What Is AML Customer Risk Assessment: Its Importance and How to Do It

What Is AML Customer Risk Assessment: Its Importance and How to Do It

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Last Updated: April 1, 2024 by Tamas Kadar

Understanding and mitigating customer risk is pivotal to sustaining growth and maintaining a competitive edge. Customer risk assessment serves as a critical tool, enabling organizations to decipher the complexities of customer behavior, financial stability, and potential for fraud or default. This process not only safeguards a company’s assets but also fortifies its reputation, ensuring a trust-based relationship with its clientele. 

While customer risk assessment tools are mandatory for financial institutions, it is essential for all businesses. Failing to perform an adequate risk assessment can cost a lot in fines and leave organizations vulnerable to financial criminals. 

Let’s look more closely at what AML customer risk assessment is, how to do it, and what to consider before implementing it.

What Is AML Customer Risk Assessment?

In the realm of anti-money laundering (AML), customer risk assessment is a critical process where financial institutions evaluate the potential risks posed by customers to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. 

This comprehensive evaluation includes verifying customer identities, checking customer details against various sanctions lists and analyzing transaction patterns, the services they use and their geographical connections. Conducting a customer risk assessment is a vital part of adhering to AML standards, as it enables financial institutions to pinpoint, comprehend, and lessen the potential risks that might emanate from their client base.

The assessment’s goal is to find out whether a customer poses a money laundering threat, is involved in financing terrorism, is a politically exposed person or appears on any criminal or sanctions lists. 

Implementing standardized AML customer risk assessment ensures that financial organizations can identify potential threats effectively, allowing them to decide on the appropriate level of due diligence. Such measures are vital for safeguarding the integrity of financial systems and maintaining compliance with national and international regulatory standards, ultimately ensuring secure and lawful business operations.

What Does Customer Risk Assessment in AML Involve?

Customer risk assessment is a cornerstone of AML compliance, involving several key steps:

  • Customer identification and verification: Institutions must verify the identity of their customers using reliable, independent source documents, data, or information. This process, known as Know Your Customer (KYC), is crucial for establishing the customer’s identity and the legitimacy of their activities.
  • AML customer risk scoring: This process involves assigning a numerical score to a customer or transaction based on various risk indicators, which helps in determining the level of scrutiny and monitoring required. This score is calculated using an AML risk scoring model, a tool that helps businesses measure how risky their customers are in terms of money laundering.  It looks at things like what customers do for a living, where they live, and how they use their money. The model gives scores to different risk factors, adds them up, and uses this total score to decide how closely to watch a customer’s activities. If the score is high, the bank may need to look more closely at the customer’s transactions. The model is regularly updated to stay effective and to keep up with new laws and emerging risks.
  • Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD): For customers classified as higher risk throughout AML customer risk profiling and found to be politically exposed persons (PEPs) or those from high-risk countries, enhanced due diligence measures are applied. This involves a deeper investigation into the customer’s background, source of funds, and the nature of their transactions.
  • Ongoing monitoring: Customer risk assessment is not a one-time process. Continuous monitoring of transactions is essential to detect any unusual or suspicious behavior that could indicate money laundering or terrorist financing.
  • Sanction screening: Regularly screening customers against national and international sanctions lists ensures that the institution is not inadvertently facilitating illegal activities.
  • Transaction review and reporting: Institutions must review transactions to identify patterns consistent with money laundering. Suspicious activities are reported to relevant authorities as per the regulatory requirements.

By rigorously assessing and monitoring customer risks, financial institutions can detect and prevent illicit activities, ensuring compliance with AML regulations and safeguarding the integrity of the financial system.

How to Identify High-Risk Customers in Banking

Let’s break down what counts as a banking high-risk customer, and explore how to identify them.

Find Out Here

The Importance of Assessing Customer Risk

Assessing customer risk is vital across industries, especially in finance, to safeguard against illegal activities and maintain trust. It’s not just about following rules; it’s about being a responsible player in the global financial system. 

Financial institutions use AML customer risk assessment to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing, protecting themselves and their customers. These assessments pinpoint suspicious activities, helping to avert fraud and financial crimes. Moreover, they ensure that resources are focused where they’re most needed, enhancing operational efficiency. 

By understanding the risk each customer poses, institutions can offer tailored services, maintaining compliance and building stronger customer relationships. In a world where financial transactions cross borders with ease, customer risk assessment is the anchor for navigating international regulations and managing global risks. 

Ultimately, it’s about making informed, data-driven decisions to continuously refine AML case management strategies, ensuring the financial sector remains robust and trustworthy.

Main Elements of an AML Customer Risk Assessment

AML customer risk assessment is pivotal for financial organizations, ensuring compliance and mitigating risks associated with financial crimes. The two key components of customer risk assessment are risk identification, i.e. reviewing all available information to verify the customer’s identity and detect potential risk factors, and customer fraud scoring to categorize customers based on how great of a risk they pose to the business. 

Customer Risk Identification

Initially, financial institutions need identification proofing documentation to assess a customer’s risk profile. These are some of the main components of identifying customers and spotting potential risk factors:

  • Differentiating between individuals vs. entities: Differentiating between individual consumers and legal entities is vital, as each has distinct risk factors associated with their activities.
  • Reviewing customer affiliations and profiles: Understanding a customer’s background, including employment history, social connections, and financial behaviors, is crucial. Unusual financial activities, like a jobless individual making substantial deposits, can indicate potential risk.
  • Geographic considerations: The risk level can vary based on a customer’s geographic connections. Special attention is needed for transactions in locations that don’t align with a customer’s residence or workplace. Money mules, who carry substantial amounts of cash, often establish accounts in various places to sidestep the requirement of declaring these cash transactions.
  • Reviewing services requested by customers: The nature of services a customer seeks can be indicative of risk. For example, frequent inquiries about cash deposit processes or international transfers might warrant closer scrutiny.

Customer Risk Scoring

After evaluating the risk factors, a risk score is assigned to each customer in order to categorize them into different risk levels:

  • Low-risk customers: These are individuals or entities with transparent financial activities and clear sources of income whose past transactions align with their profiles.
  • Medium-risk customers: This category includes customers with slightly elevated risk levels, possibly due to connections to regions or industries known for financial discrepancies.
  • High-risk customers: Customers requiring in-depth due diligence, possibly due to unclear funding sources or significant political connections, fall under this category.
  • Prohibited category: Individuals or organizations with a history of financial crimes are barred from engaging with financial institutions.

Understanding and implementing these elements to your customer risk assessment enables you to manage customer risk effectively, ensuring a stable and secure financial environment.

How Long Does It Take to Assess a Customer?

Navigating the digital landscape, businesses, especially non-financial ones, are faced with a critical dilemma: the need to accelerate user actions, like signing up or making purchases, while also mitigating risks and ensuring security. This delicate balance is pivotal as companies strive to eliminate churn, friction and barriers, enhancing user experience. 

Traditionally, acquiring financial services like bank accounts or insurance required submitting extensive personal data for customer risk assessment, often resulting in prolonged wait times. However, with modern advancements, these processes can now be nearly instantaneous, provided you’ve set up the right system in place.

Discover AML Solutions to Your Risks

Utilize SEON’s identification technology and advanced APIs to create an onboarding process that is low-friction and high-compliance.

Read More

SEON’s 5 Steps To Customer Risk Assessment

Identifying and mitigating risks is paramount for businesses seeking to safeguard their operations and adhere to regulatory standards. SEON offers a comprehensive solution designed to enhance your AML customer risk assessment processes. 


Initial data gathering

The moment a visitor lands on your site, SEON springs into action and starts gathering vital information. 

  • IP analysis: Examine and analyze the user’s IP address to discern their geographic location, detect any use of Tor or VPNs and identify attempts to mask their connection. 
  • Device fingerprinting: A robust method that unveils the unique combination of software and hardware your visitors use to access your site. By understanding the intricacies of their device configuration, browser specifics, and more, SEON not only recognizes returning users but also detects impersonators.
  • Digital footprinting: An additional layer of verification which involves collecting and analyzing information generated by an individual’s entire online presence, utilizing real-time data and checking for a broad range of social and digital signals.

Analyzing the gathered data

SEON also does email analysis, which can unravel significant insights – from the age of the email account and its domain provider to any previous blacklist instances. Similarly, phone number analysis helps determine the type of line, the accuracy of the geographic match, and the authenticity of the network. 

Combining all the above data points, SEON helps you find correlations and anomalies and turn all the gathered information into meaningful insights that lead to faster and more accurate risk assessment. 


PEPs & Sanction Screening

SEON’s AML API enables businesses to screen their customers’ names against a broad and regularly refreshed array of relevant watchlists. These lists cover all key compliance areas, encompassing checks for politically exposed persons (PEPs), sanctions, and criminal watchlists.


Monitoring transaction for AML

SEON’s transaction monitoring proactively safeguards transactions like transfers and withdrawals by analyzing customer data and behaviors to spot potential money laundering signs. It helps you manage transaction volumes and escalate high-risk cases to your fraud teams for further examination. Combining machine learning and human analysis, you can notice patterns in vast data sets, enabling prompt, informed decisions. Enhanced with proprietary data and a user-friendly interface, this approach streamlines compliance and accelerates response to potential risks.


Evaluating risk

The culmination of the assessment is deciding on the risk level associated with a user. In the past, this decision heavily relied on the acumen and intuition of fraud managers. However, with the right risk assessment tool, the process is significantly refined through the use of sophisticated risk scores. These scores are derived from various rules – some pre-established for specific industries, others custom-made or even AI-recommended.

Ultimately, the power lies in your hands. You decide on the balance between stringent security measures, which might increase false positives and a more lenient approach that could allow some fraud risks. SEON empowers you with the flexibility to tailor your fraud and risk prevention strategy to your business’s unique needs, ensuring you maintain control over how you mitigate risk.


Frequently Asked Questions

Who should assess customer risk?

Customer risk assessment is crucial not only for banks but for any business involved in online transactions, including fintechs, crypto exchanges, online casinos, loan companies, and traditional financial institutions, as it helps differentiate between profitable customers and those who pose potential risks.

How do you do a risk assessment for AML?

To conduct an AML risk assessment, first, individuals and entities must be differentiated to identify distinct risk factors. Review customer affiliations, financial behaviors, and geographic connections for potential risks. Then, evaluate the nature of the services customers seek, like frequent cash transactions or international transfers. Finally, assign a risk score to categorize customers into low, medium, high, or prohibited risk levels based on their profiles and activities. This process ensures effective risk management and compliance in the financial sector.

How to identify the need for customer risk assessment?

If your business is involved in financial transactions or services where there’s a risk of money laundering, you’re required to comply with AML regulations, your customers engage in high-risk transactions, or if you operate in sectors or regions prone to financial crimes, a risk assessment tool is essential to identify, evaluate, and mitigate potential risks effectively.

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Author avatar
Tamas Kadar

Tamás Kádár is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of SEON. His mission to create a fraud-free world began after he founded the CEE’s first crypto exchange in 2017 and found it under constant attack. The solution he built now reduces fraud for 5,000+ companies worldwide, including global leaders such as KLM, Avis, and Patreon. In his spare time, he’s devouring data visualizations and injuring himself while doing basic DIY around his London pad.