ABN AMRO joins Illegal Wildlife Trade Financial Taskforce

In October 2018, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, founded the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Financial Taskforce, which is committed to identifying illegal wildlife trade via the world’s banking systems. In January of this year, ABN AMRO’s CEO Kees van Dijkhuizen promised Prince William at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the bank would join the initiative. James Spalding, ABN AMRO’s Asia-Pacific Regional Head of Security and Integrity Management, spearheaded the initiative.

James shared why it makes sense for ABN AMRO to be actively involved in this initiative: “Illegal wildlife trade is no different from the trafficking of humans, drugs or weapons. These are all criminal activities that weaken society and often pose hidden, yet very real dangers. The bank has a role to play as a gatekeeper, identifying illegal activities by carefully screening its clients and monitoring their transactions.” 

“If we fail to do our job properly, criminal activities like these can grow exponentially. Globalisation, while benefiting the interaction and integration of people, companies, and governments worldwide, can also advance criminal circles. This means we (as institutions) need international mechanisms of cooperation to combat illegal activities and trade,” James added.

Endangered species trade

Why was this new initiative pioneered in Singapore? “A large number of the products from wildlife crime end up in the Asia-Pacific region, so this is where we can identify illicit financial trade flows. Furthermore, Singapore is a global transportation hub where criminals may choose to exploit loopholes,” explains James. 

Trading in elephant ivory and rhino horns is still in high demand. This also includes the less known underground trade in pangolin scales and saiga horns, common ingredients in Chinese medicine. These illicit activities take place in the Netherlands and Europe too, albeit on a smaller scale. 

Over thirty international banks and financial institutions including Barclays, HSBC and Bank of America have now joined the taskforce and committed to combat the illegal wildlife trade. ABN AMRO is the first Dutch bank to join the taskforce. 

How does the bank participate in the initiative? “I should probably begin by explaining what the IWT Financial Taskforce is about,” said James. “The concept is that members learn from one another. This international mechanism of cooperation helps us become aware of the problems and issues faced in other territorial jurisdictions so that we can improve our own operations and determine whether our processes and policies are sufficient. By joining the taskforce, all the members have undertaken to train their staff to raise awareness around the problem, identify suspicious transactions and share information on illegal trade in endangered species.” 

The IWT Financial Taskforce organises quarterly meetings in London involving taskforce members. Additionally, members receive an intelligence bulletin every quarter featuring the latest news and facts from successful anti-trafficking operations. Training is also provided by the IWT on live issues. In return, the members are encouraged to share relevant information and data on illegal wildlife trade within their organisations and with other members of the IWT.

Fighting animal cruelty takes people with a passion

Participating organisations and companies determine for themselves how to shape their policies internally. James shared: “As part of the initial phase at ABN AMRO, we’ve created a team of enthusiastic staff from the Asia-Pacific region and Head Office who take part in a monthly conference call. What’s critical is that staff involved are passionate about social initiatives, and care for the environment and wildlife. Our staff’s enthusiasm generates dynamic energy that really helps to get things progressing, but the team also needs to be subject matter experts in their respective teams to make a real difference.” 

As part of ABN AMRO’s initiatives and plans, work with the Sustainability team is now underway to raise awareness of the issue amongst staff in the APAC region, which includes offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo. People will also stay engaged by involving the bank’s learning app. Further work is planned to integrate the issue of illegal wildlife trading into the bank’s Know Your Customer (KYC) process. As with most criminal activities, identifying illicit trade in wildlife is essentially all about the concept of ‘Follow the money’.

Declaration on animal welfare

Ultimately, joining the taskforce complements the bank’s animal welfare policy. In fact, ABN AMRO has always been cognisant that being a financial services provider exposes the bank to potential contact with illegal practices through its business relationships. 

In 2016 ABN AMRO published an Animal Welfare Statement, which outlines the bank’s overarching approach and focused themes including a commitment to not finance trade in wild life and endangered species. Other commitments include animal testing & biotechnology, animals in entertainment, and fur & wool. 

James believes no single individual, organisation or government can save the world all by themselves: “If we really want to take a stand against organised crime, we have to join forces at the international level. If we don’t, we won’t be able to combat organised crime syndicates and their illegal practices. Together with other members of the taskforce, we are eager to make greater strides internationally in this area.”