Definition: Unusual transactions refer to financial activities that deviate from regular patterns or expected behaviors within the context of anti-money laundering (AML) and financial crime prevention.

Unusual transactions can be defined from various perspectives. Some define them as transactions that are significantly different from the customer’s normal activities, while others consider them as transactions that are inconsistent with the typical behavior of similar customers or the broader market. In the context of AML, unusual transactions often serve as indicators of potential money laundering! terrorist financing, or other illicit activities.

Historical View

Throughout history, financial institutions have faced the challenge of identifying and deterring illicit activities. The development of AML frameworks and regulations can be traced back to the 1970s when the international community recognized the need to combat money laundering! and its detrimental effects on economies and societies. As financial systems became increasingly interconnected, the importance of detecting and preventing unusual transactions grew.

In the early stages, efforts to address money laundering! focused on creating reporting mechanisms and imposing reporting obligations on financial institutions. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), established in 1989, played a crucial role in setting global standards and promoting effective AML measures. Over the years, regulators and financial institutions have continuously adapted their strategies and technologies to keep pace with the evolving methods employed by criminals.

Practical Examples

Unusual transactions can manifest in various ways, underscoring the need for robust monitoring systems in financial institutions. Here are ten practical examples of unusual transactions:

  1. A sudden and significant increase in cash deposits or withdrawals.
  2. Frequent transfers to high-risk jurisdictions or known tax havens.
  3. Unexplained transfers between unrelated accounts.
  4. Large transactions with no apparent business justification.
  5. Repeated transactions just below reporting thresholds to avoid detection.
  6. Transactions involving politically exposed persons (PEPs) without proper due diligence.
  7. Transactions inconsistent with a customer’s stated occupation or income level.
  8. Transactions involving shell companies or complex ownership structures.
  9. Transactions suspected to be connected to illegal activities, such as drug trafficking or human trafficking.
  10. Transactions that exhibit layering, structuring, or other techniques aimed at obscuring the source or destination of funds.

AML risk assessment team work


Statistics play a vital role in understanding the scope and impact of unusual transactions. Consider the following relevant numbers:

  • In 2020, the estimated global value of money laundering! transactions reached approximately $2.7 trillion.
  • Less than 1% of global illicit financial flows are seized and frozen, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
  • Only 10% of suspicious transaction reports (STRs) led to law enforcement action, as per a study conducted by the FATF.
  • In 2020, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) received over 2.2 million suspicious activity reports (SARs) in the United States alone.
  • The real estate sector accounts for a significant portion of money laundering! activities, with estimates suggesting that up to $1.6 trillion of illicit funds are laundered through real estate annually.
  • In 2020, fines for AML-related violations imposed on over 1,000 financial institutions globally exceeded $10 billion.
  • Europol reported an increase in online financial crime, including fraud and money laundering! during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Approximately 35% of businesses surveyed by Thomson Reuters experienced a rise in financial crime during the pandemic.
  • Money laundering is estimated to represent 2-5% of global GDP annually, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • A report by PwC found that 47% of organizations had experienced fraud within the past two years.


Unusual transactions have been at the center of numerous high-profile incidents involving money laundering! fraud, and other financial crimes. Consider the following ten notable incidents:

  1. The Danske Bank money laundering scandal, where approximately €200 billion of suspicious transactions flowed through its Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015.
  2. The Panama Papers leak, revealing a vast network of offshore entities involved in tax evasion.  corruption, and money laundering.
  3. The 1MDB scandal, involving the embezzlement of billions of dollars from Malaysia’s state investment fund and the subsequent laundering! of the funds through various international financial institutions.
  4. The LIBOR scandal, where banks manipulated the London Interbank Offered Rate, affecting trillions of dollars in financial transactions worldwide.
  5. The Wachovia money laundering! case, where the bank processed hundreds of billions of dollars in suspicious transactions related to Mexican drug cartels.
  6. The JPMorgan Chase “London Whale” incident, where a trader’s massive derivative bets resulted in significant losses and raised concerns about risk management and internal controls.
  7. The Bangladesh Bank heist, in which cybercriminals stole $81 million from the bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York using fraudulent SWIFT messages.
  8. The FIFA corruption scandal, involving the bribery and money laundering! activities of officials within the international governing body of soccer.
  9. The Deutsche Bank mirror trading scandal, where the bank facilitated $10 billion in suspicious trades that allowed Russian clients to launder money out of the country.
  10. The Malaysian 1MDB-linked luxury assets seizure, which involved the recovery of luxury real estate.  yachts, and artwork purchased with misappropriated funds.

Artificial Intelligence

The Future

The fight against unusual transactions and financial crime is an ongoing battle that requires continuous adaptation to evolving threats. Consider the following key areas for the future:

  1. Technological advancements, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, will play a vital role in improving transaction monitoring and anomaly detection capabilities.
  2. Increased collaboration between financial institutions. Also regulators, and law enforcement agencies will enhance information sharing and detection and prevention efforts.
  3. The emergence of cryptocurrencies necessitates effective AML controls in this evolving financial landscape.
  4. The application of blockchain technology can enhance transparency and traceability in financial transactions.
  5. Stricter regulations and enforcement actions will lead to more significant fines and penalties for AML non-compliance.
  6. Continued focus on beneficial ownership transparency to prevent the use of shell companies for illicit purposes.
  7. Heightened scrutiny of high-risk sectors, such as real estate. Also virtual assets, and professional services.
  8. The integration of data from multiple sources to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of transaction monitoring systems.
  9. The evolving role of financial institutions in combating human trafficking and modern slavery through enhanced due diligence measures.
  10. The potential impact of geopolitical events and emerging global threats on the landscape of financial crime.

Kyros AML Data Suite: Empowering AML Compliance

In the quest to detect and prevent unusual transactions, financial institutions can greatly benefit from leveraging the advanced capabilities of Kyros AML Data Suite. This comprehensive suite of AML compliance solutions is designed to provide financial institutions with the tools and technologies needed to effectively combat financial crime.

At the heart of Kyros AML Data Suite is its advanced transaction monitoring system. Powered by cutting-edge technology and sophisticated algorithms, this system enables financial institutions to detect and flag unusual transactions in real-time. By analyzing vast amounts of data and identifying patterns and anomalies, Kyros AML Data Suite significantly enhances the accuracy and efficiency of transaction monitoring processes.

In addition to transaction monitoring, Kyros AML Data Suite also offers robust customer due diligence capabilities. Through advanced data analytics and comprehensive risk assessments, financial institutions can better understand their customers and identify potential risks associated with their transactions. This enables institutions to conduct more effective Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

Furthermore, Kyros AML Data Suite provides a powerful suspicious activity reporting feature. This feature enables financial institutions to efficiently generate and submit suspicious activity reports to regulatory authorities when necessary. By streamlining the reporting process and ensuring the timely submission of relevant information, Kyros AML Data Suite supports compliance with regulatory obligations and facilitates effective communication with authorities.

Kyros AML Data Suite implementation

By implementing Kyros AML Data Suite, financial institutions can strengthen their AML compliance capabilities and mitigate the risk of financial crime. The advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, utilized by Kyros enable institutions to stay one step ahead of emerging threats and evolving regulatory requirements.

Not only does Kyros AML Data Suite enhance compliance efforts, but it also safeguards the reputation of financial institutions. By effectively detecting and preventing unusual transactions, institutions can demonstrate their commitment to maintaining a secure and trustworthy financial ecosystem. This not only fosters trust among customers and stakeholders but also protects the institution from reputational damage.

If you’re interested in exploring the power of Kyros AML Data Suite and enhancing your AML practices, visit today. Our team of experts is ready to assist you in implementing a robust AML compliance solution tailored to your institution’s needs.


Unusual transactions pose significant risks to the integrity of the financial system, making their detection and prevention a top priority for financial institutions and regulators. By understanding the definition, historical context, practical examples, statistics, and real incidents associated with unusual transactions, stakeholders can work together to combat financial crime effectively.

The future holds both challenges and opportunities in the fight against unusual transactions. Through the adoption of advanced technologies, strengthened regulations, and collaborative efforts, the financial industry can strive towards a more secure and resilient ecosystem.

As financial institutions embark on this journey, Kyros AML Data Suite stands ready to provide the necessary tools and expertise to ensure robust AML compliance. With its advanced capabilities and commitment to innovation, Kyros empowers institutions to stay one step ahead in the battle against financial crime.