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No further actions against Bell Financial Group, says AUSTRAC

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AUSTRAC has decided not to undertake further regulatory action against Bell Financial Group.

In February last year, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) ordered an external audit of three entities within Bell Financial Group, looking into their compliance with anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing laws.

At the time, the financial crime regulator said it had identified compliance concerns within the firm.

However, on Friday, AUSTRAC announced that it had received a copy of the final audit report for each entity and decided not to pursue further action.

“Accordingly, the external audit process is now complete,” it said in a statement.

“AUSTRAC has reiterated the importance for Bell to meet its compliance obligations in the future and will continue to work with Bell to ensure ongoing compliance, and to monitor the remediation and uplift undertaken by the entities in response to the external auditor findings and recommendations,” it explained.

Under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (AML/CTF Act), AUSTRAC has the power to force entities to appoint an external auditor when there are “reasonable grounds to suspect that the reporting entity has contravened, is contravening, or proposes to contravene the AML/CTF Act or the AML/CTF rules”.

Back in February 2022, AUSTRAC said the external auditor appointed at Bell would examine whether its three entities have an AML/CTF program and an ongoing customer due diligence program, including their compliance with suspicious matter reporting obligations.

“Australian financial services businesses have a responsibility to ensure they devote the necessary resources and processes to comply with their AML/CTF obligations under the law,” said AUSTRAC chief executive officer Nicole Rose at the time.

AUSTRAC added on Friday that all businesses that have obligations under the AML/CTF Act “should take this as a reminder to ensure they comply with their AML/CTF obligations”, including putting in place systems and controls that identify, mitigate and manage money laundering and terrorism financing risks.

Responding to AUSTRAC’s findings, Bell Financial Group executive chairman Alastair Provan said in an ASX filing: “This is a pleasing outcome and provides certainty to our shareholders and clients. We have benefited from the independent audit process which has enabled us to enhance our existing AML/CTF compliance program. We look forward to continuing to grow our business.”

The three Bell subsidiaries encompassed by the audit included Bell Potter Securities Limited, Bell Potter Capital Limited, and Third Party Platform.