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On April 18, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced a civil money penalty against an individual operating as peer-to-peer exchanger for willful violations of Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) money service business (MSB) requirements. According to FinCEN, the exchanger engaged in activities such as (i) advertising his intentions to purchase and sell bitcoin; and (ii) completing transactions using in-person cash payments, currency sent or received in the mail, or wire transfers through the use of a depository institution. These activities, FinCEN claimed, qualified him as a virtual currency exchanger, MSB, and a financial institution under the BSA. As such, the exchanger was required to register as a MSB with FinCEN, establish and implement an effective written anti-money laundering program, detect and file suspicious activity reports, and report currency transactions, which he failed to do. The order requires the exchanger to pay a $35,350 civil money penalty and permanently prohibits him from engaging in any activity that would qualify him as a MSB.
On April 2, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) spoke before the American Bankers Association’s Washington Summit to discuss several priorities and emerging issues, including comprehensive housing reform, diversity in financial services, fintech regulation, cannabis banking, and Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) reform.
- Housing finance reform. Waters discussed resolving the long-term status of GSEs and several core principles underlying housing finance reform including, among other things, (i) maintaining access to the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage; (ii) ensuring sufficient private capital is available to protect taxpayers; (iii) requiring transparency and standardization that ensures a level-playing field for all financial institutions especially community banks and credit unions; (iv) maintaining credit access for all qualified borrowers; and (v) ensuring access to affordable rental housing. “Many of the proposals for housing finance reform exclude small financial institutions from being able to access the secondary mortgage market. I believe that the inclusion of small financial institutions must be a critical part of any conversations about GSE reform,” Waters stated.
- Diversity in financial services. Waters discussed the newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee (previously covered by InfoBytes here) when noting that minority representation in financial services management positions remains underrepresented. The new subcommittee will examine diversity trends to promote inclusion. “Diverse representation in these institutions, and particularly at the management level, is essential to ensure that all consumers have fair access to credit, capital, and banking and financial services,” Waters stated.
- Fintech regulation. Waters commented that fintech regulation is a committee priority. Waters stated that it is important “we encourage responsible innovation with the appropriate safeguards in place to protect consumers and without displacing community banks.”
- Cannabis banking. Waters highlighted her committee's work last month in advancing HR 1595, which would create protections for financial institutions that provide services to state-sanctioned cannabis-related businesses. The bill would create a safe harbor for depository institutions that would bar federal banking regulators from terminating banks’ deposit insurance or otherwise penalize them if they provide services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider.
- BSA/AML reform. Waters discussed a hearing that was held to look at “common sense” improvements that could be made to the current BSA/AML framework. She further stated that the committee is considering beneficial ownership legislation, in addition to exploring ways to work with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network regarding BSA/AML reporting.
White House releases 2020 budget proposal; key areas include appropriations and efforts to combat terrorist financing
On March 11, the White House released its fiscal 2020 budget request, A Budget for a Better America. The budget was accompanied by texts entitled Major Savings and Reforms (MSR), which “contains detailed information on major savings and reform proposals”; Analytical Perspectives, which “contains analyses that are designed to highlight specified subject areas or provide other significant presentations of budget data that place the budget in perspective”; and an Appendix containing detailed supporting information. Funding through appropriations and efforts to combat terrorist financing remain key highlights carried over from last year. Notable takeaways of the 2020 budget proposal are as follows:
CFPB. In the MSR’s “Restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” section, the budget revives a call to restructure the Bureau, and proposes legislative action to implement a two-year restructuring period, subject the CFPB to the congressional appropriations process starting in 2021, and “bring accountability” to the Bureau. Among other things, the proposed budget would cap the Federal Reserve’s transfers to the Bureau at $485 million in 2020.
Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). The 2020 budget proposal requests that Congress establish funding levels through annual appropriations bills for FSOC (which is comprised of the heads of the financial regulatory agencies and monitors risk to the U.S. financial system) and its independent research arm, the Office of Financial Research (OFR). Currently FSOC and OFR set their own budgets.
