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Recently, the Federal Reserve Board and the OCC issued reports pursuant to Section 367 of the Dodd-Frank Act generally detailing the health of Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) and the agencies’ efforts taken to assist MDIs as the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately affected low- and moderate-income communities and racial and ethnic minorities. The Fed’s report, “Promoting Minority Depository Institutions,” discussed, among other things, extra steps taken by the agency to support and assist MDIs over the past year, which included conducting individualized outreach on several topics like how to access the discount window and the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility (covered by InfoBytes here and here). The report also examined efforts taken by the Fed to preserve and promote MDIs through its Partnership for Progress program—“a national outreach effort to help MDIs confront unique business-model challenges, cultivate safe banking practices, and compete more effectively in the marketplace”—and covered the Fed’s unanimous approval last September to approve an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act (covered by InfoBytes here).
The OCC outlined actions taken to preserve and promote MDIs in its “2020 Annual Report,” including the launch of the Roundtable for Economic Access and Change known as Project REACh (covered by InfoBytes here). OCC subject matter experts also provided regulatory technical assistance to MDIs on topics including safety and soundness, cybersecurity, compliance with Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering requirements, and current expected credit loss accounting methodology, among others. The OCC also noted that despite a seven-basis-points drop on the average return on assets for MDIs through the pandemic, the health of those institutions “remained satisfactory.”
On June 30, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced the completion of a report on whether to establish a process for issuing no-action letters in response to inquiries concerning the application of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and other anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism laws to specific conduct, “including a request for a statement as to whether FinCEN or any relevant Federal functional regulator intends to take an enforcement action with respect to such conduct.” As required pursuant to Section 6305 the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (included as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 and covered by InfoBytes here), FinCEN submitted its no-action letter assessment to Congress. The assessment involved consultation with the Attorney General and other entities including the federal functional regulators, state bank and credit union supervisors, and other federal agencies.
The agency analyzed various issues when conducting its assessment, including “whether a formal no-action process would help to mitigate or accentuate illicit finance risks in the United States.” Among other things, the report concluded that the majority of the consulting parties agreed that FinCEN should implement a no-action letter policy. “The primary benefits identified by those in favor of a no-action letter process are that it could promote a robust and productive dialogue with the public, spur innovation among financial institutions, and enhance the culture of compliance and transparency in the application and enforcement of the BSA,” FinCEN stated. According to FinCEN acting Director Michael Mosier, the agency concluded “that a no-action letter process would be a useful complement to its current forms of regulatory guidance and relief.” The agency stated it intends to undertake a future rulemaking “subject to resource limitations and competing priorities” to establish a process for issuing no-action letters that will supplement its current forms of regulatory guidance and relief. However, FinCEN noted that the no-action letter process would be most effective and workable if it were limited to the agency’s exercise of its own enforcement authority, instead of also addressing other regulators’ exercise of their own enforcement authorities.
On June 30, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued the first government-wide priorities for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) policy (AML/CFT Priorities) pursuant to the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (AML Act). The AML/CFT Priorities were established in consultation with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, SEC, CFTC, IRS, state financial regulators, law enforcement, and national security agencies, and highlight key threat trends as well as informational resources to assist covered institutions manage their risks and meet their obligations under laws and regulations designed to combat money laundering and counter terrorist financing. According to the AML/CFT Priorities, the most significant AML/CFT threats currently facing the U.S. (in no particular order) are corruption, cybercrime, domestic and international terrorist financing, fraud, transnational criminal organization activity, drug trafficking organization activity, human trafficking and human smuggling, and proliferation financing. FinCEN further noted it will update the AML/CFT Priorities to highlight new or evolving threats at least once every four years as required under the AML Act, and issued a separate statement providing additional clarification for covered institutions.
Separately, the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, OCC, state bank and credit union regulators, and FinCEN also issued a joint statement providing clarity for banks on the AML/CFT Priorities. The statement emphasized that the publication of the AML/CFT Priorities “does not create an immediate change to Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requirements or supervisory expectations for banks.” Rather, within 180 days of the establishment of the AML/CFT Priorities, FinCEN will promulgate regulations, as appropriate, in consultation with the federal functional regulators and relevant state financial regulators. The federal banking agencies noted that they intend to revise their BSA regulations as needed to address how the AML/CFT priorities will be incorporated into BSA requirements for banks, adding that banks will not be required to incorporate the AML/CFT Priorities into their risk-based BSA compliance programs until the effective date of the final revised regulations. However, banks may choose to begin considering how they intend to incorporate the AML/CFT Priorities, “such as by assessing the potential related risks associated with the products and services they offer, the customers they serve, and the geographic areas in which they operate.” Moreover, the statement confirmed that federal and state examiners will not examine banks for the incorporation of the AML/CFT Priorities into their risk-based BSA programs until the final revised regulations take effect.
On June 21, the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council (FFIEC) published updated versions of four sections of the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) Examination Manual (Manual), which provides examiners with instructions for assessing a bank or credit union’s BSA/AML compliance program and compliance with BSA regulatory requirements. The revisions can be identified by a 2021 date label on the FFIEC BSA/AML InfoBase and include the following updated sections: International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments Reporting, Purchase and Sale of Monetary Instruments Recordkeeping, Reports of Foreign Financial Accounts, and Special Measures. The FFIEC notes 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.” In addition, the Manual itself does not establish requirements for financial institutions as these requirements are found in applicable statutes and regulations. (See also FDIC FIL-12-2021 and OCC Bulletin 2021-10.) As previously covered by InfoBytes, in February the FFIEC updated the following sections of the Manual: Assessing Compliance with Bank Secrecy Act Regulatory Requirements, Customer Identification Program, Currency Transaction Reporting, and Transactions of Exempt Persons.
