There has been an increased emphasis of late on ensuring that all real estate transactions are in full compliance with anti-money laundering regulations which includes ensuring that in the course of doing business, agents and brokers aren’t enabling the financing of terrorism in any fashion. Whereas once, this was the domain of law enforcement, today, we are all expected to be vigilant and ensure that we collect and properly store information proving the identity of our customers.

As real estate agents, we’re expected to collect from our vendors proof of identity, age, nationality and place of birth as well as current residential address. We’re also expected to be able to provide officials with information on the source of funds for our buyers.

“I think the bigger understanding is that we’re doing it so that the country can maintain its financial service industry, maintain its economy and maintain its growth. And without that, there will be a lot of people out of jobs and so this is why it’s very important. ”

Karen O’Brien, GCS Advisor

Karen O’Brien is the managing director GCS Advisory and she sat down with me after the 2019 Advanced Anti-Money Launder/Compliance Training Workshop for Real Estate Professionals hosted by CIREBA.

Q. So today, dozens of agents and their brokers turned up to get up to speed on compliance, something that’s become a very real part of our work in the real estate sector. How important is it for us all to stay current in this area?”

A. It’s very important. We had almost 100 real estate agents in the room today. It’s part of the annual training that they must go through.” She notes the CIREBA organizes the workshop for its members to ensure they know what to do to comply with the latest anti money laundering regulations.

“There is so much focus right now on the Cayman Islands,” Karen says. “Obviously, in response to the CFATF mutual evaluation that came out, that was a little bit critical of some of the things that we were doing. It’s so important that the real estate industry as a whole, not just CIREBA, is demonstrating that they are complying with the anti money laundering regulations and protecting the jurisdiction and the reputation of the country, which is very important. “

Q. “Some of this material, when the very first time you see it, particularly when you look at it from the government documents, it can be out overwhelming. For people who were just getting started or who really weren’t that focused on this aspect of the business previously, your workshop really breaks things down in a way that’s really simple for folks to understand what’s happening. Is it a challenge for you to constantly have to stay up to speed because things are changing so quickly?

A. Yes. Is the short answer. At times, it is very difficult for me to stay on top of these things and every time something comes out, then I have to sort of translate it into plain English and say, how do I get this message across to people who might not be accountants or lawyers and put it basically into plain English, because there are a lot of little, little things that we all need to be aware of. But again, it gets buried in legal mumbo jumbo, as I call it.”

Q. “How important is it for CIREBA as an organization to keep ensuring that its agents and brokers are constantly up to speed?”

A. “CIREBA represents the largest amount of real estate agents and brokers on the island. It is a professional organization. Membership comes with certain requirements, standards of service, standards of conduct. So it is a representation of the real estate industry in the Cayman Islands and it sells most of the property in the Cayman Islands and therefore, it is dealing with a large chunk of the industry. It’s important to be at the forefront of compliance and making sure that things don’t slip through the cracks.”

Q. “You’ve been doing this for quite a while now and more and more industries are being held to a higher standard of accountability, more record keeping, more oversight and increased responsibilities. How do you think the industry is handing handling the change. How are we doing? “

A. “Change is difficult, to be quite honest with you. There is a lot of change, but the primary change is now, is that everything that we are doing is now supervised. Meaning we have somebody that’s going to come in, a government entity, that’s going to check to make sure we’ve got all the checks and balances in place. The regulations are not new. They’ve existed since 2003. CIREBA brought me on board shortly after that time and I’ve been working with them for over a decade, making sure, from the very beginning, they had an anti money laundering framework in place. What happened in the last couple of years is the supervisory division was put in place and all of a sudden people are aware that now they really do need to be doing this. Somebody is going to check and the ramifications of not complying are going to be very serious.

Q. What do you want people to know who aren’t in the industry? We’re throwing around all kinds of acronyms, lists, etc. What do you think its important for the general public to know? Because we are changing. We are having to do things differently these day. I never had to ask my cousin for utility bills and drivers license years ago, but today?

A. “The important thing to remember is anti money laundering compliance affects everybody. It just doesn’t affect just the people who are doing it as a business in the real estate industry or the banks or the insurance companies. It affects everybody because we are customers and we are going into these various financial service providers and asking for services and becoming their customer. And then they turn around and ask us for all this information and then we get frustrated and want to know ‘why do you want this information? I’ve already given it to you and don’t you know who I am?’ Yes, we do. But we have certain rules in place to ensure that we do know who you are. And it’s a little bit frustrating. And believe me, on both sides, I’m on both sides of the table. And it’s frustrating for me on both sides.

I think the bigger understanding is that we’re doing it so that the country can maintain its financial service industry, maintain its economy and maintain its growth. And without that, there will be a lot of people out of jobs and so this is why it’s very important. “

You can find out more about Karen and her services at www.gcs.com.ky.