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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FinCEN clarifies financial crime information sharing program

Financial Crimes FinCEN Of Interest to Non-US Persons SARs Bank Secrecy Act Covid-19 Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

Financial Crimes

On December 10, FinCEN Director Kenneth A. Blanco spoke at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference hosted by the American Bankers Association and American Bar Association to discuss the importance of information sharing in identifying, reporting, and preventing financial crime. Specifically, Blanco addressed recently updated guidance designed to provide additional clarity on FinCEN’s information sharing program under Section 314(b) of the USA PATRIOT Act, which provides financial institutions “the ability to share information with one another, under a safe harbor provision that offers protections from civil liability, in order to better identify and report potential money laundering or terrorist financing.”

FinCEN provided three main clarifications:

  • While financial institutions may share information about suspected terrorist financing or money laundering, they “do not need to have specific information that these activities directly relate to proceeds of [a specified unlawful activity (SUA)], or to have identified specific laundered proceeds of an SUA.” FinCEN also stated that a conclusive determination that an activity is suspicious does not need to be made in order for a financial institution to benefit from the statutory safe harbor. Furthermore, information may be shared “even if the activities do not constitute a ‘transaction,’” such as “an attempted transaction, or an attempt to induce others engage in a transaction.” FinCEN added that there is no limitation under Section 314(b) on the sharing of personally identifiable information and no restrictions on the type of information shared or how the information can be shared, including verbally.
  • “An entity that is not itself a financial institution under the Bank Secrecy Act [(BSA)] may form and operate an association of financial institutions whose members share information under Section 314(b),” FinCEN noted, adding that this includes compliance service providers.
  • An unincorporated association of financial institutions governed by a contract between its members “may engage in information sharing under Section 314(b).”

In prepared remarks, Blanco reiterated, among other things, that companies should be specific in describing the activity they see in their suspicious activity reports (SAR), and discussed FinCEN’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in September (covered by InfoBytes here), which solicited comments on questions concerning potential regulatory amendments under the BSA. Blanco also highlighted recent FinCEN’s advisories and guidance related to Covid-19 fraud (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here) and encouraged the audience to review the agency’s dedicated Covid-19 webpage.

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