Flood Insurance. The Credit and Insurance chapter of the budget’s Analytical Perspectives section discusses FEMA initiatives such as modifying the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to become a simpler, more customer-focused program, and “doubling the number of properties covered by flood insurance (either the NFIP or private insurance) by 2022.” Separately, the budget proposal emphasizes that the administration believes that “flood insurance rates should reflect the risk homeowners face by living in flood zones.”
Government Sponsored Enterprises. Noted within the MSR, the budget proposes doubling the guarantee fee charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to loan originators from 0.10 to 0.20 percentage points from 2020 through 2021. The proposal is designed to help “level the playing field for private lenders seeking to compete with the GSEs” and would generate an additional $32 billion over the 10-year budget window.
HUD. The budget proposes to eliminate funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, stating that “[s]tate and local governments are better equipped to address local community and economic development needs.” The proposal would continue to preserve access to homeownership opportunities for creditworthy borrowers through FHA and Ginnie Mae credit guarantees. The budget also requests $20 million above last year’s estimated level to help modernize FHA’s information technology systems and includes legislative proposals to “align FHA authorities with the needs of its lender enforcement program and limit FHA’s exposure to down-payment assistance practices.”
SEC. As stated in both the budget proposal and the MSR, the budget again proposes to eliminate the SEC’s mandatory reserve fund and would require the SEC to request additional funds through the congressional appropriations process starting in 2021. According to the Appendix, the reserve fund is currently funded by collected registration fees and is not subject to appropriation or apportionment. Under the proposed budget, the registration fees would be deposited in the Treasury’s general fund.
SIGTARP. As proposed in the MSR, the budget revives a plan that would reduce funding for the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) “commensurate with the wind-down of TARP programs.” According to the MSR, “Congress aligned the sunset of SIGTARP with the length of time that TARP funds or commitments are outstanding,” which, Treasury estimates, will be through 2023. The reduction reflects, among other things, that less than one percent of TARP investments remain outstanding. This will mark the final time payments are expected to be made under the Home Affordable Modification Program.
Student Loan Reform. As with the 2019 budget proposal, the 2020 proposed budget seeks to establish a single income-driven repayment plan that caps monthly payments at 12.5 percent of discretionary income. Furthermore, balances would be forgiven after a specific number of repayment years—15 for undergraduate debt, 30 for graduate. In doing so, the proposal would eliminate subsidized loans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, auto-enroll “severely delinquent borrowers,” and create a process for borrowers to share income data for multiple years. With certain exceptions, these proposals will only apply to loans originated on or after July 1, 2020.
Treasury Department. The budget states that combating terrorist financing, proliferation financing, and other types of illicit financing are a top priority for the administration, and $167 million has been requested for Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence to “continue its work safeguarding the financial system from abuse and combating other national security threats using economic tools.” The proposed budget also requests $125 million for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to administer the Bank Secrecy Act and its work to prevent the financing of terrorism, money laundering, and other financial crimes. An additional $18 million was proposed for strengthening and protecting Treasury’s IT systems.
On March 8, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory reminding financial institutions that on February 22, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) updated two documents that list jurisdictions identified as having “strategic deficiencies” in their anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes. The first document, the FATF Public Statement, identifies two jurisdictions, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran, that are subject to countermeasures and/or enhanced due diligence due to their strategic AML/CFT deficiencies. The second document, Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance: On-going Process, identifies the following jurisdictions with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that have developed an action plan with the FATF to address those deficiencies: the Bahamas, Botswana, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Pakistan, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, and Yemen. Notably, Cambodia has been added to the list due to the lack of effective implementation of its AML/CFT framework. FATF further notes that several jurisdictions have not yet been reviewed, and that it “continues to identify additional jurisdictions, on an ongoing basis, that pose a risk to the international financial system.” Generally, financial institutions should consider both the FATF Public Statement and the Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance: On-going Process documents when reviewing due diligence obligations and risk-based policies, procedures, and practices.
