AML Compliance

Understanding Layering in AML

Understanding layering, a key stage in money laundering, is crucial for businesses to fight financial crime. Layering involves complex transactions to disguise the source of illegal funds. Let’s find out what the layering process is and how to spot the red flags for layering in your organisation. 

Editorial Team
July 9, 2024

Layering in money laundering is a critical concept to understand when discussing financial crime. It's a sophisticated technique that money launderers use to obscure the origins of illicit funds. This process involves creating a complex network of transactions, making it difficult to trace the funds back to their source.

Understanding the layering process is crucial in combating money laundering, as it's a common method used by criminals to distance the illicit money from their illegal activities. Businesses that want to fight money laundering have to understand techniques like layering in order to protect their interests as well as the interests of the international financial community.

What Is Layering in AML?

Layering, in the context of money laundering, is a sophisticated technique used to obscure the origin of illicit funds. It's a common method in the laundering process where the money launderer creates a complex network of transactions, making it challenging to trace the funds back to their source.

This process often involves moving the funds through multiple accounts, sometimes in different jurisdictions, and using financial instruments that further complicate the tracing process. The primary goal of layering in money laundering is to distance the illicit funds from the criminal activity that generated them, thereby creating a veil of secrecy around the funds.

Stages of Money Laundering and the Role of Layering

Money laundering typically takes place in three stages: placement, layering, and integration. Layering is the second stage, and it specifically focuses on obfuscating the source of the illegal funds, converting illegal money into legitimate money. It often involves unusual transactions or complex financial manoeuvres; spotting layering red flags can catch suspicious activity before it progresses further. This allows financial organisations to take appropriate action, such as refusing a transaction or reporting it to the authorities.

Stage 1: Placement

The first stage of money laundering, known as the 'Placement' stage, involves the introduction of illicit funds into the financial system. This is often achieved through a process called 'scaling', where large sums of money are broken down into smaller, less conspicuous amounts. These smaller sums are then deposited into bank accounts or used to purchase legal financial instruments such as checks or money orders.

The goal of this stage is to distance the money from its criminal source, making it harder for law enforcement to trace its origin. This is often done by spreading the money across multiple accounts or moving it overseas. The use of cash-intensive businesses, such as casinos or convenience stores, is also common during this stage. These businesses, with their high volume of cash transactions, provide an ideal cover for the placement of illicit funds.

Stage 2: Layering

Layering, the second stage in money laundering, is a complex process designed to obscure the illicit origins of funds. This stage involves moving the money through multiple accounts or changing its nature, making it difficult to trace back to its illegal source. The goal is to create a legitimate-looking transaction history that can fool even the most skilled accounting investigator.

The methods used in this stage can vary widely, from briefly gambling in a casino to moving money around in the stock market or foreign currency exchanges. Regardless of the specific tactics, the purpose remains the same: to create enough successive layers of transactions that the dirty cash becomes indistinguishable from legal transactions. This stage is crucial in the money laundering process, as it helps criminals evade transaction monitoring regulations and AML regulations.

Stage 3: Integration

The third stage of money laundering, known as integration, is a critical juncture where the 'cleaned' money is reintroduced into the legitimate economy. This stage is often executed through large legal transactions, typically involving banks, making it a prime opportunity for anti-money laundering (AML) actions.

The integration stage is not just about spending the laundered money on luxury assets or real estate holdings. It's also about investing in long-term financial instruments or new business ventures. These investments can further facilitate future money laundering, making it crucial for businesses to comply with AML regulations and transaction monitoring to detect and report any suspicious activities.

Common Methods Used in Layering

  • Casino Layering: Illicit funds are taken to a casino, exchanged for chips, and later exchanged back for a check. This method makes it difficult to trace the original source of the funds.
  • Cryptocurrency Layering: Money is used to buy cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which are then used to purchase other assets. This method adds a layer of complexity due to the anonymous nature of cryptocurrencies.
  • Asset Purchases: Funds are used to buy tangible assets such as jewellery, art, or real estate. These assets can then be sold, further distancing the money from its illegal origin.
  • Offshore Transfers: Money is wired to offshore bank accounts, which then wires the money to new or different intermediaries. This method takes advantage of different jurisdictions and their varying regulations to obscure the money trail.

How to Detect and Prevent Money Laundering

Detecting and preventing layering in money laundering is a crucial aspect of AML compliance. Financial institutions must employ rigorous due diligence processes to identify suspicious activities. This includes monitoring electronic fund transfers, especially those involving offshore accounts or multiple institutions.

