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On December 17, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), and the SEC announced separate settlements (see here, here, and here) with a global broker-dealer following investigations into the firm’s anti-money laundering (AML) programs. According to FINRA, the broker-dealer and its affiliated securities firm allegedly failed to establish and implement AML processes reasonably designed to detect and report potentially high-risk transactions, including foreign currency wire transfers to and from countries known to be at high risk for money laundering, as well as penny stock transactions processed through the use of an omnibus account on behalf of undisclosed customers. FINRA alleged that from January 2004 to April 2017, the broker-dealer “processed thousands of foreign currency wires for billions of dollars, without sufficient oversight.”
In a separate investigation conducted by FinCEN in conjunction with FINRA and the SEC, the broker-dealer reached a settlement over allegations that it failed to, among other things, (i) develop and implement a risk-based AML program that “adequately addressed the risks associated with accounts that included both traditional brokerage and banking-like services”; (ii) implement policies and procedures, which would ensure the detection and reporting of suspicious activity through all accounts, particularly for those accounts with little to no securities training; (iii) “implement an adequate due diligence program for foreign correspondent accounts”; and (iv) provide sufficient staffing, leading to a backlog of alerts and decreased ability to file suspicious activity reports (SARs).
According to the SEC's investigation, from at least 2011 to 2013, the broker-dealer allegedly failed to file SARs as required by the Bank Secrecy Act’s reporting requirements and Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Among other things, the SEC also claimed that the broker-dealer (i) provided customers with other services, such as cross-border wires, internal transfers between accounts and check writing, which increased its susceptibility to risks of money laundering and other types of associated illicit financial activity; and (ii) “did not properly review suspicious transactions flagged by its internal monitoring systems and failed to detect suspicious transactions involving the movement of funds between certain accounts in suspicious long-term patterns.”
After factoring in remedial actions, the broker-dealer has been assessed total civil money penalties of $14.5 million, including a $500,000 fine against the securities firm.
Agencies encourage financial institutions to explore innovative industry approaches to BSA/AML compliance
On December 3, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released a joint statement along with federal banking agencies—the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, and OCC (together, the “agencies”)—to encourage banks and credit unions to explore innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence, digital identity technologies, and internal financial intelligence units to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit financial threats when safeguarding the financial system. According to the agencies, private sector innovation and the adoption of new technologies can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance programs. Moreover, new innovations and technologies can also enhance transaction monitoring systems. Specifically, the agencies urged banks to test innovative programs to explore the use of artificial intelligence. However, the agencies emphasized that while feedback on innovative programs may be provided, the “pilot programs in and of themselves should not subject banks to supervisory criticism even if the pilot programs ultimately prove unsuccessful. Likewise, pilot programs that expose gaps in a BSA/AML compliance program will not necessarily result in supervisory action with respect to that program.” The joint statement further specifies that the agencies will be willing to grant exceptive relief from BSA regulatory requirements to facilitate pilot programs, “provided that banks maintain the overall effectiveness of their BSA/AML compliance programs.” However, banks that maintain effective compliance programs but choose not to innovate will not be penalized or criticized.
According to Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker, “[a]s money launderers and other illicit actors constantly evolve their tactics, we want the compliance community to likewise adapt their efforts to counter these threats,” pointing to the recent use of innovative technologies to identify and report illicit financial activity related to both Iran and North Korea.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, earlier in October the agencies provided guidance on resource sharing between banks and credit unions in order to more efficiently and effectively manage their BSA/AML obligations.
Federal, state financial regulatory agencies issue guidance for institutions affected by California wildfires; FinCEN encourages financial institutions to communicate BSA filing delays
On November 19, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a notice to financial institutions that file Bank Secrecy Act reports encouraging such institutions to communicate with FinCEN and their functional regulators regarding any expected filing delays caused by the California wildfires. FinCEN also reminded financial institutions to review advisory FIN-2017-A007, previously covered by InfoBytes, which discusses potential fraudulent activity related to recent disaster relief schemes.