On June 24, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) honored the recipients of its 2021 Law Enforcement Awards Program, which recognizes agencies that use Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) data provided by financial institutions to successfully pursue and prosecute criminal investigations. The awards were presented in eight different categories related to: (i) Covid-19 fraud; (ii) cyber threats; (iii) transnational organized crime; (iv) transnational security threats; (v) state and local law enforcement; (vi) third-party money launderers; (vii) a suspicious activity review team; and (viii) significant fraud. Awards work included investigation into Paycheck Protection Program fraud that resulted in the seizure of case over $3 million, seizure of over $47 million dollars in narcotics proceeds, and seizure of 300 cryptocurrency accounts, among other work. FinCEN acting Director Michael Mosier stated that “[t]he law enforcement work that we recognize today highlights both the importance of an effective partnership between FinCEN, financial institutions, and our law enforcement agencies, and the value of BSA reporting in protecting the American people from fraud, cybercrime, and the illicit finance threats confronting our nation.”
On May 25, the Nebraska governor approved LB 649, the Nebraska Financial Innovation Act, which creates a bank charter for companies that hold cryptocurrencies. The new act defines “digital asset depository institutions” as banks or financial institutions that hold certain digital assets, and will allow existing state-chartered banks to establish areas focused on cryptocurrency services. New businesses will also be able to gain a state banking charter as digital asset depositories. The act provides, among other things, that “at all times, a digital asset depository shall maintain unencumbered liquid assets denominated in United States dollars valued at not less than one hundred percent of the digital assets in custody” and that “compliance with federal and state laws, including, but not limited to, know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering rules and the federal Bank Secrecy Act, is critical to ensuring the future growth and reputation of the blockchain and technology industries as a whole.”
On May 26, the OCC announced a series of examiner-led virtual workshops for the boards of directors of community national banks and federal savings associations. The workshops will focus on emerging issues regarding compliance risk, and will provide training and guidance on implementing effective compliance risk management programs, as well as guidance on regulations such as the Bank Secrecy Act and ECOA. A schedule of the upcoming workshops is available here.
On April 29, the FDIC’s technology lab, FDiTech, announced that it will host a series of virtual “office hours” to hear from a variety of stakeholders in the business of banking concerning current and evolving technological innovations. The office hours will be hour-long, one-on-one sessions that will provide insight into the contributions that innovation has made in reshaping banks and enabling regulators to manage their oversight efficiently. According to the FDIC, “FDiTech seeks to evaluate and promote the adoption of innovative and transformative technologies in the financial services sector and to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and stability of U.S. banking operations, services, and products; to support access to financial institutions, products, and services; and to better serve consumers.” FDiTech’s goal is to contribute to the transformation of banking by supporting “the adoption of technological innovations through increased collaboration with market participants.” In the first series of office hour sessions, the FDIC and FDiTech are seeking participants’ outlook on artificial intelligence and machine learning related to: (i) automation of back office processes; (ii) Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering compliance; (iii) credit underwriting decisions; and (iv) cybersecurity.
FDiTech anticipates hosting approximately 15 one-hour sessions each quarter. Interested parties seeking to participate in these sessions must contact the FDIC by May 24.
On April 15, the OCC released a list of recent enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and individuals currently and formerly affiliated with such entities. Included among the actions is a March consent order against a Colorado-based bank, which requires the bank to waive any and all rights to the issuance of a Notice of Charges. According to the order, the Bank entered into a Formal Agreement in May 2016 for engaging in “certain unsafe and unsound practices related to the Bank’s capital, strategic planning, corporate governance, credit administration, trust administration, and Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering compliance program.” In addition, as a result of this order, the Bank is in “troubled condition,” as set forth in 12 C.F.R. § 5.51(c)(7)(ii), unless otherwise informed in writing by the OCC.
On April 14, the DOJ unsealed an indictment charging two defendants with allegedly failing to maintain anti-money laundering (AML) controls, failing to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) with the Department of Treasury, and owning and operating an unlicensed, unregistered money transmitting business in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). According to the DOJ, the defendants allegedly conducted high-risk transactions through their unlicensed money transmitting and money service business via a New York credit union, “caus[ing] the transfer of more than $1 billion in high-risk transactions, including hundreds of millions of dollars originating from foreign jurisdictions.” The DOJ alleged that while the defendants represented to financial institutions that they were aware of the risks associated with the high-risk business and would conduct the required, appropriate BSA/AML oversight, one of the defendants “willfully failed to implement and maintain the requisite [AML] programs or conduct oversight required to detect, identify, and report suspicious transactions.” The defendants have been charged with failure to maintain an AML program, failure to file SARs, and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. The indictment seeks forfeiture of any property constituting, or derived from, proceeds obtained directly or indirectly as a result of the alleged offenses.
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “Fair lending update” at the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association Operational and Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Justice for all: Achieving racial equity through fair lending” at CBA Live
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss “On the horizon for CRA modernization” at CBA Live
- APPROVED Webcast: Strategy & Technology: A dynamic duo for successful regulatory exams
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss “Primer on cross-border prosecutions in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico for U.S. criminal lawyers” at a New York City Bar Association webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “State law regulatory and enforcement trends” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute