Legal regulators have had more success than their accountancy counterparts in ensuring that anti-money laundering (AML) rules are observed, a controversial quango has observed. However, the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS) concludes that almost half of legal regulators are not doing enough supervision.

In a report assessing its first year in operation OPBAS says 54% of accountancy regulators and 44% of legal regulators did not have sufficient supervisory activity. Many had ‘underdeveloped, or neglected, procedures for reporting and escalating potential AML issues,’ the report adds.

OPBAS, which is administered by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), was set up in February last year to scrutinise the adequacy of the supervisory arrangements at 22 professional bodies across the UK, including the Law Society and Bar Council (which delegate their AML responsibilities to their respective regulators). 

OPBAS is also responsible for assessing the arrangements at CILEx Regulation, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, the Faculty of Advocates and the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as accountancy bodies.

The report assesses broad themes across the so-called 'professional body supervisors' rather than assessing individual bodies - and publishes its findings as percentages of the relevant constituency. It found that 86% of professional bodies preferred to offer ’support and guidance’ to members to improve their AML compliance rather than issue penalties. Nearly all - ‘92%' - of accountancy bodies 'expressed concerns about taking robust action if this would damage their ability to attract or retain members'.

The report added that the accountancy sector had less proactive engagement with the National Crime Agency and other law enforcement agencies than the legal sector.