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14 Jul 2021

Career Conversations - Colette Best, SRA

LegalEx

We caught up with Colette Best prior to her session at LegalEx Virtual; 'AML – how to get it right'.

Colette is Director of anti-money laundering at the SRA. Prior to joining the SRA, Colette worked in financial services policy specialising in investments at the Association of British Insurers, and housing policy at the Building Societies Association. Colette has been involved with preventing money laundering since 2007, when she worked on the implementation of the third money laundering directive at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

In her upcoming talk at LegalEx Virtual (register for free here), Colette will outline what the SRA have found from their recent firm visits and draw on the areas needing the most work from firms. You will hear about the types of issues - and good practice - they have seen from their visits to review practice within law firms. 


Can you introduce yourself and your current job role?

Yes! Hi, I’m Colette Best and I’m Director of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) at the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

 

How did you find yourself in this position? Did you always aim to pursue a career in this field?

I’ve been at the SRA for nearly six years, starting out in the policy team. My current role didn’t exist until two years ago when we created a new AML directorate. In 2019 I applied for, and subsequently got the role as director. It’s basically my dream job! I’ve worked in various AML-related roles in previous organisations including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Building Societies Association and the Association of British Insurers, so I’ve always been really interested in this area.

 

What role does your current position play in the functioning of the rest of your business and why is so crucial?

Preventing money laundering has always been really important for the legal sector, but I think we saw a big shift when the 2017 money laundering regulations came into force placing more requirements both on solicitors and on us as an AML regulator. That was a big part of setting up a dedicated unit which has responsibility for AML issues, supervision and investigations.

It’s so crucial because money laundering is a scourge on our society. It’s what makes drug trafficking, people trafficking, illegal arms dealing and many other crimes appealing to criminals. The National Crime Agency estimates that upwards of £12billion in criminal cash is generated annually in the UK and criminals seek to bring that into the legitimate economy through money laundering.

 

Can you give us some insight into the tasks that make up a regular working day for you, and what considerations need to go into these tasks, especially in light of the pandemic?

I work with a really talented and dedicated group of people. We’re split into a policy team, an investigation team and a proactive supervision team. An average day is currently working from home, although we managed to get back into the office recently which was a real treat and so great to see all the team. We’re quite a collegiate team so we spend a fair bit of time discussing ideas and problems, which means a lot of time spent on Teams at the moment. The risk-based approach enshrined in the money laundering regulations influences everything we do, this means a lot of the considerations and discussions we have are about risk.

 

Can you fill us in on any challenges you’ve faced in your career and how you overcame these?

Like most people lockdown has been hard and we have  had to adapt to moving to working from home. It’s been hard on a lot of people, but in different ways depending on their home situation. At work, moving firm visits online was particularly challenging as was moving to paperless investigations. It was also hard recruiting new staff virtually and for them starting in a new team that they didn’t meet face-to-face for well over a year. As for how we overcame these, it was mostly a matter of not getting overwhelmed by the scale of the issues, breaking problems down into manageable parts and working as a team to overcome them.

 

If you had to give some advice to your younger self or a mentee looking to enter your career, what would you say?

The people you meet on the way up are the same ones you meet on the way down, so always treat others with kindness and respect.

 

In your opinion, what are the most exciting developments within your role or the law and legal tech sector at present?

We’re anticipating two consultations in the new money laundering regulations and supervision. It’s a chance for everyone to have on say on which regulations are working well to prevent money laundering, while also highlighting what could be improved. Are there some regulations that are less effective compared to the burden they place on firms and consumers?  So lots of things to think about coming up over the next few years.

 

What do you see the future of the law or legal tech sector being like? Does this excite or scare you?

The pandemic has driven a lot of changes in technology, but in particular in the AML sector we’ve seen a lot of firms start using technology to help with their customer due diligence requirements. The tech that is out there is really impressive and I would encourage firms to engage with the solutions on offer. That said, any system is only as good as its inputs so taking care against user error is really important. Another point to make is that you can’t outsource your decision-making to technology; it’s really important that firms are still using human judgement to decide which clients are outside of their risk tolerance.

Technology can improve a customer’s experience of legal services. At the moment, no one wants to come into an office to prove their identity so electronic due diligence can be really helpful in not putting the burden of compliance onto consumers.

 

What can people expect to learn at your session at LegalEx’s Virtual Summit?

I hope those watching will learn what we are finding firms are struggling with in preventing money laundering and how to avoid those pitfalls, plus some tips for compliance. I’m also hoping they won’t learn how loud next door’s builders are currently singing Sweet Caroline!

 

Why do you think legal exhibitions, conferences and virtual summits are important for the development of individuals and the industry?

AML is a very fast-changing area so engaging with conferences and virtual summits is a good way of getting practical hints and tips on complying, as well as hearing about the latest developments.


In her upcoming talk at LegalEx Virtual, Colette will outline what the SRA have found from their recent firm visits and draw on the areas needing the most work from firms. You will hear about the types of issues - and good practice - they have seen from their visits to review practice within law firms. Register for free here.

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