The world’s biggest financial institutions racked up over $12.79 billion in fines in 2020, a study released today found. The most common violations were anti-money laundering breaches, which are put in place to prevent criminals from disguising illegally obtained funds as legitimate income.

Of all violators, US banks paid up the biggest fines. More than 12 fines, worth a cumulative $9.38 billion, were levied on the country’s banks for various lapses.

Australian banks were next on the list, racking up over $981 million over three fines. $919 million of that came from the country’s second-largest bank, Westpac, which was found guilty in connection with failing to check money laundering and counterterrorism breaches.


Banks in China were fined the most in Asia, followed by Iran. Chinese banks incurred fines of over $87 million in connection with various money laundering cases, while Iran’s Future Bank was charged $37 million by courts in Bahrain after three bank officials were found guilty of money laundering.

Meanwhile, Iceland’s Arion Bank paid one of the lowest bank fines in 2020. It was a $670,000 penalty for failing to disclose sensitive information relating to some aspects of its business in a timely manner.

US banks had the most fines

Of all banks, US-based Goldman Sachs, a legacy bank founded in 1869 and one of the most influential financial institutions in the world, paid the biggest bank-related fine in 2020. It shelled out a $3.9 billion penalty for breaking anti-bribery laws in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi—a case now infamously known as the 1MDB scandal.

Goldman paid another $2 billion to US authorities under different charges in the same case, bringing its total to nearly $6 billion. 

Among other US banks, Wells Fargo paid a $3 billion fine in connection with a fake accounts scandal, while JPMorgan paid $920 million after its traders were found using “spoofing” techniques (which consists of faking market demand and supply) to manipulate the publicly-traded markets.


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