On February 27, the CFPB’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans released Suspicious Activity Reports on Elder Financial Exploitation: Issues and Trends, which discusses key facts and trends revealed after the Bureau analyzed 180,000 elder exploitation Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed with Financial Crimes Enforcement Network from 2013 to 2017. Key highlights from the report include:
- SARs filings on elder financial abuse quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, with 63,500 SARs reporting the abuse in 2017.
- Nearly 80 percent of the SAR filings involved a financial loss to an elder or to the filing institution. The average amount of loss to an elder was $34,200, while the average amount of loss to a filer was $16,700.
- Financial losses were greater when the elder knew the suspect, with an average loss of $50,000 when the elder knew the suspect compared to $17,000 with a stranger.
- More than half of the SARs involved a money transfer.
- Less than one-third of elder abuse SARs acknowledge that the financial institution reported the activity to a local, state, or federal authority.
On February 25, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against four Venezuelan governors connected to former President Maduro’s “illegitimate regime.” According to OFAC, the sanctions, taken pursuant to Executive Order 13692, designate the individuals for engaging in “endemic corruption” and allegedly “blocking the delivery of critical humanitarian aid.” As a result, any assets or interests therein belonging to the identified individuals—along with any entities directly or indirectly owned 50 percent or more by such individuals—subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also prohibited generally from dealing with any such property or interests. In addition, OFAC refers financial institutions to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network advisories FIN-2017-A006 and FIN-2017-A003 for further information concerning the use of the U.S. financial system and real estate market by Venezuelan government agencies and individuals to launder corrupt proceeds.
See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
On January 22, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued new guidance on areas member firms should consider when seeking to improve their compliance, supervisory, and risk management programs. The 2019 FINRA Risk Monitoring and Examination Priorities Letter (2019 Priorities Letter) examines both new priorities as well as areas of ongoing concern, including the adequacy of firms’ cybersecurity programs. FINRA notes, however, that the 2019 Priorities Letter does not repeat topics previously addressed in prior letters, and advises member firms that it will continue to review ongoing obligations for compliance. Topics FINRA plans to focus on in the coming year include:
- Firms’ use of regulatory technology to help compliance efforts become “more efficient, effective, and risk-based.” FINRA will work with firms to understand risks and concerns related to supervision and governance systems, third party vendor management, and safeguarding customer data;
- Supervision of digital assets, including coordinating with the SEC to review how firms determine whether a given digital asset is a security and whether firms are implementing adequate controls and supervisions related to digital assets, such as complying with anti-money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act rules and regulations;
- Assessment of firms’ compliance with FinCEN’s Customer Due Diligence rule, which requires firms to identify beneficial owners of legal entity customers (as previously covered by InfoBytes here); and
- Financial risks, including credit risks, funding and liquidity planning.
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.
On December 4, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued Notice 2018-1 announcing a further extension of time for certain Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) filings in light of FinCEN’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) published March 10, 2016. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the 2016 NPR here.) Specifically, one of the proposed amendments seeks to “expand and clarify the exemptions for certain U.S. persons with signature or other authority over foreign financial accounts,” but with no financial interest, as outlined in FinCEN Notice 2017-1 issued December 22, 2017. FinCEN noted that because the proposal has not been finalized, it is extending the filing due date to April 15, 2020 for individuals who previously qualified for a filing due date extension under Notice 2017-1. All other individuals must submit FBAR filings by April 15, 2019.
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.
- Buckley Webcast: Maintaining privilege in cross-border internal investigations
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "The state of the BSA 2019: What’s working, what’s not, and how to improve it" at the West Coast Anti Money-Laundering Forum
- Buckley Webcast: The future of the Community Reinvestment Act
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Buckley Webcast: Amendments to the CFPB's proposed debt collection
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: State and SAFE Act licensing requirements for banks
- John C. Redding to discuss "TCPA compliance in the era of mobile" at the Auto Finance Risk Summit
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium