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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • FinCEN issues advisory warning U.S. financial institutions of risks linked to Nicaraguan corruption

    Financial Crimes

    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.) 

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act SARs Anti-Money Laundering Sanctions

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  • Agencies permit bank resource sharing for Bank Secrecy Act compliance

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    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.”

    (See also Federal Reserve Board press release, FDIC press release, NCUA press release, and OCC press release and Bulletin 2018-36.)

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Reserve FDIC OCC FinCEN NCUA Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Bank Compliance

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  • FinCEN, federal banking agencies provide exemption from customer identification program requirements for premium finance loans

    Financial Crimes

    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.)

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism OCC Federal Reserve FDIC NCUA Bank Secrecy Act Insurance

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  • FinCEN encourages financial institutions affected by Hurricane Florence to communicate Bank Secrecy Act filing delays; extends FBAR filing deadline

    Financial Crimes

    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.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Disaster Relief Bank Secrecy Act

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  • FinCEN grants permanent relief from Beneficial Ownership Rule for CDs and certain automatic renewal products

    Financial Crimes

    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.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN CDD Rule Beneficial Ownership

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  • FinCEN director discusses approach to virtual currency and emerging technology

    Financial Crimes

    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.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act Virtual Currency Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism SARs SEC CFTC Fintech Initial Coin Offerings

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  • FFIEC releases customer due diligence and beneficial ownership examination procedures

    Financial Crimes

    On May 11, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council released updated examination procedures for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network's (FinCEN) final rule, “Customer Due Diligence Requirements for Financial Institutions” (CDD rule). Compliance with the CDD rule became mandatory on  May 11. The updated customer due diligence exam procedures were developed in close collaboration with FinCEN and replace those in the current Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Examination Manual. Additionally, a new set of exam procedures address the CDD rule’s beneficial ownership requirements.

    According to an OCC bulletin released the same day, the examination procedures reflect federal and state banking agencies’ “ongoing commitment to examine financial institutions for compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act . . . in accordance with uniform standards and principles.”

    See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of the CDD rule.

    Financial Crimes FFIEC CDD Rule OCC FinCEN Beneficial Ownership

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  • FinCEN recognizes law enforcement agencies for use of BSA reporting

    Financial Crimes

    On May 8, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced its third annual Law Enforcement Awards to law enforcement agencies that use Bank Secrecy Act data provided by financial institutions in their criminal investigations. The program seeks to recognize law enforcement agencies that made effective use of financial institution reporting to obtain a successful prosecution, and to demonstrate to the financial industry the value of its reporting to law enforcement. The following agencies were recognized:

    • Suspicious Activity Report Review Task Force Category – Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). Based on a review of financial data showing a pattern of unusual cash withdrawals by one subject from a single financial institution, IRS-CI uncovered a criminal conspiracy to defraud the estate of a deceased individual of over $2 million. IRS-CI executed warrants and recovered over $500,000 and over $2 million in restitution was ordered to be returned to the true heir of the estate.
    • Transnational Organized Crime/Third Party Money Launderers Category – Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Using FinCEN’s data and investigative tools, the DEA helped dismantle two Southern California and Tijuana-based money laundering schemes. Arrest warrants were issued for 27 individuals and officials were able to seize millions of dollars in cash, real estate, and vehicles.
    • Transnational Security Threats Category – FBI. Utilizing FinCEN resources, an FBI investigation, conducted in coordination with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), resulted in the blocking of $7 million in transactions used to provide access to the U.S. financial system on behalf of North Korean entities, a $20 million monetary penalty, and the addition of several entities to OFAC’s Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN list).
    • Cyber Threats Category – Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). IRS-CI untangled a money laundering scheme that had generated over $17 million in proceeds through wire transfers from multiple foreign-based accounts. IRS-CI search warrants led to the forfeiture of $10 million in fraudulent proceeds and three subjects pled guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and related activity in connection with computers, with a fourth found guilty of wire fraud and money laundering.
    • Significant Fraud Category – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI led an investigation that identified a complex money laundering conspiracy in which operators at an India-based call center and U.S.-based facilitators worked together to launder $300 million. Twenty-four subjects in the United States were arrested across eight states, all of whom were convicted of conspiracy, money laundering, and various fraud crimes. 
    • Third-Party Money Launderers Category – Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). IRS-CI led a multi-agency effort to combat Mexican kleptocracy. Using FinCEN resources and a high volume of financial data, an investigation resulted in seizure of over $800 million in assets and subjects being charged with various financial crimes, such as money laundering, bank fraud, wire fraud, loan fraud, and racketeering.
    • State and Local Law EnforcementNassau County Policy Department. Nassau County Police launched an investigation after becoming aware of a high volume of cash deposits in a subject’s account. In coordination with the DEA, Nassau County Police determined the activity was a trade-based money laundering scheme designed to launder the proceeds of illegal narcotics transactions. The investigation resulted in fines totaling $8.5 million.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering

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  • FinCEN and California card club agree to a reduced penalty for AML violations

    Financial Crimes

    On May 3, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and a California card club agreed to a $5 million penalty for Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) violations from 2009 to 2017. In November 2017, FinCEN assessed the company $8 million in civil money penalties but has now agreed to suspend $3 million pending compliance with certain requirements in the consent order. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FinCEN alleges the company failed to file certain Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) regarding loan sharking and other criminal activities being conducted through the company and failed to implement sufficient internal controls to monitor risks associated with gaming practices that allowed customers to co-mingle and pool bets with anonymity. The order requires the company to, among other things, adopt an AML program and hire a qualified independent consultant to review its effectiveness and retain a compliance officer to ensure compliance with BSA requirements.

    Financial Crimes Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Enforcement SARs FinCEN

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  • House Financial Services Committee holds hearing on FinCEN’s CDD rule

    Federal Issues

    On April 27, the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit held a hearing entitled “Implementation of FinCEN's Customer Due Diligence Rule—Financial Institution Perspective” to discuss challenges facing financial institutions when complying with FinCEN’s Customer Due Diligence Rule (CDD Rule). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CDD Rule takes effect May 11, and imposes standardized customer due diligence (CDD) requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) for covered financial institutions, including the identification and verification of the beneficial owners of legal entity customers. The hearing’s four witnesses expressed certain concerns regarding the effects of implementation on financial institutions, as well as the timing of additional guidance released April 3 in the form of frequently asked questions.

    In prepared remarks, Executive Director of The Financial Accounting and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition, Gary Kalman, commented that the CDD Rule, which calls for additional AML requirements, is a “positive step forward but falls short of what is needed to protect the integrity of [the] financial system”—particularly in terms of what defines a “beneficial owner.” Greg Baer, President of The Clearing House Association, expressed concerns that the CDD Rule (i) requires financial institutions to verify beneficial owners for each account that is opened, instead of verifying on a per-customer basis; and (ii) does not explicitly state in its preamble that FinCEN possesses sole authority to set CDD standards, which may present opportunities for examiners to make ad hoc interpretations.

    Additionally, Executive Vice President of the International Bank of Commerce Dalia Martinez, observed, among other things, that compliance with the CDD Rule is costly and burdensome, and that banks have not been provided with the tools or guidance to determine whether the information provided by legal entity customers is accurate when verifying beneficial owners. The “gray areas” within the CDD Rule, Martinez noted, present challenges for compliance. A fourth witness, Carlton Green, a partner at Crowell & Morning, expressed concerns with the relationship between FinCEN and the federal functional regulators, stating that because FinCEN has delegated examination authority to these regulators, there is a chance regulators will “create and enforce their own interpretations of or additions to BSA rules” that may “diverge from FinCEN’s priorities.”

    Federal Issues House Financial Services Committee FinCEN Customer Due Diligence Financial Crimes CDD Rule

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