Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On January 9, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled, “Combating Money Laundering and Other Forms of Illicit Finance: Opportunities to Reform and Strengthen BSA Enforcement” to discuss anti-money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act (AML/BSA) enforcement and compliance. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) opened the hearing by stating that Congress and financial regulators must examine and address “decades-old” Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering requirements in order “to sharpen the focus, sustainability and enforcement of a modernized, more efficient U.S. counter-threat-finance architecture.” During the hearing, the Committee stressed the need to move towards a more targeted, strengthened AML framework so that banks, law enforcement, and regulators can focus on specific threats such as the financing of terrorism and sanctions evasions.
The three witnesses offered numerous insights related to reforming AML/BSA enforcement and regulatory structures, including: (i) establishing an approach that would utilize and track intelligence and analysis rather than focusing primarily on quantifiable metrics; (ii) increasing inter-agency coordination and improving information sharing between financial institutions and regulators, and among financial institutions themselves; (iii) recognizing the importance of law enforcement participation, specifically related to the sharing of suspicious activity reports; (iv) encouraging the participation of entities outside of the banking sector, such as persons involved in real estate or those acting as proxies for financial system access; (v) supporting beneficial ownership legislation for companies formed in the United States; and (v) understanding the ways in which financial institutions are addressing the anonymity of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. The witnesses were:
- Mr. Dennis Lormel, President and CEO, DML Associates and former Chief, FBI Financial Crimes Program (testimony);
- Mr. Greg Baer, President, The Clearing House Association (testimony); and
- Ms. Heather Lowe, Legal Counsel and Director of Government Affairs, Global Financial Integrity (testimony).
On January 8, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) published its Annual Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter (2018 Letter), which focused on several broad issues within the securities industry, including improving the examination program to “implement a risk-based framework designed to better align examination resources to the risk profile of  member firms.” As previously covered in InfoBytes, last July FINRA360 (a comprehensive self-evaluation and organizational improvement initiative) prompted the organization to announce plans currently underway to enhance operations by consolidating its existing enforcement teams into a single unit. In the 2018 Letter, FINRA announced ongoing efforts to work with member firms to understand the risks and benefits of fintech innovation such as blockchain technology, as well as the impact initial coin offerings (ICOs) and digital currencies have on broker-dealers.
Additional areas of regulatory and examination focus for FINRA in 2018 will include: (i) fraudulent activities and suspicious activity report filing requirements; (ii) business continuity planning; (iii) protection and verification of customer assets, including whether firms have implemented adequate controls and supervision methods along with measuring the effectiveness of cybersecurity programs; (iv) anti-money laundering monitoring and surveillance resources and policies and procedures; and (v) the role firms and other registered representatives play when effecting transactions in cryptocurrencies and ICOs—specifically with regard to the supervisory, compliance and operational infrastructure firms implement to “ensure compliance with relevant federal securities laws and regulations and FINRA rules.”
On January 4, the OCC issued a consent order assessing a $70 million civil money penalty against a national bank for failing to comply with the agency’s 2012 cease and desist consent order related to Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) deficiencies. The 2012 order cited the bank for, among other things, failing to file suspicious activity reports in a timely manner and weaknesses in controls related to its correspondent banking from deposit capture/international cash letter instrument activity. According to the OCC, the $70 million civil money penalty results from the bank’s failure “to complete corrective actions to address BSA/AML compliance issues as required by the  order.”
On December 21, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) entered into a consent order with a Korean bank and its New York branch to resolve issues regarding alleged deficiencies in the branch’s Bank Secrecy Act and other anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance and risk management. The alleged deficiencies were discovered during three examinations between 2014-2016 by NYDFS and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. According to the consent order, among other things, the branch failed to maintain adequate transaction monitoring and suspicious activity reporting (SAR), lacked compliance staff with proper BSA/AML background experience, and lacked adequate BSA/AML and OFAC risk assessments.
The Korean bank and its branch are required to pay an $11 million civil money penalty, and in addition must submit the following documentation (i) a BSA/AML compliance program; (ii) a customer due-diligence program; (iii) a SAR program; (iv) a revised internal audit program; and (v) a plan to enhance oversight of the branch’s BSA/AML compliance requirements. The Korean bank and branch are also required to submit quarterly reports for two years with updates on the branch’s compliance progress.
On December 4, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced the release of the “FinCEN Exchange” program, which establishes regular briefings between FinCEN, law enforcement, and financial institutions to share high-priority information regarding potential national security threats and illicit financial transactions. Although private sector participation in the program is voluntary, FinCEN encourages involvement because the briefings may help financial institutions better identify risks and incorporate appropriate information into Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs). In addition, FinCen’s receipt of information will support its efforts to combat financial crimes, including money laundering.
The CDD Rule became effective on July 11, 2016, and member firms must comply by May 11, 2018. FINRA advises members firms to consult the CDD Rule, along with FinCEN's related FAQs, to ensure AML program compliance.
