognised by attendees that the process of obtaining witnesses for LPA signing can add some gravitas and formality to the process, which in turn also gives the donor time to consider the importance of the legal document that is being created. It was also considered that it might be more appropriate to introduce digital signatures for the witnesses but to retain the obligation of the physical signature for the donor. On 9 November, STEP’s UK Industry News Digest covered highlights of the results of the first survey that has been undertaken, which showed that more than 90 per cent of 410 solicitors surveyed in England and Wales want to retain the rule requiring LPAs to be physically signed by the donor rather than by electronic means to prevent fraud.

We were informed that these areas have been marked for more extensive research under this initiative and will be discussed further.

The MoJ and OPG have stressed that empowering and protecting the individuals acting as donors in the LPA process is of paramount importance and amendments to the legislation will only be made if modernisation will provide the same level of protection or preferably enhance it. However, it is clear that the world is becoming more digital and we have seen accelerated evolution on the digital platform due to the COVID pandemic this year.

The MoJ and OPG intend to carry out extensive engagement within the industry, alongside the consultation next year, and will gather a wide range of evidence and expertise to understand user needs and challenges. STEP will continue to engage with the MoJ and OPG and monitor the progress of this initiative.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel