PEP Screening: Everything You Need to Know

In the financial world, PEP screening is a term that is gaining more importance by the day. The reason is simple: PEPs, or politically exposed persons, pose a significant risk for financial institutions. The possibility of corruption and money laundering through such individuals necessitates a thorough screening process. In this blog, we will dive deeper into the world of PEPs and explore the need for PEP screening.

Leveraging technology in PEP screening is an indispensable strategy in today’s intricate financial landscape, where organizations must constantly combat the rising challenges of money laundering and other financial crimes. The utilization of advanced systems and procedures to perform diligent screenings of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) significantly reduces potential risks.

PEPs, individuals holding high-profile public positions or those closely associated with such persons, often pose a substantial risk due to the likelihood of their involvement in illicit activities. With the integration of technology in PEP screening as part of the Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) procedures, potential risks can be identified proactively. This process involves cross-checking individuals against PEP databases and sanctions lists.

What is PEP Screening?

Politically exposed persons screening or PEP screening is a process that helps prevent financial institutions (FI) from becoming involved with illegal financial activities. PEPs are individuals with significant political influence, such as government officials or their family members. These individuals are considered high-risk due to the potential for corruption and money laundering.

To understand PEP screening, let’s consider an example. Suppose a bank receives an application for a loan from an individual who is a member of parliament in their country. Before granting the loan, the bank would conduct PEP screening to ensure that the individual is not involved in any illegal activities or has any connections to organized crime.

PEP screening is a critical step in Know Your Customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) processes. It involves checking individuals against PEP databases and sanction lists to identify any potential risks. By conducting thorough PEP screening, financial institutions can proactively identify and manage risks, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.

PEP Screening

Who is a Politically Exposed Person (PEPs)?

Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) are individuals who hold prominent public positions or are closely associated with such individuals. These positions typically involve high levels of influence, power, or decision-making authority within the government or state-owned enterprises. PEPs can include heads of state, senior government officials, members of legislative bodies, senior judiciary members, senior military officers, and leaders of political parties.

The term “Politically Exposed Person” also extends to immediate family members and close associates of PEPs, as their proximity and relationships may present similar risks. Immediate family members can include spouses, children, parents, and siblings, while close associates can include individuals with significant business or personal ties to the PEP.

Understanding the Significance of PEP Screening

Corruption is the biggest issue facing society today. According to estimates by the World Economic Forum, the cost of corruption worldwide crossed at least $2.0 trillion, which is approximately 5 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Furthermore, businesses and individuals pay more than $1 trillion in bribes every year, as reported by the World Bank. Consequently, tackling corruption is vital for economic growth and development.

Therefore, PEP screening is not only important for mitigating risk but is also required by law in many countries. For instance, Section 312 of the USA Patriot Act specifies enhanced due diligence procedures that include increased monitoring of the financial activities and dealings of senior foreign political figures (SFPF), a subset of PEP.

In the financial industry, politically exposed persons are foreign individuals and their associates who hold or have held a prominent public position. Conducting business with corrupt PEPs can result in serious damage to a financial institution’s reputation, leading to negative consequences for the business.

Additionally, if a financial institution or its employees were aware or should have been aware of funds originating from corruption or serious crimes, criminal charges may be filed, even if they choose to ignore the situation.

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Types of PEPs

There are primarily two types of PEPs distinguished based on their roles and affiliations. Identifying and screening both types of PEPs, along with their family members or close associates, is critical for organizations to enhance risk management, meet regulatory requirements, and mitigate the potential risks associated with these high-profile individuals.

These are the two types of PEPs:

1: Foreign PEPs:

These individuals are appointed to prominent roles within a foreign country. Examples include high-ranking government officials, diplomats, or executives holding significant positions in international organizations. Their foreign connections expose them to potential risks like bribery, corruption, or involvement in financial crimes. Screening foreign PEPs and their close associates is crucial to identifying risks and conducting comprehensive due diligence, aligning with KYC and AML compliance measures.

2: Domestic PEPs:

This category consists of individuals holding influential public positions within their country of residence. They could be government officials, members of the judiciary, or executives within state-owned enterprises. Despite their operations being within their home country, their influential roles make them vulnerable to similar risks as foreign PEPs, including corruption or money laundering. Screening domestic PEPs and their immediate network is essential for assessing potential risks, ensuring compliance, and minimizing exposure to reputational harm or financial penalties.

Why is it important to know if your customers are PEPs?

It’s essential to identify if your customers are PEPs due to the inherent risks associated with their status. Understanding the PEP status of customers helps mitigate risks associated with financial crimes such as money laundering, corruption, and bribery. PEPs, due to their influential positions in government or international organizations, may have access to public funds and wield considerable power.

Their positions can make them susceptible to illicit financial activities or abuse of authority for personal gain. Therefore, identifying PEPs is a proactive step in preventing potential involvement in such unlawful practices and safeguarding the integrity of financial systems.

Regulatory compliance mandates institutions to adhere to stringent AML and KYC regulations. These regulations necessitate robust risk management and due diligence measures when dealing with PEPs. By identifying and appropriately managing the risks associated with PEPs, businesses, especially financial institutions, ensure compliance with these stringent regulatory frameworks, thus avoiding potential penalties and legal consequences for non-compliance.

Moreover, knowing if customers are PEPs allows businesses to protect their reputation and credibility. Associations with individuals linked to corruption or financial crimes can severely damage an organization’s reputation. By conducting proper due diligence and risk assessment, businesses can make informed decisions about their associations with PEPs, mitigating reputational risks and maintaining public trust.

The Role of Technology in PEP Screening

In the fight against financial crime, the screening of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) plays a critical role in mitigating risks for financial institutions. However, traditional manual screening processes are time-consuming and prone to errors, leaving institutions vulnerable to regulatory violations and reputational damage. This is where technology steps in, revolutionizing PEP screening by enhancing efficiency and accuracy.

Some examples of technology-driven systems are given below:

1. Adverse Media Screening for Real-time Updates

Adverse media screening is a vital component of PEP screening processes, as it helps identify any negative news associated with individuals. Technology-driven solutions enable real-time monitoring of credible global news media sources, ensuring prompt detection of arrests, court cases, and other potentially concerning activities related to PEPs. By utilizing advanced algorithms and automated processes, adverse media screening provides financial institutions with up-to-date information to assess the risk level associated with their customers and make informed decisions regarding their business relationships.

2. Integrated Sanctions Technology for Comprehensive Data

To effectively identify PEPs and ensure compliance, financial institutions require access to comprehensive and accurate sanctions data. Technology-driven solutions provide integrated sanctions technology that consolidates data from various trusted sources worldwide, such as governments, regulators, and credit agencies. This wealth of data includes not only PEP profiles but also information on family members, State Owned Enterprises, and government-owned businesses. By leveraging integrated sanctions technology, institutions can enhance their screening processes and minimize the risk of engaging with sanctioned individuals.

3. Electronic Identity Verification (eIDV) for Reliable Customer Verification

Verifying the identity of customers is a crucial aspect of PEP screening and compliance with AML and KYC regulations. Electronic identity verification (eIDV) technology provides a reliable and efficient means of verifying customer-provided details by cross-checking them against reputable data streams in real-time.

This includes comprehensive sanctions data, including PEPs and related entities. By integrating eIDV into their screening processes, financial institutions can ensure the authenticity of customer identities, reducing the risk of fraudulent activities and enhancing compliance efforts.

The role of technology in PEP screening cannot be overstated. Technology enables real-time updates, comprehensive data access, and reliable customer verification, empowering institutions to identify PEPs and mitigate the risks associated with financial crime.

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Benefits of Implementing Technology in PEP Screening

By automating manual processes, financial institutions can reduce errors, save time, and ensure comprehensive coverage of PEP databases and sanction lists. Moreover, technology enables improved risk assessment and informed decision-making, strengthening overall compliance efforts. Implementing technology in PEP screening processes offers numerous benefits, including:

1. Enhanced Efficiency and Accuracy

Technology-driven solutions streamline PEP screening, significantly improving efficiency and accuracy. Automation eliminates manual errors, saves time, and expedites customer onboarding. By replacing labor-intensive tasks with automated workflows, financial institutions can enhance their due diligence practices while maintaining regulatory compliance.

2. Comprehensive Coverage of PEP Databases and Sanction Lists

Technology provides access to comprehensive PEP databases and sanction lists, ensuring up-to-date and reliable information. By leveraging robust databases, financial institutions minimize the risk of missing crucial data and potential compliance breaches. Comprehensive data coverage enables proactive risk identification and management, protecting institutions from financial and reputational risks.

3. Improved Risk Assessment and Informed Decision-Making

Technology-driven solutions facilitate advanced risk assessment through data analytics and algorithms. By analyzing vast amounts of data, institutions gain valuable insights into the risks associated with PEPs. This enables informed decision-making and the implementation of effective risk management strategies, enhancing overall compliance efforts.

What is AML Watchlist Screening?

How do FIs identify a politically exposed person?

A globally agreed definition to identify a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) does not exist; however, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) defines PEP as “the types of prominent public functions that an individual may be or may have been entrusted with by a foreign or domestic government.”

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) provides the following definitions to help identify PEPs:

1: Foreign PEPs refer to heads of state or government, high-level politicians, top-tier government officials, judges or military personnel, and senior executives of state-owned companies, as well as key officials of political parties in a foreign country.

