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Amended AML Regulations June 10, 2020 – Redlined Versions

The following red-lined versions have been created to reflect final amendments to Canadian anti-money laundering (AML) regulations published in the Canada Gazette on June 10, 2020.  Amendments to the Cross-border Currency and Monetary Instruments Reporting Regulations will come into force on June 1, 2020. All other amendments will come into force on June 1, 2021. We have created industry specific blogs to make understanding the changes easier, which are located here.

Redlined versions of all the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Regulations are listed below for download.

These documents are not official versions of the regulations. Official versions can be found on the Government of Canada’s Justice Laws Website.

Regulations Amending the Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Made Under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act

Please click the link below for downloadable PDF file.

Regulations Amending the Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Made Under the Proceeds of Crime July 2019 – Redlined_June 2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Regulations

Please click the links below for downloadable pdf files.
PCMLTF_July_2019_Redlined_Full_July_2019 – Redlined_June 2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Suspicious Transaction Reporting Regulations

Please click the links below for downloadable pdf files.
PCMLTF_Suspicious_Transaction_Reporting_Regulations_July_2019 – Redlined_June 2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Registration Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable PDF file.
PCMLTF_Registration_Regulations_July_2019 – Redlined_June 2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable pdf file.
PCMLTF_Administrative_Monetary_Penalties_Regulations_July_2019 – Redlined_June 2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Cross-Border Currency and Monetary Instruments Reporting Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable pdf file.
PCMLTF_Cross-Border_Currency_and_Monetary_Instruments_Reporting_Regulations_July_2019 – Redlined_June 2020

Need a Hand?

Whether you need to figure out if you’re a dealer in virtual currency, to put a compliance program in place, or to evaluate your existing compliance program, we can help. You can get in touch using our online form, by emailing info@outliercanada.com, or by calling us toll-free at 1-844-919-1623.

Regulations for Dealers in Virtual Currency – June 2020

Effective June 1, 2020, entities engaged in Virtual Currency activities are considered as Money Services Businesses (MSBs), and are required to register with FINTRAC and comply with MSB obligations under amendments made to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) that were released on July 19, 2019. Those amendments also require, as of June 1, 2021, reporting large virtual currency transactions. The Department of Finance has since made further amendments to those amended regulations, published in the Canada Gazette on June 10, 2020.

To make reading these changes a little easier, we have created a redlined version of the regulations, with the most recent changes showing as tracked changes, which can be found here.

Dealers in Virtual Currency

It’s important to start by understanding what’s being regulated. This is best done by considering some of the definitions that have been added to the regulation.

fiat currency means a currency that is issued by a country and is designated as legal tender in that country. (monnaie fiduciaire)

funds means

(a) cash and other fiat currencies, and securities, negotiable instruments or other financial instruments that indicate a title or right to or interest in them; or

(b) a private key of a cryptographic system that enables a person or entity to have access to a fiat currency other than cash.

For greater certainty, it does not include virtual currency. (fonds)

virtual currency means

(a) a digital representation of value that can be used for payment or investment purposes that is not a fiat currency and that can be readily exchanged for funds or for another virtual currency that can be readily exchanged for funds; or

(b) a private key of a cryptographic system that enables a person or entity to have access to a digital representation f value referred to in paragraph (a). (monnaie virtuelle)

virtual currency exchange transaction means an exchange, at the request of another person or entity, of virtual currency for funds, funds for virtual currency or one virtual currency for another. (opération de change en monnaie virtuelle)

In terms of who will be regulated, businesses (whether or not the business is incorporated) that conduct transactions on behalf of their customers, including:

  • Exchanging digital currencies for fiat currencies; and
  • Exchanging between virtual currencies.

Current Obligations

Client Identification:

Dealers in Virtual Currency must identify individuals and confirm the existence of entities when they:

  • Remit or transmit funds (see definition above) of $1,000 or more at the request of a customer;
  • Conduct a foreign exchange transaction of $3,000 or more;
  • Enter into an ongoing service agreement with a customer (conduct transactions for a customer that is an entity);
  • Conduct a large cash transaction; and
  • Must take reasonable measures to identify individuals who conduct or attempt to conduct a suspicious transaction.

As of June 2021, there will be an additional requirement to identify virtual currency exchange transactions valued at CAD 1,000. This will include exchanging fiat and virtual currency, as well as exchanges between virtual currencies.

Information on acceptable methods to identify clients can be found on FINTRAC’s website. 

