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Compliance challenges in APAC: insights with Robin Lee

We sat down with our Head of APAC Robin Lee following his appointment as the vice chair of the APAC Chapter, to discuss his insight into compliance challenges in APAC

Georgia Walker
February 6, 2023

Following his appointment as vice chair of the APAC Chapter of the Global Coalition to Fight Financial Crime (GCFFC), we sat down with Napier’s head of APAC Robin Lee to discuss all things financial crime. With years of experience in the financial sector, launching start-ups, and a passion for combatting financial crime, his take is particularly insightful and grounded in real-life experience.  

Q: What are the major issues for APAC-based financial crime fighters?

Robin: There’s a real difficulty in predicting where criminals will turn their attention next. They’re creative and ingenious in the damage they cause, and they will continue to find ways to abuse the financial system. There are several gaps prevalent in the current system that present them with opportunity: unsophisticated regulations, lack of enforcement, corruption, and poverty.  

Q: What does the exploitation of these issues look like every day like in APAC?  

Robin: There are lots of manifestations of these issues in everyday life in Asia but the biggest one for this region would have to be human trafficking. Did you know that 70% of all human trafficking happens in Asia? This is the stark reality of shortcomings in regulation and preventative measures  

Q: Why do you think these issues are difficult to address in Asia specifically?  

Robin: The list includes unsophisticated regulations, fragmentation across borders, and lack of collaboration in the public and private sectors. This disconnect causes massive disparities for criminals to take advantage of.  For example, in some areas of APAC tax evasion is not considered money laundering, and in unbanked countries, criminals can exploit the flow of illicit money without regulation. Seventy percent of Southeast Asia’s population is unbanked, meaning large amounts of illicit money derived from crimes can flow outside of the regulatory space. This leaves citizens vulnerable to financial crime as they don’t have any of the protections offered by a financial institution.  

Additionally, the fragmentation of regulation across borders makes it hard to standardise the approach to financial crime enforcement, making the space easier to exploit and more attractive to criminals.  

There are other issues in Asia that demand more time, attention, and resources from governments meaning financial compliance becomes less of a priority.

Q: Is this why you joined the GCFFC?  

Robin: Definitely. I think there’s a great opportunity here to make a difference and through this coalition, tackle the challenges experienced in today’s financial crime space. It’s not often one gets the opportunity to engage and learn from leading industry professionals and form a community that gives you access to years of insights and experience.

Being part of a community is invaluable, the learning is real and accelerated and allows you to gain contextualised understanding from multiple perspectives.  

Q: You mentioned that being part of a community is invaluable, can you expand on this a little more?

Robin: So, at Napier, I get to work with Julian Dixon and Greg Watson, who have both been customers in a previous life so they understand the pressures that our customers might be facing. This helps inform our strategy and allows us to mould our products to suit the customer’s needs based on internal and external influences, thereby providing the most effective solutions which deliver real change.  

Similarly, at the APAC Chapter, working alongside John Cusack , who has years of experience in this industry and helps inform policy, is a great opportunity for me to make a difference and learn from him. I also have the opportunity to work with Jodie Arthur the global head of WestPac, Debra Au the managing director of DBS Bank, and Ursula M'crystal the deputy editor at Financial Crime News. Everyone has different insights from different regions and different sectors, giving us collectively a unique perspective.

Experience is invaluable - that’s why I have volunteered in Cambodia with human trafficking charities to understand the impact of these crimes on victims. Personal immersion in communities damaged by criminals has incentivised me even more to make a real change. As I always say -

“Google + Wikipedia does not equal experience” – Robin Lee, Head of APAC, Napier

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what the aims of the APAC Chapter are?  

Robin: Of course. So first is being able to address key issues from each part of APAC. For example, in Australia sexual exploitation of children is a headline issue, whereas it doesn’t feature as strongly in other areas of APAC. We are starting with awareness. We need to make institutions and regulators aware of these issues and their causes before suggesting ways to better combat financial crime for prevention. Following this?  

You will have to watch this space.

Join the APAC Chapters first live meeting here.

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