Domestic PEPs, similar to foreign PEPs, are persons who have held or are currently entrusted with significant public functions within their own country.

2: International organization PEPs are individuals who have occupied or are currently in a high-level position within an international organization. This includes directors, deputy directors, board members, and those in equivalent roles.

3: Family members of PEPs are persons who are directly related to a PEP through blood (consanguinity), marriage, or similar forms of partnership. Last, close associates are people who have a close personal or professional connection with a PEP.

Although there is consensus on the mentioned definitions, it’s important to consider some regional variations. Depending on the jurisdiction, regulatory requirements and due diligence recommendations may differ. FATF simplifies the process to a certain extent through its guidance and recommendations on the matter.

However, most recommend guidance from the legal team and/or the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the country in question to confirm the obligations related to politically exposed persons.

Who Publishes PEP Lists?

Across the world, differences in information and practices have made manual screening a challenging task. A proposal published by Harvard suggests that the current system for identifying PEPs is both ineffective and inaccurate.

Without reliable data sources or an official list, most financial institutions must depend on self-identification, commercial vendors, and internal checks.

Some countries do publish PEP position lists. For instance, the online directory of world leaders and cabinet members of foreign governments is updated weekly by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However, some countries do not publish official lists at all or do not update them often. Although open-source lists are available for free, their completeness and reliability can also vary greatly.

PEP requirements in the U.S.A. and UK

The PEP screening requirements in the United States and the United Kingdom differ slightly in terms of domestic obligations and the regulatory authorities overseeing them. In the United States, there’s an obligation for PEP screening as part of the Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) program.

This includes foreign PEP screening, in alignment with the Bank Secrecy Act and the Patriot Act, under the oversight of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The screening should be risk-based and involve customer due diligence (CDD) and enhanced due diligence (EDD) for higher-risk PEPs. Reporting suspicious activities, especially if they involve money laundering, is essential, requiring firms to submit a suspicious activity report (SAR) to FinCEN.

On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, PEP screening is mandatory, covering both foreign and domestic PEPs. The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulates and sets out the requirements for politically exposed person screening, ensuring compliance with Anti-Money Laundering regulations. These regulations remained similar post-Brexit, as the UK had previously implemented EU Anti-Money Laundering Directives.

Is the PEP status permanent?

A PEP (Politically Exposed Person) may still be considered a PEP even after leaving office, depending on the procedures in place. Financial institutions, for instance, may view PEPs as high-risk for up to 18 months after leaving office and act accordingly.

According to FATF Recommendation 12, a PEP is someone who has had a significant public role in the past but may no longer hold that role. The recommendation leaves room for an open-ended approach, suggesting that someone who was once a PEP could always be considered one.

Now that we understand the basics of PEP screening, let us look at PEP best practices, the repercussions of not undertaking a PEP screening, and some real-world scenarios.

Best Practices for PEP and Sanction Screening

PEP screening is a crucial component when it comes to abiding by both Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations. To safeguard themselves against potential risks, financial institutions must implement the PEP screening process. Here are some measures financial institutions can undertake:

  • Risk-Based Approach

Taking a risk-based approach is essential in PEP and sanction screening. Conducting an internal risk assessment helps define the criteria for identifying PEPs and determining the appropriate level of due diligence required. The United Nations Convention against Corruption recommends Enhanced due diligence of PEPs and other systems of suspicious transaction reports. This approach ensures that resources are allocated based on the risk associated with each customer or transaction, enabling efficient and targeted screening efforts.

When dealing with Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), a one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective, and instead, PEPs should be assessed along a risk spectrum that considers their position and level of authority.

Individual Risk Rating

A risk-based approach should be adopted during the PEP screening process to identify individuals requiring additional due diligence measures, especially foreign PEPs who may present a higher level of risk. Compliance officers can effectively gauge the risk of doing business with a specific person by using this approach.

  • Due Diligence Checks:

Financial institutions should apply due diligence procedures based on the level of risk involved while conducting a risk assessment. This may include documenting the duration of an individual’s political exposure, title, and country.

Additionally, firms should document the intended purpose and nature of the relationship or account, the source of initial funds (if applicable), and their account activity. Customer wealth and sources of funds should also be understood and documented, with independent and reliable sources used to verify this information if needed.

  • Approvals and Periodic Reviews

Senior management approvals of PEP relationships with individuals who have thorough cognizance of a financial crime risk and their responsibility within the FI’s AML control environment are crucial. Furthermore, the PEP screening process should include consistent monitoring of the relationship.

Due diligence processes should ensure appropriate levels of risk assessment for customers, and ongoing due diligence should be applied to the entire customer base. Best practices include having a process to declassify PEPs into a lower-risk level when appropriate.