Reporting:

For reporting, there are two important dates. By June 1, 2020, dealers in virtual currency will need to report the same types of transactions that MSBs are currently required to report. These are:

  • Electronic Funds Transfers: if you send or receive international electronic funds transfers (EFTs), including wires, valued at CAD 10,000 or more, by or on behalf of the same customer, it must be reported to FINTRAC within 5 working days.
  • Large Cash Transactions: if you receive cash (this means fiat in the form of bills and/or coins) valued at CAD 10,000 or more in the same 24-hour period, by or on behalf of the same customer, it must be reported to FINTRAC within 15 calendar days.
  • Suspicious Transactions: if there are “reasonable grounds to suspect” that a completed attempted transaction is related to money laundering or terrorist financing, it must be reported to FINTRAC “as soon as practicable” of the discovery of a fact that led you to determine that the transaction was suspicious.

FINTRAC defines “as soon as practicable” in its Glossary as follows:

A time period that falls in-between immediately and as soon as possible within which a suspicious transaction report (STR) be submitted to FINTRAC. In this context, the report must be completed promptly, taking into account the facts and circumstances of the situation. While some amount of delay is permitted, it must have a reasonable explanation. The completion and submission of the report should take priority over other tasks.

FINTRAC has released more specific guidance on what “measures” enable reporting entities to have “reasonable grounds to suspect”.

More information on suspicious transaction reporting can be found on FINTRAC’s website.

  • Terrorist Property: if you’re in possession of property (which includes funds and virtual currency) that belong to a terrorist or terrorist group, it must be reported without delay, and the property must be frozen. In addition to reporting to FINTRAC, these reports are also sent to the CSIS and RCMP – by fax. In order to know if customers fall into this category, it is important to screen against the United Nations Security Council consolidated list. We’ve worked with some friends on a tool to make this easier, which you can try here (use the code Free100 for a free trial).

If you are required to report transactions valued at CAD 10,000 or more in a 24-hour period, you must have a mechanism in place to detect reportable transactions which is described in your compliance documentation.

By June 1, 2021, a new report will be introduced:

  • Large Virtual Currency Transactions: if you receive virtual currency valued at CAD 10,000 or more in the same 24-hour period, by or on behalf of the same customer, it must be reported to FINTRAC within 5 working days.

Amendments to the Amendments

The amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) that were published in the Canada Gazette on June 10, 2020 create the following obligations for dealers in Virtual Currency:

Travel Rule

One of the most significant changes that will impact Virtual Currency Dealers as MSBs relates to a new requirement for records to be kept on all virtual currency transfers of CAD 1,000 or more.

The record must contain the following:

  1. include with the transfer, the name, address and, if any, the account number or other reference number of both the person or entity that requested the transfer and the beneficiary; and
  2. take reasonable measures to ensure that any transfer received includes the information referred to in paragraph (a) above.

Where the information required was not obtained, MSBs must have written risk-based policies and procedures for determining if the transaction should be suspended, rejected, or if another follow-up measure should be taken.

PEP

In addition to the existing requirement for MSBs to take reasonable measures to determine whether a client from whom they receive an amount of CAD 100,000 or more is a Politically exposed person (PEP), the amendments will require MSBs to make a PEP determination when they establish a business relationship with a client.

A reminder that a business relationship is defined as:

If a person or entity does not have an account with you, a business relationship is formed once you have conducted two transactions or activities for which you have to:

  • verify the identity of the individual; or
  • confirm the existence of the entity.

MSBs will also periodically need to take reasonable measures to determine whether a person with whom they have a business relationship is a PEP. We will have to await guidance from FINTRAC on this, but our guess is the frequency for determination will align to the frequency for customer information and identification updates.

Given the definition of a business relationship, we do not expect this requirement to be overly burdensome. If you currently conduct list screening, PEP screening could easily be added to that process. You are also able to ask the customer directly, while presenting the definition of a PEP, and record their response.

If a positive determination is made, the following records must be kept:

  1. the office or position, and the organization or institution, in respect of which the person is determined to be a politically exposed foreign person, a politically exposed domestic person or a head of an international organization, or a family member of, or a person who is closely associated with, one of those persons;
  2. the date of the determination
  3. the source, if known, of the person’s wealth;
  4. the risk rating; and
  5. the name of the member of senior management who reviewed the client, and the date the client was approved.

Other Relevant Blog Posts for Dealers in Virtual Currency

What’s happening in the VC community? 

