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Bank secrecy rules get a rethink after Danske laundering shock


DANSKE Bank A/S is turning into a case study for European regulators, legislators and bankers to rethink fundamental assumptions about how the finance industry should operate.

First up is the principle that bank clients should be protected by secrecy laws. The sheer scale of the Danske money-laundering scandal means those rules may now get a review. The financial regulator in Denmark, the bank's home, has started lobbying counterparts elsewhere for a broader discussion.

Jesper Berg, director general of the Financial Supervisory Authority in Copenhagen, says it's clear there are "huge privacy issues". But "we need to figure out how to resolve this".

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Danske Bank faces billions of dollars in fines as it awaits the outcome of criminal investigations across Europe and in the US. The bank admitted last year that it was at the centre of an unprecedented laundering scandal after failing to screen thousands of clients in Estonia. Much of the US$230 billion of mainly Russian money that flowed through those accounts was suspicious, Danske acknowledged.

The case revealed potential loopholes in European legislation. While rules governing data protection and client confidentiality protect privacy, they also mean that nothing prevents a customer blacklisted by one bank from moving to another.

Mr Berg said letting banks share data would be a more effective tool than creating a single European entity to target money launderers. His approach resonates in Finland, which will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union in July.

"The idea is extremely good and supportable," said Samu Kurri, head of the financial analysis and operational risks department at the Finnish FSA. It would also "represent a fundamental change to traditional tight banking secrecy on a philosophical level", he said.

Jeppe Kofod, spokesman for the European Parliament's special committee on financial crime, tax evasion and tax avoidance, says the balance needs to be tipped toward prevention.

"I don't want to sacrifice privacy," he said. But banks "should be able to share some of the data in a protected way. Today, it is too easy for criminals to operate in a number of banks", he added. BLOOMBERG