Financial institutions must have a multi-pronged approach to preventing money laundering, focusing on detection, deterrence, and disruption:

Know Your Customer (KYC) and Customer Due Diligence (CDD)

This is the foundation of AML compliance. Financial institutions thoroughly verify the identities and business activities of their customers. This includes collecting identification documents, understanding the source of funds, and assessing the customer's risk profile.

Transaction Monitoring

Institutions use sophisticated software to monitor customer transactions for suspicious activity. This software can identify patterns indicative of layering, such as frequent small deposits or withdrawals, large cash transactions, or funds moving between multiple accounts.

Sanctions Screening

Financial institutions screen customers and transactions against government sanctions lists to ensure they are not doing business with sanctioned individuals or entities.

Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) Screening

Customers with high-risk profiles, such as PEPs (individuals holding prominent public functions), are subject to enhanced due diligence to mitigate the risk of bribery or corruption.

Continuous Monitoring

The AML process doesn't end with onboarding. Institutions continuously monitor customer activity and update risk profiles to identify any changes that might suggest money laundering attempts.

Reporting Suspicious Activity

If financial institutions suspect money laundering, they are obligated to report it to the authorities. This includes filing Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) with the relevant financial intelligence unit.

Staff Training

Employees are trained to recognize red flags associated with money laundering and understand their reporting obligations. This includes training on layering techniques, suspicious transaction patterns, and the importance of KYC/CDD procedures.

Technology and Automation

Financial institutions leverage advanced technology to automate AML processes, improve efficiency, and enhance detection capabilities. AI and machine learning algorithms can analyse vast amounts of data and identify complex money laundering schemes.

Collaboration and Information Sharing

Financial institutions collaborate with law enforcement agencies and regulatory bodies to share information and develop coordinated strategies to combat money laundering. Secure information sharing platforms can facilitate this collaboration.

Risk-Based Approach

AML compliance programs are tailored to the specific risks faced by each institution. This ensures that resources are allocated effectively and that higher-risk customers receive more scrutiny.

Impact of Layering on Financial Institutions and Systems

The impact of layering on financial institutions and systems is profound and far-reaching. This intricate money laundering technique not only threatens the integrity of individual institutions but also the stability of the entire financial system. As layering becomes more sophisticated, it's crucial for financial institutions to stay ahead of these money laundering trends.

Effect on Financial Integrity

Layering, a critical stage in money laundering, poses a significant threat to the integrity of financial institutions. It involves complex transactions designed to obscure the origin of illicit funds, making detection challenging. This process can undermine the trust in a financial institution, as it becomes a conduit for illegal activities.

The use of advanced AML technology to detect layering is becoming increasingly crucial. It's not just about safeguarding the institution's reputation, but also about maintaining the integrity of the financial system. The ability to identify suspicious activity promptly can help institutions stay ahead of money laundering trends and ensure due diligence.

Regulatory Implications

The regulatory implications of layering in money laundering are significant. Financial institutions are required to maintain stringent AML compliance, which includes due diligence in detecting suspicious activity.

The use of AML technology to detect layers is becoming increasingly important. Institutions that fail to implement effective policies and procedures risk severe penalties, including hefty fines and reputational damage.

The Crucial Role of AML Compliance in Combating Layering in Money Laundering

Financial institutions, AML practitioners, and law enforcement agencies have a duty to prevent money laundering wherever they can. Anti-money laundering compliance measures, including risk assessments, customer due diligence, and transaction monitoring, are crucial tools in detecting and preventing this complex criminal activity.

It provides an efficient and effective means of identifying suspicious activities and patterns that may indicate layering. By leveraging this technology, financial institutions can enhance their AML compliance measures and contribute significantly to the integrity of the financial system.

Lastly, fostering a culture of compliance within organisations is paramount. It ensures that all employees understand the importance of AML regulations and are equipped to identify and report suspicious activities.

Layering is one of the three stages of money laundering. And anti-money laundering (AML) screening, as offered by, is a crucial process that cross-checks customers against sanctions lists, criminal watchlists, and politically exposed person (PEP) lists.

Learn how's comprehensive AML screening solutions can be customised to fit your organisation's specific needs by booking a discovery call, or  experience the power of real-time screening firsthand with a free 7-day trial

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Editorial Team
This article was put together by the expert editorial team.
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