AML/CFT compliance in Hong Kong: Recent record fine and reminder of latest guidance

Authors: William Hallatt, Hannah Cassidy, Natalie Curtis, Valerie Tao and Jennifer Fong.

The Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) has recently reprimanded and fined Guosen Securities (HK) Brokerage Company (Guosen) HK$15.2 million for failures in complying with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (AML/CFT) regulatory requirements when handling third party fund deposits.

This is the largest fine imposed under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance (AMLO) to date.

In this e-bulletin, we provide an overview of the Guosen case and other recent cases, the regulators’ approach to AML/CFT enforcement, as well as a reminder of the recent AML/CFT regulatory guidance.

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Corporate Crime Update – Winter 2019

Welcome to the Winter 2019 edition of our corporate crime update – our round up of developments in relation to corruption, money laundering, fraud, sanctions and related matters. Our update now covers a number of jurisdictions.

For the full update on each jurisdiction, please click on the name of the jurisdiction below. Below we provide a brief overview of what is covered in each update.

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SFC seeks to halt “rolling bad apples” in their tracks with licensing reforms

On 1 February 2019, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) announced significant changes to its licensing forms and processes (Licensing Reforms). Included in these changes was the long-awaited arrival in Hong Kong of measures intended to stop the “rolling” of “bad apples” within the financial industry by requiring licensed corporations and registered institutions to provide the SFC with more information about the circumstances under which their employees depart.

In addition to these reforms targeting “bad apples”, the Licensing Reforms also include:

  1. sweeping changes to the SFC’s licensing forms. These changes include streamlining and consolidating the forms, as well as reforms which will mean that applicants must now provide the SFC with significantly more granular information regarding matters relevant to fitness and properness; and
  2. a thorough refresh of the SFC’s Licensing Handbook, which now includes key aspects of the licensing-related guidance issued by the SFC since the publication of the previous Licensing Handbook in April 2017.

The new licensing forms can be used from 11 February 2019. However, the SFC will accept current standard forms during a two-month transition period, before the new forms become compulsory from 11 April 2019.

We have been following these developments for some time and were part of the informal consultation held by the SFC in late 2018. We will be holding a seminar in Hong Kong to share our insights on how these developments will impact licensed corporations in Hong Kong and form part of broader conduct and culture-focused reforms across the Asia-Pacific region. Read our full client briefing and register for the seminar here.

From offline to online: upholding investor protection in sale of complex products

As investment services go digital, Hong Kong regulators have found it necessary to issue tailored guidance to protect investors.

From 6 April and 23 August 2019 respectively, new guidelines from the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority will increase the regulatory requirements for financial institutions offering investment products via online platforms. Continue reading

Corporate Crime autumn update 2018

Welcome to the autumn 2018 edition of our corporate crime update – our round up of developments in relation to corruption, money laundering, fraud, sanctions and related matters. Our update now covers a number of jurisdictions.

For the full update on each jurisdiction, please click on the name of the jurisdiction below where we provide a brief overview of what is covered. Continue reading

Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal clarifies “innocent purpose” defence to insider dealing

The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (CFA) has recently allowed the Securities and Futures Commission’s (SFC) appeal against the Market Misconduct Tribunal’s (MMT) findings that two former executives of a listed company (ATML), Mr Charles Yiu Hoi Ying and Ms Marian Wong Nam, had not engaged in insider dealing in ATML shares. Continue reading

SFC issues further reminder regarding paragraph 12.5 self-reporting obligation

The SFC has issued a circular to remind intermediaries to comply with the self-reporting obligation under paragraph 12.5 of the Code of Conduct for Persons Licensed by or Registered with the Securities and Futures Commission. Licensed corporations and registered institutions should review their incident escalation and reporting mechanisms as soon as possible and consider whether any enhancements are required.

Paragraph 12.5 requires intermediaries to report to the SFC immediately upon the happening of (among other things) any material non-compliance with any law, rules, regulations and codes administered by the SFC or any such suspected non-compliance.

The SFC has recently observed that some intermediaries have not promptly reported to the SFC non-compliance with various legal or regulatory requirements, such as suspected unlicensed dealing activities, non-compliance with the suitability requirements and order recording requirements under the above code of conduct, and breaches of record keeping rules.

The SFC reminds intermediaries that:

  • registered institutions (although primarily regulated by the HKMA) are required to fulfil their reporting obligation by making the report directly to the SFC, in addition to reporting to the HKMA;
  • all material non-compliance referred to under paragraph 12.5 should be reported as soon as practicable upon identification, ie, not after the intermediary has completed its investigation, obtained legal advice or taken remedial action;
  • failure to comply with the reporting obligation may result in disciplinary action against intermediaries and their management.

The SFC also reminds intermediaries of:

William Hallatt
William Hallatt
Head of Financial Services Regulatory, Asia, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4036
Hannah Cassidy
Hannah Cassidy
Partner, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4133

SFC publishes AML/CFT inspection findings and urges intermediaries to ensure compliance

The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) issued a circular on 31 August 2018 highlighting both deficiencies and good practices observed in relation to anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) compliance by licensed corporations (LCs) and associated entities (AEs). The observations were made over the past year from the SFC’s review of AML/CFT measures, policies, procedures and controls (AML/CFT systems) belonging to 13 LCs during thematic inspections and around 270 LCs during routine inspections. This follows on from the SFC’s circular issued on 26 January 2017, setting out its observations relating to AML/CFT compliance from inspections conducted in 2016 (see our earlier bulletin here). Continue reading