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Hitting a nerve

Author: ICAEW

Published: 01 Jul 2022

All Too Familiar, an educational drama created by ICAEW in collaboration with HMRC, examines the powerful role of professional scepticism in reducing the risk of economic crime. In the first of a series of articles looking at the different ways firms of all sizes are using the film to inform and train staff, we talk to a senior partner in a small independent practice.

ICAEW’s educational dramas are designed to provoke discussion and challenge professional mindsets in the accountancy sector. The latest film, All Too Familiar, focuses on how firms can put themselves and others at risk if they fail to conduct proper anti-money laundering (AML) checks and due diligence.

Like the earlier dramas, False Assurance and Without Question, All Too Familiar provides all sizes and types of firms with an innovative and engaging way to support in-house training and business development programmes. 

Martin Seitler, Senior Partner and founder of M Seitler & Co, which specialises in providing accountancy services to small businesses, came across the film soon after its launch when it was flagged in an email.

“I’m aware of the requirement to keep up to date with AML matters,” he explains. “We had some materials but these had become dated. So when the film came through from ICAEW, I watched it myself and it was so good I passed it on to my team to use as part of our internal training.”

At the forefront

“The film is very user friendly, with good quality acting – a polished product,” says Seitler. “I think staff found it helpful and I got a very good response from them. It’s much more powerful than a webinar and definitely better than reading through pages of text.”

Shortly after viewing the film, a member of Seitler’s team came across an incident that resulted in him making a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR). “It definitely helped that it was all so fresh in his mind,” says Seitler. “He’d watched this film and then a week later this matter came up. So it worked in that respect. It obviously hit a nerve. Of course, he may well have picked it up anyway with his existing knowledge of AML, but I think the film brought it to the forefront of his mind.”

“You can read about certain things or situations,” he explains. “But you don’t really think: ‘Well hang on, this can actually happen’. Whereas when you’ve got professional actors acting out a situation, it hits a lot harder and really drives the point home.”

Out of hand

All Too Familiar begins with a conversation between Alex, the owner an ailing restaurant chain, Trivena, and Jack, his long-term adviser and partner in a large accountancy firm. Alex tells Jack he has a new investor, Mika, a distant family member.

But, as the story unfolds, Jack and his colleagues, as well as a smaller accountancy firm – introduced at Mika’s request to reduce Trivena’s professional fees – witness a series of changes after the injection of Mika’s money. These include an increase in revenue, payroll adjustments, and a high staff turnover.

Seitler found the scenarios in the film resonated with his team on several levels. “It was very relevant to us; we do payrolls and there were issues in the film around people being paid on the payroll. These are exactly the sort of areas we work with, and we also deal with restaurants.”

“The film also showed how quickly things can get out of hand to the point where you’ve got the police knocking at the door,” he adds. “It highlighted that there’s more to AML than just checking people’s passports.”

“Getting ID is great, and we all do that, but the example of bringing in a new capital investor, Mika, really hit home the need to always check any money that’s being introduced and what we’re being told about it.”

“Another point the film brought home,” he says, “was that everyone was relying on everyone else having done their checks. It’s not necessarily about picking up every single case of criminal activity – it’s in the nature of criminals that they hide it very well – but it’s whether we, as accountants, can show we’ve done our bit by doing our checks and considering the risks.”

All the staff at M Seitler & Co watched the film. “I think it was relevant to every team member because it’s pitched at a level that anybody could understand; you don’t need accountancy training,” Seitler explains. “So I passed it on to administrative and support staff too, including my PA. It’s relevant to her as well because she could come across something.”

A stage further

Seitler sees the film as part of a wider move away from conventional face-to-face courses and lectures towards making Continuing Professional Development and training more relevant, flexible and user friendly. “It really fits well as part of what is happening more broadly on the training side,” he says.

“There are already some fantastic ICAEW materials out there on AML” he adds. “And this is just taking it a stage further – a welcome extension of what is available.”

Seitler would recommend the film to colleagues and other firms as a good way of ensuring staff are up to date with AML issues. He also believes the film will be useful for refresher training in future.

“We’d be very happy to watch it again,” he says. “And I’d welcome more material like this; it was so easy to watch and on a subject that is a very important part of our work now. It’s a wonderful user-friendly way of staying aware of the key issues.”