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On May 26, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced it will host a special Innovations Hours Program in September “focusing on the important role of privacy-preserving principles in developing technical solutions that enhance financial services innovation while countering illicit activity and national security risks that undermine the integrity and opportunity of the U.S. financial system.” Fintech and regulatory technology (regtech) companies, venture capital firms, and financial institutions interested in providing a demonstration should highlight how their innovative solutions work and how these solutions “may support private- and public-sector efforts to enhance financial integrity, while protecting national security and personal privacy.” Interested companies should submit requests here no later than July 23. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Innovation Hours Program was announced in 2019 to provide opportunities for fintech/regtech companies and financial institutions to showcase new and emerging approaches to combating money laundering and terrorist financing and to demonstrate how financial institutions could use such technologies.
On May 5, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to FinCEN’s Policy Division urging the implementation of a new company ownership database as a result of sweeping new anti-money laundering legislation. As previously covered in Infobytes, FinCen issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) in March seeking comments on a range of issues related to the implementation of the beneficial ownership information requirements under the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), which is included within the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2021, enacted in January as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. The Senators stress that “FinCEN should ensure that authorized users, including law enforcement and national security officials, and financial institutions with customer consent, have early, timely, and full access to beneficial ownership information.” The letter also notes that the passing of the CTA “represents perhaps the most important anti-money laundering reform of the past decade. Despite the legislative success, this achievement can only be realized if the system works in practice.” The letter requests FinCEN to promptly execute a straightforward, efficient, and effective system.
On April 29, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) reissued the renewal of its Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs). The GTOs require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies that pay “all cash” (i.e., the transaction does not involve external financing) for residential real estate in the 12 major metropolitan areas covered by the orders. The renewed GTOs are identical to the November 2020 GTOs (covered by InfoBytes here). The purchase amount threshold for the beneficial ownership reporting requirement remains set at $300,000 for residential real estate purchased in the covered areas. The GTOs do not require reporting for purchases made by legal entities that are U.S. publicly-traded companies.
The renewed GTOs take effect May 5 and end October 31, and cover certain counties within the following areas: Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.
FinCEN FAQs regarding GTOs are available here.
On April 9, the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, and OCC, in consultation with FinCEN and the NCUA, issued a joint statement on the use of risk management principles outlined in the agencies’ “Supervisory Guidance on Model Risk Management” (known as the “model risk management guidance” or MRMG) as it relates to financial institutions’ compliance with Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) rules. While the joint statement is “intended to clarify how the MRMG may be a useful resource to guide a bank’s [model risk management] framework, whether formal or informal, and assist with BSA/AML compliance,” the agencies emphasized that the MRMG is nonbinding and does not alter existing BSA/AML legal or regulatory requirements or establish new supervisory expectations. In conjunction with the release of the joint statement, the agencies also issued a request for information (RFI) on the extent to which the principles discussed in the MRMG support compliance by financial institutions with BSA/AML and Office of Foreign Assets Control requirements. The agencies seek comments and information to better understand bank practices in these specific areas and to determine whether additional explanation or clarification may be helpful in increasing transparency, effectiveness, or efficiency. Comments on the RFI are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.
On April 1, FinCEN issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking comments on a range of issues related to the implementation of the beneficial ownership information requirements under the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CTA is included within the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2021, which was enacted in January as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. Among other things, the ANPRM requests comments on reporting procedures and standards for entities to submit information to FinCEN about their beneficial owners, as well as input on FinCEN’s implementation of related CTA provisions “that govern FinCEN’s maintenance and disclosure of beneficial ownership information subject to appropriate protocols.” According to FinCEN, the CTA amended the Bank Secrecy Act “to require corporations, limited liability companies, and similar entities to report certain information about their beneficial owners (the individual natural persons who ultimately own or control the companies).” The CTA also requires FinCEN to develop a secure, non-public database to house collected beneficial ownership information, and authorizes FinCEN to disclose beneficial ownership information to several categories of recipients, including federal law enforcement. Moreover, FinCEN is required to revise existing financial institution customer due diligence regulations concerning beneficial ownership to incorporate the new direct reporting of beneficial ownership information.
Comments on the ANPRM should be submitted by May 5.
