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What is a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)?

When it comes to preventing money laundering and terrorist financing at a global scale, the Financial Action Task Force is an important player. 

Thus, the FATF was set up to help set international standards and encourage the efficient application of legislative, governmental, and operational strategies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing by a country already bearing the brunt of its inherited reputation when it comes to guaranteeing that financial systems have measures in place promoting integrity globally. 

In this article, we take you through what the Financial Action Task Force actually is, how it came about and what its aims are, as well as giving you an idea of just how divisive this organisation can be.

Origins of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

The Group of Seven (G7) countries met in Paris in 1989 and decided to create the Financial Action Task Force. Since money laundering was a major problem at the time, the FATF was created to develop policies to combat it. 

It has since been given a broader mandate to combat the financing of terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other threats to the integrity of the international financial system.

Objectives of the Financial Action Task Force

The main goal of Financial Action Task Force is the development and promotion of national and international policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The FATF aims to:

  • Set Standards: Set international standards for fighting money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
  • Promote Implementation: Encourage countries to effectively adopt such standards.
  • Monitor Progress: Evaluation and enforcement of FATF standards in member countries.
  • Identify Risks: Assess the money laundering and terrorist financing risks associated with customer relation-ships and products, services, sectors and delivery channels.
  • Foster Collaboration: Promote international cooperation and coordination in the fight against financial crimes.

Structure and Membership of the FATF

The FATF is an intergovernmental organization of 39 members, including the leading financial centers in the world, and backed by regional organizations. 

It has 37 jurisdictions as members, and 2 regional organizations which are the European Commission and Gulf Cooperation Council. 

All FATF members are obliged to implement these recommendations and to be assessed on their compliance by peer evaluations.

Plenary and Working Groups

The FATF functions with a Plenary that meets three times a year to endorse policy recommendations, and a number of working groups focused on specific areas such as:

  • Evaluation and Compliance Group: Monitors the progress of member counties in complying with FATF standards.
  • Risks, Trends, and Methods Group: Identifies news means of implementing funds laundering and terrorism financing.
  • Policy Development Group: Develops new policies and updates existing recommendations.

FATF Recommendations

The FATF's 40 Recommendations set out a comprehensive framework of measures which countries should implement in order to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, as well as the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These suggestions span a variety of instruments, including:

  • Legal Systems: The legal framework to suppress and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing (criminalize)
  • Preventive Measures: Customer due diligence, record-keeping and reporting requirements for financial institutions.
  • Law Enforcement and Prosecution: Improving the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate the crimes they uncover and prosecute the perpetrators.
  • International Cooperation: It fosters mutual legal assistance, extradition and information sharing between nations.

Mutual Evaluations

Its recommendations are enforced via mutual evaluations of member countries by the FATF to determine its compliance. 

These assessments measure country progress towards compliance with FATF standards and suggests areas in which FTFs can achieve better scores. The process involves:

  1. Preparation: Countries prepare for the review, carrying out a self-assessment and providing documents relevant to their performance.
  2. On-site Visit: A team for assessment visits the country to ask some question and collect more details.
  3. Report: Team creates a detailed report which includes the summary of strengths and areas for development or recommendation.
  4. Follow-up: Countries must fix the problems identified and report back on what they have done.

Impact of the FATF

The work of the FATF has had a lasting effect on the international financial system. It achieved a considerable impact on global measures against money laundering and the financing of terrorism, as its standards and policies have been globally adopted. Key impacts include:

  • Strengthened Legal Frameworks: There is a number of countries that have introduced broad anti-money laundering (AML)/counter-terrorist financing (CTF) laws and regulations that are basically formulated based on the recommendations of FATF.
  • Enhanced International Cooperation: The FATF has brought new processes for countries to work together to investigate and prevent financial crime.
  • Increased Awareness: Better awareness among financial institutions of the risks and modus operandi of money laundering and terrorist financing, is promoted through the measures taken by the FATF.
  • Improved Financial Stability: FATF has established as an effective desires mechanism for the mitigation risk on payment of global financial criminal activities.

Challenges and Criticisms

The FATF has been largely successful, however it also faces a number of obstacles and criticisms. These include some of the major concerns:

Implementation Gaps

Some FATF recommendations have been accepted by many countries, but implementations vary widely. At the same time, some jurisdictions do not have the capacity or interest to fully comply with FATF standards, so gaps in compliance increase weaknesses and undermine the AML/CTF global framework.

Effectiveness of Measures

Some critics also suggest that the FATF has a habit of mistaking mere formal compliance for real progress on the ground. It is feared some countries will pass FATF related legislation without properly enforceing it.

Impact on Financial Inclusion

The FATF obligations are not always supportive of financial inclusion. Yet smaller financial firms along with institutions in emerging markets could find it challenging to meet these standards of rule compliance, which in turn may constrain many underserved demographics from accessing the other services.

Geopolitical Influence

Critics fear that the FATF can be dominated by geopolitics within its deliberative system. Critics among them claim that the measures of this group can go too far leaning towards political rather than purely technical criteria, and result in a selective imposition on some countries.

Future Directions for the FATF

To address these challenges and enhance its effectiveness, the FATF is continually evolving. Some of the future directions for the organization include:

Strengthening Implementation

The FATF is now working to enhance the effectiveness of its standards by supporting countries with the identification and closing of implementation loopholes. This will include technical support, best practice sharing, and peer-to-peer learning.

Adapting to New Threats

Like all forms of financial crimes, as times change and criminals become more sophisticated in their methods, the FATF is also committed to adapting to ensure that it remains one step ahead in its efforts to combat these emerging threats. 

This entails analyzing and updating its recommendations in response to new developments e.g. the provision of guidance on virtual assets as a means for laundering proceeds of crime, or financing terrorism.

Enhancing Transparency

FATF is also about to deepen the transparency of its decision-making. The solution will consist in paying more attention to stakeholders, such as the private sector and civil society, and making its reports and recommendations clearer and more accessible.

Promoting Financial Inclusion

In order to balance the necessity of strong AML/CTF measures with financial inclusion, the FATF is looking at how it could adapt its recommendations to accommodate the very different challenges that countries are facing. 

Such approaches could provide a counterpoint to risk-based strategies that may account for specific conditions and capacities of diverse jurisdictions.


The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an intergovernmental organization that helps this need and it plays a major part in protecting the integrity of the global financial system form money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats. 

FATF has effectively worked to standardize the international regulation of money laundering and terrorism financing and to establish the regulations to be enforced everywhere, in an effort to eradicate money laundering around the globe. 

Yet, ongoing challenges and criticism reveal its upkeep and continued refinement in response to the ever-evolving threats that we face. Looking towards the future, efforts to reinforce implementation, improve transparency and promote financial inclusion will be central to ensuring FATF remains effective and retains relevance in a dynamic global environment.

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