Insurers and other financial institutions are now spending about $5 billion per year on anti-money laundering efforts, according to analysts at Celent.

Celent, Boston, has found that spending on anti-money laundering (AML) efforts is steadily rising as financial institutions, including insurers, must fight an ever-widening battle to keep fraud and money laundering in check, the analysts say.

About $3.8 billion of the annual spending goes toward operations, and $1.2 billion toward AML technology.

About $458 million of the AML technology spending pays for AML software.

World AML software spending could rise about 10% per year, to become a $557 million expenditure by 2013, the analysts say.

Although regulatory requirements were the most commonly cited driver behind AML spending (42%), reputational risk and brand protection was also widely cited (25%).

The Celent analysts note that these two reasons are interdependent, with regulatory compliance creating a need to protect the brand, which in turn improves business results. The rising fortunes of the firm make it a more likely fraud and money laundering target, thus renewing the cycle.

The Celent analysts report that the size of a company tends to determine the size of the AML compliance department.

Financial institutions with less than $1 billion in assets typically have 10 or fewer full-time AML staff on hand, whereas, institutions with assets from $1 billion to $100 billion may have as many as 50 full-time AML staffers. This holds true for insurance companies as well as banks, Celent notes, with some conditions.

Worldwide, regulators have given insurers more leeway on AML compliance, relative to banks and brokerages, Celent says, because insurance transactions are usually on multi-day batch cycles, allowing more time to analyze them for suspicious activity. Regulators have also seen less money laundering risk with insurers (as compared to banks and brokers), and as such have permitted insurance companies implementing simpler and often in-house AML compliance solutions.

In the United States, however, regulators see insurance as a vehicle for money laundering, especially as growing online sales, with their faster cycle times and instant decisioning, provide ready avenues for fraud and money laundering. This has led to an ongoing need for insurers to make use of AML technology, especially automating due diligence and AML checks, the analysts say.

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