Anti-Money Laundering (AML)

On November 19, 2020, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, National Credit Union Administration, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (collectively, the “Agencies”) issued a joint fact sheet clarifying how banks subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) should apply a risk-based approach to customer due diligence (“CDD”) requirements for charities and other non-profit organizations.

Continue Reading Federal Banking Agencies and FinCEN Issue Joint Statement on Risk-Based Approach to Customer Due Diligence for Charities and Non-Profit Organizations

On September 14, 2020, the Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) — an inter-governmental anti-money laundering (“AML”) and counter-terrorist financing (“CFT”) standard-setting organization — issued a report on red flag indicators of money laundering and terrorist financing for virtual assets (the “Report”).

Based on over 100 case studies, the Report highlights potential red flag indicators of virtual assets being used for criminal activity.  The Report is the latest guidance related to FATF’s Focus on Virtual Assets and is meant to complement FATF’s June 2019 guidance on developing a risk-based approach to virtual assets and virtual asset service providers.


Continue Reading Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Issues Virtual Assets Red Flag Indicators of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing

On Monday, September 14, 2020, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued a final rule (the “final rule”) requiring minimum standards for anti-money laundering (“AML”) programs for banks without a federal functional regulator (“covered banks”). The final rule implements a notice of proposed rulemaking issued on August 25, 2016.

The final rule applies to a limited set of specialized institutions, including, among others: state-chartered non-depository trust companies, non-federally insured credit unions, and a small number of other non-federally insured state-chartered institutions, private banks, and international banking entities. The date for these covered banks to come into compliance with the final rule is March 15, 2021, which is 180 days after the final rule was issued.


Continue Reading FinCEN Issues Final Rule on Bank Secrecy Act Requirements for Banks Without a Federal Functional Regulator

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued guidance today, which:

  • requested financial institutions affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to contact FinCEN’s Regulatory Support Section and their functional regulator as soon as practicable if they have concerns about potential COVID-19-related delays to their ability to timely file Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) reports, including Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs);
  • advised financial institutions to remain alert to malicious or fraudulent transactions involving bad actors seeking to exploit the pandemic.

FinCEN is not the only agency concerned about COVID-19-related fraud.  On Friday, Interpol issued a warning concerning financial scams related to COVID-19; yesterday, the FBI tweeted a warning on COVID-19 cyber-scams; and over the past week, New York’s Attorney General and its Department of Financial Services have issued warnings and, in the case of the Attorney General, multiple orders targeting price gouging and fake medical treatments.  (Update:  late in the day today, U.S. Attorney General William Barr released a memorandum directing U.S. Attorneys to clamp down on COVID-19-related crimes, including sales of fake cures and phishing email schemes.)


Continue Reading FinCEN Issues COVID-19-Related Guidance on SAR Filings, Heightened Risk of Disaster Fraud

On Friday, the leaders of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”), and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) (collectively, the “Agencies”) issued a “Joint Statement on Activities Involving Digital Assets” (the “Joint Statement”).  The Joint Statement serves as a reminder that businesses engaged in activities involving digital assets – or, as they are sometimes called, virtual currencies or cryptocurrencies – should be attentive to their anti-money laundering (“AML”) obligations, including under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”).

The Joint Statement notes that the BSA requires “financial institutions” to:  (1) establish and implement an effective AML program; and (2) comply with certain recordkeeping and reporting requirements, including the filing of suspicious activity reports (“SARs”).  These requirements apply not just to a financial institution’s traditional lines of businesses, but also to its businesses involving digital assets.


Continue Reading Leaders of the SEC, CFTC, and FinCEN Issue Joint Statement Emphasizing AML Obligations for Digital Asset Activities

On July 22, 2019, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Credit Union Administration, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (collectively, the “federal banking agencies”), and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued a joint statement emphasizing their risk-focused approach to examinations of banks’ Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (“BSA/AML”) compliance programs (the “Statement”).  The Statement does not purport to create additional supervisory expectations for banks, but is meant to provide transparency into the risk-focused approach the agencies use for planning and performing BSA/AML examinations.  While the Statement largely restates existing rules and guidance and notes “it does not establish new requirements,” the fact that the agencies issued the statement may itself be an important, albeit implicit, acknowledgement of concerns expressed by some that BSA/AML examinations have become increasingly less risk-based in practice.

Continue Reading Federal Banking Agencies and FinCEN Release Statement on Risk-Focused BSA/AML Supervision

On May 9, 2019, the House Financial Services Committee (“HFSC”) unanimously approved an amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R. 2514, the Coordinating Oversight, Upgrading and Innovating Technology, and Examiner Reform Act (the “COUNTER Act” or the “Act”).  The COUNTER Act, introduced by Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) would be the first major reform of the Bank Secrecy Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 5311 et seq. (“BSA”) and related anti-money laundering (“AML”) regulations since 2001.  The COUNTER Act will now move to the House floor for debate.  The HFSC postponed a vote on a related bill that is aimed at combating illicit financial activity in anonymous shell companies and that would require most corporations and limited liability companies to disclose beneficial ownership information at the time of incorporation.