FinCEN Issues $8 Million Penalty to California Club Card for Willful Violation of Anti-Money Laundering Controls
On November 17, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that it had assessed an $8 million civil money penalty against a California card club company for “willfully violating” the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) from 2009 to 2017. According to FinCEN, the company failed to establish and maintain an operational anti-money laundering program and failed to detect and timely report many suspicious transactions. FinCEN asserts that during the eight-year period, the company failed to file any Suspicious Activity Reports regarding loan sharking and other criminal activities being conducted through the company that were the subject of a 2011 state and federal law enforcement raid. Additionally, the company allegedly failed to implement sufficient internal controls to monitor risks associated with gaming practices that allowed customers to co-mingle and pool bets with anonymity.
The penalty assessment does not reflect consent by the company, and the company may elect to contest the penalty by not paying within the allotted time period.
SEC Reaches $3.5 Million Settlement With Broker-Dealer Over Failure to File Suspicious Activity Reports
On November 13, the SEC announced it has reached a settlement in an administrative proceeding against a broker-dealer firm for allegedly willful violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act, including the firm’s failure to file, or timely file, at least 50 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) with the Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN) from approximately March 2012 through June 2013. As the SEC Order notes, Bank Secrecy Act regulations require a broker-dealer to file a SAR if it knows, suspects or has reason to suspect that a transaction of a certain minimum or aggregated amount involved funds derived from illegal activity or if the transaction was conducted to disguise funds derived from illegal activities. Other factors requiring a broker-dealer to file a SAR include the absence of any business or apparent lawful purpose for the transaction or if the transaction is to facilitate criminal activity.
When deciding whether to accept the firm’s settlement offer, the SEC considered voluntary remedial efforts undertaken by the firm, including the fact that the firm retained a third-party anti-money laundering (AML) compliance company to conduct a review of some of the firm’s SAR investigations. Under the terms of the settlement, the firm voluntarily agreed to, among other things, conduct a review of its AML policies and procedures for the identification, evaluation and reporting of suspicious activity related to firm accounts; and provide additional training to staff responsible for conducting investigations and filing SARs. Additionally, the firm was assessed a civil money penalty of $3.5 million.
On October 31, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory to financial institutions to warn of the potential for fraudulent activity related to recent disaster relief efforts. The advisory cautions financial institutions to pay particularly close attention to benefits fraud, charities fraud, and cyber-related fraud. Accordingly, it lists several red flags to assist in spotting these fraudulent schemes, including, among others:
- The cashing or depositing of multiple emergency assistance checks by the same individual;
- The payee organization having a name similar to, but not identical to, a well-known or reputable charity; or
- The use of money transfer services to receive donations.
The advisory also reminds financial institutions to file a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) if there is reason to believe any fraudulent activity may be taking place.
Find more InfoBytes disaster relief coverage here.
CFPB, Treasury, and FinCEN Release Memorandum Emphasizing Financial Institutions’ Role in Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation
On August 30, the CFPB, Treasury Department, and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (the agencies) issued a joint memorandum concerning elder financial exploitation (EFE). The agencies note that EFE—which is defined as “the illegal or improper use of an older person’s funds, property or assets”—has become the most common form of elder abuse in the U.S. The Memorandum on Financial Institution and Law Enforcement Efforts to Combat Elder Financial Exploitation emphasizes that financial institutions can play a key role in detecting, responding to, and preventing EFE, encourages collaboration with law enforcement and local adult protective service agencies to facilitate the timely response to reports, and outlines guidance relating to the filing of suspicious activity reports (SARs). According to the memorandum, “SARs can play an important role in the fight against EFE by providing information and references to any supporting documentation that can trigger an investigation, support an ongoing investigation, or identify previously unknown subjects and entities.” The agencies cautioned, however, that “access to SARs and their use is restricted under federal law” and that law enforcement agencies should contact FinCEN for assistance in SAR-related inquiries.
On August 18, the OCC released a list of new enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and institution-affiliated parties as well as a list of existing enforcement actions that were terminated recently. The actions include cease and desist orders, civil money penalties, removal/prohibition orders and restitution orders.
Cease and Desist Order. On July 18, the OCC issued a consent order against a Florida-based bank for deficiencies related to its Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) rules and regulations. The consent order, among other things, requires the bank to: (i) appoint a compliance committee responsible for ensuring the bank adheres to the order; (ii) appoint a BSA officer who will “ensure compliance with the requirements of the [BSA] . . . and regulations of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)”; (iii) acquire an independent third-party consultant to conduct a formal written assessment of the bank’s BSA oversight infrastructure to determine BSA/Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliance; (iv) review and update a comprehensive BSA/AML compliance action plan and monitoring system, including implementing processes to timely identify and analyze suspicious activity and file suspicious activity reports (SARs); (v) create a comprehensive training program for “appropriate operational and supervisory personnel to ensure their awareness of their specific assigned responsibilities for compliance with” the BSA; (vi) develop policies and procedures related to the collection of customer due diligence and enhanced due diligence; (vii) monitor accounts for “high-risk customers/transactions”; (viii) implement an independent BSA/AML audit program and written risk assessment program; and (ix) conduct a “Look-Back” plan to determine whether suspicious activity was timely identified and reported by the bank and whether additional SARs should be filed for unreported suspicious activity. The bank, while agreeing to the terms of the consent order, has not admitted or denied any wrongdoing.
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable