Know Your Customer A Crucial Framework for Financial Institutions


The global economy is constantly facing the threat of financial crime, with businesses across various industries falling victim to fraudulent activities. In the United Kingdom, the problem is particularly severe, as revealed by PwC’s 2022 Global Economic Crime Survey. The survey indicated that nearly two-thirds (64%) of UK businesses experienced some form of financial crime in the previous 24 months, a significantly higher percentage than the global average of 46%. Only South Africa ranked higher in terms of financial crime prevalence.

To combat this growing problem, financial institutions and businesses have turned to various measures, including anti-money laundering laws, customer due diligence, and Know Your Customer (KYC) protocols. However, recent controversies surrounding the implementation of KYC have highlighted the challenges faced by institutions in effectively adhering to these regulations. This article explores the importance of KYC, its role in preventing financial crime, and the necessary steps for businesses to incorporate it into their compliance strategies.

What is Know Your Customer (KYC)?

KYC serves as a regulatory framework that mandates financial institutions and specific businesses to authenticate the identity of their individual and corporate customers before engaging in partnerships or providing services. The primary objective of KYC is to prevent criminal activities such as fraud, money laundering, and terrorist financing.

Under the KYC framework, organisations are required to identify and verify customers, understand their financial activities and sources of funds, and assess any associated risks. By conducting thorough due diligence, businesses can mitigate the risks of engaging with potentially fraudulent or high-risk individuals or entities.

It is important to note that while most major economies have adopted KYC regulations, specific requirements may vary by country. Therefore, it is crucial for businesses to have a clear understanding of the KYC regulations applicable to their operations, particularly when dealing with customers from different global jurisdictions.

Including KYC in Your Compliance Programme

To effectively incorporate KYC into their compliance strategies, businesses can follow these ten steps:

  1. Create comprehensive policies: Develop tailored KYC policies and procedures that outline customer onboarding, due diligence processes, reporting suspicious activities, and ongoing monitoring. It is crucial to ensure that these policies are endorsed and implemented by senior management for maximum buy-in throughout the organisation.
  2. Set up a customer identification programme: Establish procedures to collect and verify essential customer information, including their full name, date of birth, address, and government-issued identification documents such as passports or driving licences. This step forms the foundation for KYC compliance.
  3. Consider the risk: Adopt a risk-based approach to categorise customers based on their risk profiles. Factors to consider may include their country of residence, nature of business, source of funds, transaction patterns, and any previous history of suspicious activities. Depending on the nature of the business, a simple “low/medium/high” rating or a more detailed risk assessment may be appropriate.
  4. Carry out enhanced due diligence (EDD): For higher-risk customers, implement enhanced due diligence measures. This may involve collecting additional information, conducting more thorough background checks, or monitoring their transactions more frequently. EDD ensures that businesses have a deeper understanding of the risks associated with specific customers.
  5. Keep monitoring: KYC is an ongoing process and not a one-time event. Implement digital tools and resources to continuously monitor customer transactions for any red flags or suspicious behaviour. This process, known as Know Your Transactions (KYT), is essential for staying ahead of financial crime and ensuring compliance with KYC requirements.
  6. Check third parties: If a business engages in any outsourcing of services, it is crucial to conduct thorough due diligence on partners, suppliers, or vendors to ensure their compliance with KYC regulations. Failure to do so could expose the business to unnecessary risks.
  7. Employee training: Regularly provide face-to-face or online training to educate staff about the requirements and importance of KYC. Tailor the training to the specific business to maximise engagement and understanding amongst employees.
  8. Keep accurate records and conduct internal audits: Maintain accurate and up-to-date records of customer information and transaction histories to facilitate audits and regulatory enquiries. Regularly review and test the effectiveness of the KYC program internally to identify areas for improvement.
  9. Conduct sanctions screening: Incorporate sanctions screening into the KYC process by checking customer information against international watchlists and sanction lists maintained by governments, regulatory bodies, and international organisations. Initial screening should be conducted, followed by ongoing monitoring to prevent financial crime and maintain regulatory compliance.
  10. Stay updated on regulatory changes: Continuously monitor and stay aware of regulatory changes to ensure ongoing compliance with KYC requirements. The regulatory landscape is constantly evolving, with new laws and regulations introduced regularly. Adapting KYC procedures and policies to meet the latest requirements reduces the risk of non-compliance.

Businesses Covered by the KYC Framework

While financial institutions are commonly associated with the KYC framework, other businesses also fall under its purview. The main users of KYC include:

  • Banks, including commercial and investment banks
  • Insurance companies
  • Investment firms, such as asset management companies and hedge funds
  • Money service businesses, including money transfers and currency exchanges
  • Fintech companies
  • Cryptocurrency exchanges
  • Online payment processors, such as PayPal

Additionally, non-banking financial institutions, such as credit unions, financial advisers, and tax advisers, are subject to KYC requirements. Other businesses covered by KYC regulations include:

  • Accountants and auditors
  • High-value art dealers
  • Estate and letting agents
  • Gaming operators
  • Lawyers

The Importance of KYC

KYC is a critical framework for financial institutions and businesses to demonstrate their commitment to a secure and responsible financial environment. By implementing KYC protocols, businesses can reduce risks, prevent criminal activities, and foster transparency and ethical business practices. KYC also plays a crucial role in building and maintaining customer trust.

Educating customers about the importance of KYC, data privacy, and security helps cultivate a strong compliance culture and further enhances trust in the organisation. In an ever-evolving technological landscape, businesses must remain vigilant and adapt to associated risks and opportunities, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and digital currencies. Agility and adaptability are key in ensuring effective KYC compliance.


Know Your Customer (KYC) is an essential regulatory framework that financial institutions and businesses must adapt to combat financial crime effectively. With the prevalence of fraudulent activities on the rise, businesses must prioritise the implementation of robust KYC policies and procedures. By following the ten steps outlined in this article, businesses can build a comprehensive KYC compliance program that mitigates risks, prevents criminal activities, and maintains transparency and integrity. Embracing KYC not only protects businesses from financial crime but also demonstrates their commitment to a secure and responsible financial environment.

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