Continue Reading House Financial Services Committee Passes BSA/AML Overhaul Legislation

On March 28, 2019, the House Financial Services Committee (“HFSC”) voted 45-15 to advance to the full House of Representatives the bill H.R. 1595, the “Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019” (the “SAFE Banking Act” or the “Act”).  The SAFE Banking Act would shield banks and credit unions from federal regulatory penalties for providing financial services to legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.  The bill, sponsored by Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Denny Heck (D-WA), had nearly 150 cosponsors and passed as an amendment in the nature of a substitute on a bipartisan basis, with eleven Republicans voting in favor of the legislation.

Background

Although 47 states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized or decriminalized some form of adult recreational, medical, or limited-medical marijuana or marijuana cannabidiol oil, the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), except as authorized in very narrow circumstances.  The legal uncertainty resulting from the divergence in federal and state law has caused most large financial institutions to decline to provide financial services to cannabis-related businesses directly, as well as to many service providers of cannabis-related businesses, such as suppliers, landlords, and other vendors.  As a result, many cannabis-related businesses that operate legally under state law are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, which creates public safety risks and provides opportunities for money laundering and other financial crimes.

The SAFE Banking Act

The SAFE Banking Act would create several important protections for depository institutions and federal and state credit unions (collectively, “depository institutions”) that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses (“CRLBs”), which is defined broadly to include any individual or company that engages in a wide range of cannabis-related activities in accordance with state law.  These protections would also apply to CRLB service providers, defined broadly to include entities that sell goods or services to CRLBs or provide any business services, including the sale or lease of real or any other property, or any other ancillary service relating to cannabis (“Service Providers”).  Specifically, the Act would prohibit federal banking regulators from:

  • Terminating or limiting the deposit insurance or taking any other adverse action under section 8 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (which authorizes regulators to take enforcement actions against institutions) solely because the depository institution provides financial services to a CRLB or Service Provider;
  • Prohibiting, penalizing, or otherwise discouraging a depository institution – or entity performing a financial service for or in association with a depository institution – from providing financial services to a CRLB or Service Provider;
  • Recommending, incentivizing, or encouraging a depository institution not to offer, or to downgrade or cancel, financial services solely because the account holder is or becomes a CRLB or Service Provider, or an employee, owner, or operator of a CRLB or Service Provider; and
  • Taking any adverse or corrective supervisory action on a loan made to a CRLB or Service Provider, or an employee, owner, or operator of – or owner or operator of real estate or equipment leased to – a CRLB or Service Provider.

Importantly, the Act provides that for purposes of the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 (18 U.S.C. §§ 1956, 1957) “and all other provisions of Federal law,” the proceeds from a transaction conducted by a CRLB or Service Provider shall not be considered proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction was conducted by a CRLB or Service Provider.  Moreover, a depository institution – or entity performing a financial service for or in association with a depository institution that provides a financial service to a CRLB or Service Provider – (and their officers, directors, and employees) “may not be held liable pursuant to any federal law or regulation” solely for providing financial services to a CRLB or Service Provider, or investing income derived from such services in states where cannabis is legal.


Continue Reading House Financial Services Committee Passes Cannabis Banking Bill

Representatives of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) testified on Thursday, November 29 before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (“Banking Committee”) on anti-money laundering (“AML”) issues.

The testimony highlighted some tensions between the views of the different regulators, with the OCC appearing to be supportive of providing some regulatory relief to financial institutions, while FinCEN continues to see the value of the current requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”). Coming on the heels of reports that a bipartisan group of Senators are working on BSA reform legislation, the testimony revealed that FinCEN at least may prove reluctant to support some of the proposed reforms.


Continue Reading Senate Testimony Highlights Tensions in BSA/AML Reform Efforts as Lawmakers Consider Bipartisan Legislation

On October 3, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (“Federal Reserve”), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”), the National Credit Union Administration (“NCUA”), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”), and the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) released an Interagency Statement on Sharing Bank Secrecy Act Resources (the “Statement”). The Statement encourages banks to consider entering into collaborative arrangements to manage their Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and anti-money laundering (“AML”) compliance obligations. The Statement uses the BSA’s definition of “bank,” which includes each agent, agency, branch, or office within the United States of banks, savings associations, credit unions, and foreign banks.

Continue Reading Regulators Encourage Lower-risk Banks to Join Forces for Bank Secrecy Act and AML Compliance