In a related action, the Federal Reserve Board, California Department of Business Oversight, Conference of State Bank Supervisors, FDIC, NCUA, and OCC (collectively, the “agencies”) issued a joint statement on November 15 providing guidance to financial institutions impacted by the California wildfires. The agencies encouraged lenders to work with borrowers in impacted communities to modify loans as appropriate based on the facts and circumstances of each borrower and loan. In addition, the agencies assured lenders that they would (i) expedite any request to operate temporary facilities to provide more convenient services to those affected by the wildfires; (ii) not generally assess penalties for institutions that take prudent steps to satisfy any publishing or reporting requirements, including by contacting their state or federal regulator to discuss satisfaction of such requirements; and (iii) consider granting institutions favorable Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief here.
FinCEN encourages financial institutions affected by Hurricane Michael to communicate BSA filing delays; extends FBAR filing deadline
On October 15, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a notice to financial institutions that file Bank Secrecy Act reports to encourage communication with FinCEN and their functional regulators regarding any expected filing delays caused by Hurricane Michael. FinCEN also reminded financial institutions to review advisory FIN-2017-A007, previously covered by InfoBytes, which discusses potential fraudulent activity related to recent disaster relief schemes.
The same day, FinCEN issued a second notice for certain filers affected by Hurricane Michael to extend the deadline for submitting their 2017 calendar year Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs). FBARs for affected filers are now due February 28, 2019.
Find more InfoBytes disaster relief coverage here.
On October 4, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued advisory FIN-2018-A005 to U.S. financial institutions to increase awareness of the growing risk that certain Nicaraguan senior foreign political figures may potentially move assets using the U.S. financial system in reaction to a “perceived threat of further unrest, potential sanctions, or other factors.” FinCEN warns that the assets could be the proceeds of corruption and may be directed into U.S. accounts, or laundered through the U.S. financial system. The advisory—which is underscored by actions taken against Nicaraguan officials involved in corruption and human rights abuse pursuant to the Global Magnitsky sanctions program, as previously covered by InfoBytes—provides due diligence guidance for U.S. financial institutions consistent with existing Bank Secrecy Act obligations. It also reminds financial institutions of their suspicious activity report filing obligations and of the potential need to refer to advisory FIN-2018-A003 released last June on the use of financial facilitators to gain access to global financial systems for the purpose of moving or hiding illicit proceeds and evading U.S. and global sanctions. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On October 3, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, and OCC (together, the agencies) issued an interagency statement outlining instances where banks and credit unions may choose to enter into collaborative arrangements to share resources in order to more efficiently and effectively manage their Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) obligations. The statement noted that collaborative arrangements are most suitable for “banks with a community focus, less complex operations, and lower-risk profiles for money laundering or terrorist financing.” The agencies described several examples in which collaboration between banks may be beneficial, such as (i) conducting internal control functions, including reviewing and drafting BSA/AML policies and procedures and risk-based customer identification and account monitoring processes; (ii) sharing resources for BSA/AML independent testing; and (iii) conducting BSA/AML training on regulatory requirements and internal policies, procedures, and processes. Other potential benefits include cost reductions, increases in operational efficiencies, and the availability to leverage specialized expertise.
However, the agencies cautioned that banks who choose to enter into collaborative agreements should carefully consider the associated risks “in relation to the bank’s risk profile, adequate documentation, consideration of legal restrictions, and the establishment of appropriate oversight mechanisms.” Moreover, banks should ensure that the collaborative arrangement is consistent with sound principles of corporate governance, have in place a contractual agreement, conduct periodic performance reviews, and consult their regulator’s guidance concerning third-party relationship to ensure compliance. The agencies further noted that “each bank is responsible for ensuring compliance with BSA requirements. Sharing resources in no way relieves a bank of this responsibility.” The interagency statement emphasizes that it is not applicable “to collaborative arrangements or consortia formed for the purpose of sharing information under Section 314(b) of the USA PATRIOT Act,” and “banks that form collaborative arrangements as described in this interagency statement are not an association for purposes of Section 314(b) of the USA PATRIOT Act.”
