“Banks need to un-dinosaur”: The Future of AML in Banks and Fintech

ARYZE sat down for a conversation with Charlotte Lowry of Pleo, a fintech and ‘soonicorn’ that streamlines company spending. A specialist in Anti Money Laundering (AML) Lowry discussed AML, transparency in banking and the divergent futures of banks and fintechs. 

As Charlotte Lowry says, “no one starts out with the goal of entering the financial crime scene”. Her non-linear path to Pleo included an undergraduate degree in International Relations, an LLM, two years of consulting at PwC and two years at HSBC. Describing this path to us in “The Castle”, a well-lit conference room situated within a three-story office building decked with cozy Danish design, a Friday bar, TV lounge and a frequently-ringing sales bell, she seems very happy with where she’s ended up. 

Lowry’s interest and expertise in AML was cultivated at HSBC, which she joined at the end of their DPA (deferred prosecution agreement) for large scale money laundering. Lowry worked for a hub in Edinburgh, Scotland where she conducted increased risk investigations for a wide range of countries. 

Whilst at both PwC and HSBC, frequent business trips quickly acquainted her with the pain of expense reports. When a friend at Pleo suggested she consider joining  the company, she immediately saw the potential of Pleo’s elegant solution to expense reporting. She was excited by the opportunity to use her AML expertise in a dynamic new setting.

Pleo is a fintech that uses automation to make company payments easier, faster, safer and more transparent. They aspire to make expense reports and corporate fraud a thing of the past, and they’re succeeding: at only five years old, Pleo has already been classified as a ’soonicorn’ and plans to double in size by the end of 2020. 

Lowry feels that as a start-up, Pleo will be able to make real changes to the system that traditional organizations would find to hard to implement: 

“Working in a bank, you’re pretty stagnant, you can’t really have an impact, things are a bit broken, a bit manual, a bit tedious. But, it’s on a global scale, so you can’t go in and say ‘this is broken, let me fix it.’ When you start in a startup you’ve got the power to start at the ground level and say, ‘we’re going to build this and we’re going to build it right’.” 

Recent developments at Pleo have upped their need for strong AML and security measures. Pleo obtained an e-money license last year and now issue their own cards:

“With an e-money license and becoming an issuer also comes a lot of risk and a lot of responsibilities, so we needed to step up our game. Above all else, FinTechs have the ability to be reactive in the face of Risk associated with Money Laundering. Emerging typologies – we see you! New technologies – we got you! Better data – we love you! At the heart of this is our digital first attitude and the ability to bring a wide range of skills around one table. Silos, system separations and team segregation are a thing of the past – collective approaches are the new norm and engineering is the heart that keeps us striving forward.”

When asked why AML is important, Lowry says:

AML is for sure deeply rooted in the backbone of any FinTech company, and it is also a player that people don’t necessarily see. The area may not be the money makers of today – our sales team are the stars of that, but we put a lot of effort into our AML practices because it can save us in the future and it’s just the right thing to do.

Not only is AML legally required, it is central to maintaining trust in a financial world where money laundering scandals are commonplace, and have diminished public faith in big banks. This is especially important in Denmark, where disciplinary measures against institutions which launder money are eight times higher than those in the UK – a fact which Lowry calls “ridiculously interesting”. Pleo promotes their AML practices, making clear that these measures are in place for their customers’ protection, and in so doing position themselves as a trustworthy institution. 

Lowry acknowledges that maintaining AML while also facilitating swift and seamless money transfers is a real challenge in an increasingly global world. The balance, she asserts, is in knowing your customer. Activities that are fraudulent in some cases are legitimate in others, so understanding how and why customers operate is key. And, they’ve made this process easier – Pleo can run KYC checks within a day, something that can take weeks at a bank. 

Lowry believes that in the coming twenty years, fintechs will rock the boat, overtaking traditional banks. She cites two reasons for this: technology and collaboration. Traditional banks are too large, their technological infrastructure too old, and their cultures too ingrained to make the advancements necessary to compete with fintechs: “they need to un-dinosaur what they are doing”, says Lowry. The collaborative nature both within and among fintechs will propel the sector further: 

FinTechs are close with each other – we are young and pushing the boundaries, and sharing best practice is common. We will often work with others like us who want to challenge the norm and this results in some great collaboration. 

At institutions like HSBC, people in different departments sit separately and never formally interact; at Pleo they sit together and work collaboratively, leaving more scope for innovation and understanding of the company’s big-picture. This, she says, is why she loves her job:

“Pleo fosters empowerment – everybody has an ownership and the ability to make a direct difference while working collaboratively across the organisation. On a daily basis I work with engineering and product, sales and customer success. It’s the first chance I have really had to work across all these sectors, build on skills and learn new ones.

Pleo is expanding rapidly and hiring roughly twenty people per month; Lowry suggests that anyone interested in becoming a part of it get in touch or apply. For more insights into AML and disruptive technology, please visit https://blog.aryze.io/. To learn more about how ARYZE is optimizing payments, please visit our website.

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