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First AML is a home-grown anti-money laundering compliance business that has received strong backing from investors, as the world increasingly battles tax havens and money laundering.

It’s a huge, expanding global opportunity which Milan Cooper, First AML’s co-founder and CEO, says is worth around US$214 billion, having grown by almost 20 percent in the past 12 months.

So, what was the genesis for First AML?

It all began after Milan returned to New Zealand from London in 2017 and bumped into his old high school friend Chris Caigou. Chris and a colleague, Bion Behdin, were commercial managers at a major New Zealand bank and had been astounded by the bank’s onboarding process for new customers. AML requirements were making that process both complex and laborious.

“It was painful for both bank and customers,” Milan remembers.

“I’d been looking for an entrepreneurial opportunity and this just jumped out at me. It was excellent timing too, with lawyers having to comply with AML from the following year, and accountants and real estate agents soon to follow.”

Milan, Chris and Bion raised the necessary capital to fund development of First AML’s software, launching the business in July 2018. Growth happened remarkably quickly – they had customers from day one, initially in those three sectors and later across the wider financial services market.

As Milan puts it, they are solving a genuine problem by taking the pain out of AML.

“We were able to attract a number of investors, because they could all appreciate the magnitude of the AML problem, the way we are solving it, and the quality of our team.”

Today First AML has almost 400 reporting entities using their solution across the globe, with an ever-growing network of almost 400,000 verified entities (trusts, businesses and individuals) in their global database. They launched in Australia in April 2021 and the UK a year later, and both offshore markets are growing fast.

Providing digital solutions for customer onboarding and identity verification meant that Covid had no detrimental impact on the uptake of First AML, reports Milan. “The lockdowns necessitated a remote verification system for identification to allow documents to be signed, so we actually saw an uptake in sales.

“We are the most comprehensive solution in the market,” he explains. “Other providers offer point solutions to certain parts of the AML customer due diligence process. But we cover the whole process, without the need for any manual or human intervention.

“As we say to potential customers, we can take the whole AML problem off your hands. We’re excited to be able to help them streamline their customer onboarding by digitising the whole process.

“AML is a core part of the onboarding process and we want to make it a pleasant experience for both customers and the companies that need to comply.”

Milan says it’s particularly satisfying to be partnering with large customer groups, such as New Zealand’s major real estate franchises, to streamline AML processes across the country.


Exciting prospects

Incentives and support for entrepreneurial tech companies in New Zealand like First AML continue to improve with each passing year, believes Milan. “R&D project grants and tax credits can be beneficial to many start-ups,” he says. “But what is holding us back is the shortage of talent – in particular, experienced software engineers.

“As a country we’re still not producing enough of these people, and it’s vital that we increase our investment and education in the technology sector. But having said that, I believe there is a strong eco-system building in New Zealand around the tech space, even though it is still early days.”

First AML is not shy about its ambitions. Its research shows that anti-money laundering is a $200 billion industry worldwide, and growing by ten percent per year as AML compliance becomes increasingly legislated. Milan says the ultimate goal is to build a multi-billion-dollar company. “We believe we are the ‘Xero of AML’,” he says. “The next big tech success story to come out of New Zealand.”

The Australian market is well and truly on the radar, as it has yet to enforce AML compliance on lawyers, accountants and real estate agents. First AML has also set up a London office to address the European market opportunity.

For Milan and the team at First AML (pictured above), there are indeed exciting times to come.


This article is an extract from a story originally published in the 2022 August Quarterly edition of NZBusiness magazine.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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