On March 23, FinCEN convened a virtual FinCEN Exchange event with representatives from depository institutions, money services businesses, and law enforcement to discuss Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) filing statistics for certain low-dollar, voluntarily-filed suspicious activity reports containing a transaction nexus to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FinCEN launched the exchange program in 2017 to create opportunities for regular briefings between FinCEN, law enforcement, and financial institutions, and to assist financial institutions meet their BSA compliance obligations while filing “high-quality BSA reports,” which aid law enforcement in detecting, preventing, and prosecuting criminals and other bad actors.
On March 22, FinCEN Director Kenneth A. Blanco spoke at the Florida International Bankers Association AML Compliance Conference, and discussed the upcoming advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) concerning new beneficial ownership reporting requirements of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2021 (AML Act). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the AML Act was enacted in January as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, and made significant changes to BSA and AML laws. Included within the AML Act is the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), which defines a beneficial owner as an entity or individual “who, directly or indirectly, through any contract, arrangement, understanding, relationship, or otherwise. . .exercises substantial control over the entity” or “owns or controls not less than 25 percent of the ownership interests of the entity,” with limited exceptions. Blanco did not provide a timeline for when the ANPRM would be issued, but emphasized that implementing the AML Act is FinCEN’s “number one priority.” Blanco also noted, among other things, that FinCEN is taking steps to develop a secure database to house collected beneficial ownership information, and is currently in the process of developing the use and confidentiality protocols that will control access to the database.
On March 9, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory notice alerting financial institutions with existing Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) obligations about illicit activity associated with trade in antiquities and art. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (AML Act) was enacted in January as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, and made significant changes to BSA and AML laws, including amending the definition of “financial institution” under the BSA to include persons “engaged in the trade of antiquities.” Among other things, FinCEN’s advisory notice updates financial institutions on AML Act measures related to the regulation of antiquities, noting in particular that the Department of Treasury, in coordination with the FBI, the U.S. Attorney General, and Homeland Security, “will perform a study of the facilitation of money laundering and the financing of terrorism through the trade in works of art.” The notice further warns financial institutions that crimes related to the trade of antiquities “may involve their institution” and could include the “sale of stolen or counterfeit objects,” as well as money laundering and sanctions violations. The advisory notice also provides suspicious activity report filing instructions related to trade in antiquities and art.
On March 11, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory identifying updates to the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) list of jurisdictions with strategic anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) and counter-proliferation financing deficiencies. The advisory notes that in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, FATF “prioritized its review by focusing on jurisdictions with expired or expiring action plan deadlines,” and provided jurisdictions identified under “increased monitoring” the option to provide a status report. FinCEN’s advisory reminds members that its February 2020 statement High-Risk Jurisdictions Subject to a Call for Action remains in effect and urges “all jurisdictions to impose countermeasures on Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to protect the international financial system from significant strategic deficiencies in their AML/CFT regimes.” The advisory also notes that last month FATF updated its Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring document, adding Burkina Faso, Cayman Islands, Morocco, and Senegal. Further, the advisory provides AML program risk assessment considerations and suspicious activity report filing guidance.
On February 24, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory alerting financial institutions to potential fraud and other financial crimes targeting Covid-19 economic impact payments (EIP). The advisory is based on FinCEN’s analysis of Covid-19 related information obtained from Bank Secrecy Act data, public reporting, and law enforcement partners, and outlines potential methods of EIP fraud, associated red flags, and information for reporting suspicious activity related to such fraud. According to FinCEN, U.S. authorities have detected a wide range of EIP-related fraud, including (i) fraudulent, altered, or counterfeit checks; (ii) theft of EIPs; (iii) phishing schemes using EIPs as a lure, in which emails, letters, phone calls, and text messages are used by fraudsters in order to obtain personal information such as account numbers and passwords; and (iv) private companies with control over a person’s finances that seize a person’s EIP for wage garnishment or debt collection and do not return the inappropriately-seized payment.
FinCEN also issued a notice for filing suspicious activity reports (SAR) related to Covid-19. The notice consolidates filing instructions and key terms for fraudulent activities, crimes, and cyber/ransomware attacks related to the pandemic. FinCEN reminded financial institutions to consult previously issued advisories and notices to access additional SAR filing instructions and other Covid-19-related advisories and alerts (available here).