FinCEN, federal banking agencies provide exemption from customer identification program requirements for premium finance loans
On September 27, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, and OCC (together, the agencies) collectively issued an interagency order announcing an exemption from the requirements of the customer identification program (CIP) rules for premium finance loans extended by banks to commercial customers. The exemption, which is effective immediately, will facilitate short-term financing to business to aid in the purchase of property and casualty insurance policies. The order states that FinCEN believes these types of loans present a low risk for money laundering due to the “purpose for which the loans are extended and the limitations on the ability of a customer to use such funds for any other purpose.” However, banks engaged in premium finance lending are still required to comply with all other regulatory requirements implementing the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), including filing suspicious activity reports. The federal banking agencies further determined that the order granting this exemption is consistent with both the purposes of the BSA and safe and sound banking practices. (See also Federal Reserve Board SR 18-6, FDIC FIL-52-2018, and OCC Bulletin 2018-35.)
FinCEN encourages financial institutions affected by Hurricane Florence to communicate Bank Secrecy Act filing delays; extends FBAR filing deadline
On September 26, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a notice to financial institutions that file Bank Secrecy Act reports to encourage communication with FinCEN and their functional regulator regarding any expected filing delays caused by Hurricane Florence. FinCEN also reminded financial institutions to review advisory FIN-2017-A007, previously covered by InfoBytes, which discusses potential fraudulent activity related to recent disaster relief efforts.
The same day, FinCEN issued a second notice for certain filers affected by Hurricane Florence to extend the deadline for submitting their 2017 calendar year Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). FBAR reports for affected filers are now due January 31, 2019.
Find more InfoBytes disaster relief coverage here.
FinCEN grants permanent relief from Beneficial Ownership Rule for CDs and certain automatic renewal products
On September 7, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a notice granting permanent relief for financial institutions from the Beneficial Ownership Rule’s requirements to obtain and verify the identity of beneficial owners of legal entity customers, with respect to certificate of deposit rollovers (CDs) and loans that renew automatically. The exception applies only to the rollover, renewal, modification, or extension of the following types of accounts occurring on or after May 11, 2018: CDs; existing loans, commercial lines of credit, and credit card accounts that do not require underwriting reviews; and safe deposit box rental renewals. The exception does not apply to the initial opening of these types of new accounts. FinCEN noted that it will not provide any other exception from a financial institution's anti-money laundering compliance obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage on beneficial ownership and customer due diligence requirements here.
On August 9, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Director Kenneth A. Blanco delivered remarks at the 2018 Chicago-Kent Block (Legal) Tech Conference to discuss, among other things, the agency’s approach to virtual currency and its efforts to protect financial institutions from being exploited for illicit financing purposes as new financial technologies evolve and are adopted. Blanco commented that while innovation provides customers with greater access to financial services, it can also create opportunities for criminals or serve as a vehicle for fraud. Blanco discussed several areas of focus, such as (i) the regulation of virtual currency and initial coin offerings (ICOs), along with coordinated policy development and regulatory approaches done in conjunction with the SEC and CFTC; (ii) examination and supervision efforts designed to “proactively mitigate potential illicit finance risks associated with virtual currency”; (iii) anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regulatory compliance expectations for companies involved in ICOs or virtual currency transmissions; (iv) enforcement actions taken against companies that fail to implement effective programs; (v) the rise and importance of virtual currency suspicious activity report filings which help the agency identify and investigate illicit activity; and (vi) the development of an information sharing virtual currency-focused FinCEN Exchange program. Blanco emphasized that “individuals and entities engaged in the business of accepting and transmitting physical currency or convertible virtual currency from one person to another or to another location are money transmitters subject to the requirements” of the Bank Secrecy Act.
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