The global efforts to establish an effective framework for the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing required a new approach, enabling a connection between the private sector (in particular the financial market) with the structures enforcing criminal legislation. As a result of these considerations, countries adopted initiatives to establish a new type of a state authority: the financial intelligence unit (FIU). The core function of an FIU is the receipt, analysis and transmitting of reports of suspicions identified and filed by the private sector. The FIUs therefore function as an intermediary between the private entities, subject to AML/CFT obligations, and law enforcement agencies. The added value of the FIU is the analysis it undertakes of all the information received, as well as the broad range of other financial information it has at its disposal and which it can use to better assess the information on suspicions provided. 

Apart from its core functions, the FIU may have additional powers, as long as these do not interfere with its capacity to duly undertake the above-mentioned function. Amongst the additional roles the FIUs usually dispose of are: power to postpone transactions, supervisory functions of the implementation of the AML/CFT obligations by reporting entities, issuance of guidance and provision of training on AML/CFT matters; as well as, given its role as the main player in the AML/CFT field, coordinating national initiatives at policy level. Law enforcement FIUs would generally also have law enforcement powers with regard to AML/CFT issues and would therefore often be vested with investigative competencies.

A key element in the functioning of FIUs is their ability to cooperate both with foreign counterparts, as well as with other national institutions. In 1995, the Egmont Group of FIUs was established in order to enhance the exchange of intelligence between jurisdictions. The Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units endeavors to ensure that all the FIUs respect a number of key standards in order to enable maximum cooperation between them. The key role of the FIUs in the fight against ML and TF is therefore further enhanced due to their capacity to interact, cooperate and exchange information effectively. For this purpose, the Egmont Group has also put in place the Egmont Secure Web, which is a channel widely used for the exchange of information by members of the Group.

According to the FATF Standards, all countries should have established an authority which would function as an FIU. Additional requirements are with regard to independence, confidentiality, adequate resourcing and provision of feedback to reporting entities.