  • Appropriate Training and Education:

Ensuring that employees and managers receive regular AML training and communicate policies and procedures related to PEPs is crucial. Technological solutions can help streamline the process, but compliance officers are still necessary. Therefore, preventing financial crimes requires the abilities of employees as well as the technology used in PEP screening.

  • Integration With High-Quality Trusted Data Sources

To ensure accurate and comprehensive screening, it is crucial to integrate with high-quality, trusted data sources. This includes utilizing reputable PEP databases, sanction lists, and adverse media sources. By consolidating data from reliable sources, institutions can enhance the effectiveness of their screening processes and minimize the risk of overlooking critical information.

  • Ongoing Monitoring for Compliance

PEP and sanction screening should not be limited to customer onboarding alone. Implementing ongoing monitoring processes allows institutions to stay updated on any changes in customer circumstances or status. This ensures ongoing compliance with AML regulations and enables the timely detection of any red flags that may arise during the business relationship.

  • Utilizing Best-in-Class Technology Platforms

Financial institutions should leverage best-in-class technology platforms to optimize PEP and sanction screening processes. These platforms offer advanced features such as automatic watch list screening, real-time data updates, and sophisticated algorithms for risk assessment. By adopting cutting-edge technology, institutions can improve the accuracy and efficiency of their screening efforts while reducing false positives and increasing operational efficiencies.

Why it is important to screen against PEPs and sanctions lists?

Screening against PEPs and sanctions lists is crucial for several reasons:

  • Risk Mitigation: PEPs, due to their influential positions, have a higher risk of being involved in financial crimes such as money laundering, bribery, or corruption. Screening helps identify these individuals, allowing businesses to conduct enhanced due diligence to mitigate the associated risks.
  • Compliance: Regulatory bodies worldwide mandate the screening of PEPs and sanctions lists as part of AML and KYC requirements. Compliance with these regulations is essential to avoid penalties, legal repercussions, and reputational damage.
  • Preventing Financial Crimes: By screening against sanctions lists, organizations can identify entities or individuals involved in illegal activities, such as terrorism financing, human rights violations, or other criminal behaviors. It helps prevent financial crimes and ensures ethical business practices.
  • Protecting Reputation: Doing business with sanctioned individuals or entities or being associated with PEPs involved in financial misconduct can tarnish an organization’s reputation. Regular screening safeguards a company’s reputation by avoiding involvement with such entities.
  • Regulatory Reporting: Identifying PEPs or sanctioned individuals through screening allows organizations to report suspicious activities to relevant authorities, fulfilling their obligation to report potential financial crimes like money laundering or terrorism financing.

What are the repercussions of neglecting PEP screening?

Neglecting PEP screening can have serious consequences, both in terms of legal and reputational risks.

Here are three recent examples of companies facing fines for neglecting PEP screening:

  • In 2021, AmBank, a prominent Malaysian bank, agreed to pay the Malaysian government $700 million for its role in the infamous 1MDB scandal. The scandal saw the Saudi royal family funnel $681 million into former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s accounts, resulting in his conviction on a range of corruption and money laundering charges.
  • In a similar vein, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) penalized Capital One a whopping $390 million for allegedly engaging in both willful and negligent violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Capital One admitted to having failed to establish and maintain an effective anti-money laundering (AML) program.

These examples demonstrate the importance of robust PEP screening and the potential consequences of neglecting this crucial compliance process. Companies need to be vigilant in identifying and assessing PEP risks in their customer base and have effective safeguards in place to mitigate these risks.

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PEP screening is crucial in risk management and compliance. It mitigates risks associated with PEPs, protecting institutions from reputational damage and financial consequences. By prioritizing screening, institutions can proactively safeguard their operations and reputation.

PEP databases play a crucial role in effective AML compliance by providing combined screening capabilities, comprehensive PEP lists, and integration with sanction lists. These databases, powered by advanced technology, enable financial institutions to identify high-risk individuals, apply appropriate due diligence measures, and mitigate the risk of financial crime.

The World Bank recommends against having a single international PEP list for political reasons. In such a circumstance, using technology to scan large sources of data is the most efficient process to minimize errors. By leveraging the benefits of PEP databases, organizations can enhance their compliance efforts, protect their reputation, and contribute to a more secure global financial system. Stay ahead in the battle against financial crime by choosing advanced screening solutions.

Choose KYC Hub, a trusted provider of comprehensive PEP screening solutions. Our advanced technology, seamless integration, and reliable access to up-to-date lists enable effective risk assessment and mitigation. KYC Hub’s PEP and Sanction Lists are updated every 15 minutes, ensuring highly accurate results. Partnering with KYC Hub strengthens compliance efforts and ensures the integrity and security of your institution in the fight against financial crime.

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