Eighth Blog Post in an Extended Series on Legislative Changes to the BSA/AML Regulatory Regime

As we have blogged, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AMLA”) contains major changes to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), coupled with other changes relating to money laundering, anti-money laundering (“AML”), counter-terrorism financing (“CTF”) and protecting the U.S. financial system against illicit foreign actors.   In this post, we review several provisions of the AMLA section entitled “Modernizing the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism System.” These provisions signal potentially significant changes in the BSA reporting regime for suspicious activity and currency transactions – albeit in the future, after the performance of studies and reports which Congress has required regarding the effectiveness of Suspicious Activity Report (“SAR”) and Currency Transaction Report (“CTR”) filings.

These provisions of the AMLA require the Treasury Secretary to acquire a fuller picture of the reporting regime as it currently functions in regards to SAR and CTR filings. We repeatedly have blogged about the ongoing debate regarding the utility of SARs and other BSA reports versus the onus the system places on financial institutions (see, for example, here, here, here and here). The AMLA now creates the opportunity for the government to respond to that debate with a data-driven approach. The theme of these AMLA provisions is feedback – both internal and external – regarding how (and whether) SARs work.  Notably, they also address the issue of whether the monetary filing thresholds for SARs (generally, $5,000) and CTRs ($10,000) should be increased.

Continue Reading Review, then Reform? AMLA Charts a Path for the Future of SARs and CTRs

Seventh Post in an Extended Series on Legislative Changes to BSA/AML Regulatory Regime

On April 5, 2021, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPRM”) to solicit public comment on questions pertaining to the implementation of the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”), passed as part of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AMLA”).  The CTA requires certain legal entities to report their beneficial owners at the time of their creation to a database accessible by U.S. and foreign law enforcement and regulators, and to U.S. financial institutions seeking to comply with their own Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) and Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) compliance obligations.

According to the ANPRM, the ability to operate through legal entities without requiring the identification of beneficial owners is a key risk for the U.S. financial system.  The CTA seeks to mitigate the risk by reducing an individual’s ability to use corporate structures to conceal illicit activity such as money laundering, financing of terrorism, proliferation financing, serious tax fraud and human and drug trafficking.  The CTA seeks to set a clear federal standard for incorporation practices, protect vital U.S. national security interests, protect interstate and foreign commerce, better enable various law enforcement agencies to counter illicit activities and bring the U.S. into compliance with international standards.  With the goals of the CTA in mind, the ANPRM seeks public input on procedures and standards for reporting companies to submit information to FinCEN about their beneficial owners, and input on the implementation and maintenance of a database safeguarding disclosed information subject to appropriate protocols.

Written comments on the ANPRM are due soon – by May 5, 2021.  The CTA is a critical development in AML regulation, and FinCEN can expect a considerable response to this important ANPRM, both from the businesses that are covered and the financial institutions that would have access to the beneficial ownership database.  Although the ANPRM is detailed and poses many questions, the ultimate, real-world implementation of the CTA will involve even more questions. Continue Reading FinCEN Seeks Comments on Corporate Transparency Act Implementation

Much has occurred in the last two months regarding the relationship between financial institutions and Marijuana-Related Businesses, or MRBs.  In this post, we discuss three major developments, all of which share a complex connection.  First, the National Credit Union Administration (“NCUA”) recently pursued its first enforcement action against a credit union for Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) compliance failures when servicing MRBs.  Second, two cannabis industry executives were convicted of bank fraud for allegedly tricking banks and other financial institutions into unwittingly extending financial services to their MRB.  Third, and despite this enforcement drumbeat regarding MRBs, Congress has introduced again, with bi-partisan support, the SAFE Banking Act, which seeks to normalize the banking of cannabis by prohibiting federal bank regulators from taking certain actions against financial institutions servicing MRBs. Continue Reading Banking and Cannabis Enforcement Round Up:  NCUA Imposes First Penalty Relating to Cannabis Banking Services; Cannabis Industry Execs Convicted of Defrauding Banks into Providing Financial Services; Congress Re-Introduces the SAFE Banking Act

On March 29, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) began to make good on its promise to make AML a key examination priority in 2021 by issuing a risk alert authored by the Division of Examinations (“EXAMS”) detailing the results of a review of broker-dealers’ compliance with anti-money laundering (“AML”) requirements (the “Alert”).

