Money laundering is one of the most crippling forms of crime globally that, according to some estimates, exceeds 2% of global GDB annually. Estonian finance-technology company Salv provides new standards to fight this crime.
Only 1% of laundered money is discovered because until recently, tools for its discovery were inadequate. Financial and data regulations make information exchange between institutions complicated both legally and technically. However, increased attention to the laundering of illegal finances by regulators such as the European Union and Financial Action Task Force has created pressure on financial institutions to take its discovery more seriously.
“During my career in finance tech, I have understood that financial institutions have long been like islands. Data links are limited and unidirectional: regulators ask for data from banks; banks ask for info from their clients… We saw the potential to break through and create an example of multi-directional data movement in Estonia because it is small and digitalized. And, indeed, we are already providing a working prototype that would have taken years to complete somewhere else,” says Taavi Tamkivi, CEO of Salv.
Pilot with four Estonian biggest banks
Salv is now running a pilot program titled AML Bridge in cooperation with four Estonian biggest banks, supported by the Financial Inspectorate, the Data Protection Inspectorate, the Financial Intelligence Unit, and legal experts. Their product uses a similar architecture to the famous Estonian X-Road: data remains safeguarded by individual institutions, and when necessary, only encrypted packages are exchanged. This kind of privacy-enhancing technology (PET) follows tight data regulations (for example, GDPR) but allows enhanced detection of irregularities in financial behaviour.
A revolutionary product
“We were already providing a product for financial institutions which learns from their data and signals any suspicious activities for further checking. Although this product is very good, this is rather an evolutionary development. AML Bridge is revolutionary because by exchanging information, it allows to combine those minuscule irregularities which in one institution would not raise suspicion, and cross-check them with other data owners for an unprecedented increase in sensitivity,” Mr. Tamkivi elaborates.
Scaling in sight
This kind of collaborative solution offered by Salv has significant potential for international spread. When setting up her candidacy for the position of Secretary-General of OECD, Kersti Kaljulaid, current president of Estonia, focused on the exchange of digital information between countries. While copying Estonian digital infrastructure such as the X-Road in its entirety may be too complicated for other countries, AML is a tangible and necessary application that is easier to adopt.
Expertise in fighting financial crime
“Some may remember that Estonia was targeted in a series of sophisticated cyber-attacks in 2007. As crippling as they were, these attacks offered an opportunity to learn and prepare. Now, Estonia hosts the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. I believe that in the face of recent money laundering instances in Estonia that got quite big publicity in the world, we can achieve similar top-level expertise in fighting financial crime,” Mr. Tamkivi says.
Salv is already negotiating with other European countries to expand the pilot program. Hopefully, Salv (which translates as “cream” or “ointment”) can be spread internationally soon.