Money Laundering in Chief: Scandal at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia

The Australian banker is a smug species, arguably more than his international peers.  Caught off guard by the financial disasters of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Australian banking system has become an expression of a classic oligopoly, manipulating prices and squeezing customers.  Such an Australian banker is perky as well, self-assured that any inappropriate — let alone illegal — behaviour might be passed off as an effort to do better, to buck trends, to be audacious.

Over the last few weeks, AUSTRAC has had little time for that audacity.  The financial intelligence agency and regulator had picked up on suspicious transactions made through the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s “intelligence deposit machines” numbering over 53,000 and exceeding the legal $10,000 limit.  The machines in question were part of a CBA modernisation scheme involving 40 new deposit ATMs that would permit the register of cash deposits in real time.

The bubbly language from such individuals as chief information officer, Michael Harte, has been that of frat boy enthusiasm, the optimist without limits.  “If you don’t open channels, if you don’t have rich relationship data and real-time services you cannot lead the market and you cannot change the game.”

Harte’s point has been breakneck speed, acceleration, briskness.  Transactions need immediacy.  Money should not be kept in transit, a state of costly languishing that renders the bank unattractive for the…

Read more