The Alert details the obligations of broker-dealers to comply with AML programs and SAR monitoring and reporting requirements pursuant to the “AML Program Rule,” 31 C.F.R. § 1023.210, and the “SAR Rule,” 31 C.F.R. § 1023.320, as well as similar obligations under Rule 17a-8 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), which incorporates the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) reporting and record-keeping obligations applicable to broker-dealers.  The Alert further issues findings that indicate certain firms are experiencing shortcomings when it comes to establishing and implementing sufficient suspicious activity monitoring and reporting policies and procedures, which is leading to inadequate SAR reporting in several respects.

Perhaps not coincidentally, EXAMS issued the Alert shortly after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in December 2020 in SEC vs. Alpine Securities Corp. that the SEC has the authority to bring an enforcement action against broker-dealers under Section 17(a) and Rule 17a-8 of the Exchange Act on the basis of alleged BSA failures, including failures to comply with the SAR Rule.  Whether the Alert is a true “heads up” or a forewarning of enforcement actions to come, firms are encouraged not to replicate the specific deficiencies identified in the Alert. Continue Reading Broker-Dealers Fail SEC AML Examinations

Sixth Post in an Extended Series on Legislative Changes to BSA/AML Regulatory Regime

As we have blogged, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AMLA”) contains major changes to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), coupled with other changes relating to money laundering, anti-money laundering (“AML”), counter-terrorism financing (“CTF”), and protecting the U.S. financial system against illicit foreign actors.

A recurring theme of the changes offered by AMLA is information sharing. AMLA mandates that the Department of Treasury’s supervision priorities must include “appropriate frameworks for information sharing among financial institutions, their agents and service providers, their regulatory authorities, associations of financial institutions, the Department of the Treasury, and law enforcement authorities.” The increased emphasis on information sharing is accompanied by provisions requiring confidentiality and data security protocols.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) is already beginning to address AMLA’s focus on the sharing and protection of information, as it explained in its recent detailed Report on FinCEN’s Innovation Hours Program, which focuses on fostering technological innovation in AML/CTF compliance.  In this post, we explore AMLA’s expansion of information sharing, corresponding privacy and data security protections, and the tensions that lie therein. Continue Reading AMLA Information-Sharing and Privacy and Data Security Concerns

On February 25, 2021, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (“FFIEC”) released updates to the Bank Secretary Act/Anti-Money Laundering (“BSA/AML”) Examination Manual (the “Manual”), which provides guidance to examiners for evaluating a financial institution’s BSA/AML compliance program and its compliance with related regulatory requirements.

First, the Manual adds a new introductory section, Assessing Compliance with [BSA] Regulatory Requirements.  Second, the Manual updates the sections pertaining to Customer Identification Program (“CIP”), Currency Transaction Reporting (“CTR”), and Transactions of Exempt Persons. The Manual explains that, consistent with prior updates, that the “updates should not be interpreted as new instructions or as a new or increased focus on certain areas,” but are intended to “offer further transparency into the examination process and support risk-focused examination work.”

The 2021 updates are not quite as substantial as the 2020 updates to the Manual, which pertained to scoping and planning of examinations; the review of a financial institution’s BSA/AML risk assessment; the assessment of an institution’s BSA/AML compliance program; and guidance for examiners on developing conclusions and finalizing the examination.  Nonetheless, the updates provide useful insight into what examiners regard as important for BSA/AML compliance. Continue Reading The FFIEC Updates the BSA/AML Examination Manual

I am pleased to have been a guest on FTI‘s Fraud Eats Strategy podcast series, hosted by Scott Moritz.  In an episode entitled How Transparent is the Corporate Transparency Act, we explore the cornerstone of the newly-passed Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”).

The CTA requires covered legal entities to report their beneficial owners at the time of their creation to a database accessible by U.S. and foreign law enforcement and regulators, and to U.S. financial institutions seeking to comply with their own anti-money laundering (“AML”) compliance obligations.  As we discuss, the CTA strikes at beneficial ownership and the misuse of shell corporations — issues which have been at the heart of global AML regulation and enforcement for years.  But the CTA is not perfect, and the logistics of its implementation will be daunting.

We hope you enjoy the podcast.

If you would like to remain updated on these issues, please click here to subscribe to Money Laundering Watch. Please click here to find out about Ballard Spahr’s Anti-Money Laundering Team.

U.N. Report Focus on Improving Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance

On March 2, 2020 the United Nations released a Report on Financial Integrity For Sustainable Development (the “Report”). Although the Report is lengthy and wide-ranging, we will focus here on the portions of the Report which target the humanitarian toll of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) from money laundering, tax abuse, cross-border corruption, and transnational financial crime – all of which can drain resources from sustainable development, worsen inequality, fuel instability, undermine governance, and damage public trust.   We also will focus on the portions of the Report which make recommendations designed to expand anti-money laundering (“AML”) compliance.

First, the Report makes evidence-based recommendations focused on accountability, designed to close international enforcement and compliance gaps. Those recommendations include: (i) all countries enacting legislation providing for the widest range of legal tools to pursue cross-border financial crime; (ii) the international community developing an agreed-upon international standard for settlement of cross-border corruption cases, and (iii) businesses holding accountable all executives, staff, and board members who foster or tolerate IFFs in the name of the business.

Second, the Report makes other recommendations on several AML-related issues on which we have blogged: (i) each country creating a central registry of beneficial ownership information for legal entities; (ii) creating global standards for professionals, including lawyers, accountants, bankers and real estate agents; (iii) improving protections for human rights defenders, anti-corruption advocates, investigative journalists and whistleblowers; and (iv) promoting the exchange of information internationally among law enforcement officers and other authorities.

The Report clearly envisions that corporations can and should play a pivotal role in contributing resources in the fight against corruption, money laundering and cross-border financial crime. To start, Boards and management, particularly those of financial and professional service institutions, must engage in oversight to ensure that compensation, benefits, and employment itself are contingent upon financial integrity. Investors also should embrace financial integrity for sustainable development and be clear with the companies in which they invest that they expect effective anti-corruption policies and regulatory compliance. Integrity will be cultivated when organizational leadership hold board members, executives, and staff accountable if they foster or tolerate IFFs in the name of the business. Moreover, the Report observes that governments can foster financial integrity by imposing liability for failing to prevent bribery or corruption. Continue Reading United Nations Targets Corruption and Illicit Cross-Border Finance

Fifth Post in an Extended Series on Legislative Changes to BSA/AML Regulatory Regime

As we have blogged, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (“AMLA”) makes major changes to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and the U.S. approach to money laundering, anti-money laundering (“AML”), counter-terrorism financing (“CTF”) and protecting the U.S. financial system against illicit foreign actors.  For example, the AMLA requires covered businesses to report beneficial ownership information to a central federal database; broadens the stated purpose of the BSA; expands the options and protections for whistleblowers alleging AML violations; and expands the U.S. government’s authority to subpoena information from foreign financial institutions with U.S. correspondent bank account relationships.

In addition to these changes, Congress also has used the AMLA as a tool to gather information on complex issues involving money laundering risks and BSA/AML compliance by requiring many studies and reports.  In this post, we focus on two important issues for which Congress has required reports from the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”):  human trafficking and de-risking.

The willingness to address these problems through the AMLA shows that Congress is aware of the nexus between money laundering and human rights violations—and more importantly, appears ready to leverage the information gathered by the GAO in order to potentially address that nexus through future legislation.  Congress is not alone in its concern.  For example, the United Nations issued a report earlier this month on how transnational financial crime can impair sustainable development across the globe, worsen inequality, and fuel instability. Continue Reading Congress Tasks GAO to Study the Intersection of Money Laundering and Humanitarian Issues:  Human Trafficking and De-Risking