Messaging Standard Overview

In October 2018, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) adopted changes to its Recommendations to explicitly clarify that they apply to financial activities involving virtual assets (VA), effectively expanding the scope of the Recommendations to apply to virtual asset service providers (VASPs) and other obliged entities that engage in or provide covered VA activities.

“There exists a need for VASPs to adopt uniform approaches and establish common standards to enable them to meet their obligations resulting from the FATF Recommendations as they apply to affected entities”.

The implementation of obligations such as the travel rule for virtual currency transactions, in the majority of cases, would require an accompanying technology. To tackle issues such as this, a cross-industry, cross-sectoral joint working group of technical experts was formed in December 2019 and a new technical standard developed by the group.  The Joint Working Group on interVASP Messaging Standards (JWG) was established  by three leading international industry associations representing VASPs:
Chamber of Digital Commerce
Global Digital Finance
International Digital Asset Exchange Association 

We will have to wait for FINTRAC guidance to see if such a standard is provided as an example.

More information on the working group can be found here.

To download a copy of the standard anonymously, use this link:

DOWNLOAD THE STANDARD

We’re Here To Help

If you would like assistance in updating your compliance program and processes, or have any questions related to the changes, please get in touch!

Amending the Amendments!

Background

Back on July 10, 2019, the highly anticipated final version of the amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) and its enacted regulations were published. However, on February 15, 2020, further proposed amendments to those amended regulations was published in the Canada Gazette. To make reading these changes a little easier, we have created a redlined version of the regulations, with new content showing as tracked changes, which can be found here.

The Regulatory Impact Statement for this round of proposed changes states the following: “The proposed amendments to the regulations would strengthen Canada’s AML/ATF Regime, align measures with international standards and level the playing field across reporting entities by applying stronger customer due diligence requirements and beneficial ownership requirements to designated non-financial businesses and professions (DNFBPs); modifying the definition of business relationship for the real estate sector; aligning customer due diligence measures for casinos with international standards; aligning virtual currency record-keeping obligations with international standards; clarifying the cross-border currency reporting program; clarifying a number of existing requirements; and making minor technical amendments”. The proposed amendments are expected to come into force on June 1, 2021.

As with all proposed changes, there is a comment period. This comment period is much shorter than the last one, at only 30 days. For anyone interested in commenting on the proposed changes, comments are to be addressed to Lynn Hemmings, Director General, Financial Crimes and Security Division, Financial Sector Policy Branch, Department of Finance, 90 Elgin Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G5 or email: fin.fc-cf.fin@canada.ca.

While these are proposed changes, guidance from FINTRAC related to the amendments to regulation would hopefully be seen ahead of the coming into force dates of the final version.

We have summarized what this could mean for your business below.

Money Services Businesses

PEP

The most significant proposed change for Money Services Businesses (MSB)s is related to Politically exposed persons (PEP) determinations. Currently, a PEP determination must be made for international EFTs of CAD 100,000 or more. The proposed regulations will require MSBs to make a PEP determination when the MSB enters into a business relationship with a person.

If you currently conduct list screening, PEP screening could easily be added to that process.

Dealers in Virtual Currency

Travel Rule

For dealers in virtual currency, there is an additional proposed requirement on top of the requirements that were published in the last round of AML changes.  The proposed amendments add the requirement for records to be kept for virtual currency transfers of CAD 1,000 or more.

The record must contain the following:

  1. include with the transfer, the name, address and, if any, the account number or other reference number of both the person or entity that requested the transfer and the beneficiary; and
  2. take reasonable measures to ensure that any transfer received includes the information referred to in paragraph (a) above.

If the information required is not obtained, a determination of whether the transaction should be suspended or rejected will need to be made.

Given the nature of virtual currency transfers, it will be interesting to see how this requirement plays out, as currently, there are no technology solutions (that we are aware of) that would solve for this.

A reminder that dealers in virtual currency will be considered MSBs as of June 1, 2020. Check out our blog post for a full list of regulatory requirements related to dealers in virtual currency.

Real Estate

Business Relationship

One of the most significant proposed changes for real estate developers, brokers and sale representatives is related to the definition of a business relationship. Currently, a business relationship is defined as:

If a person or entity does not have an account with you, a business relationship is formed once you have conducted two transactions or activities for which you have to:

  • verify the identity of the individual; or
  • confirm the existence of the entity.

The proposed amendments will change that definition for real estate developers, brokers and sale representatives to only one transaction.

For business relationships, a reporting entity must:

  • keep a record of the purpose and intended nature of the business relationship;
  • conduct ongoing monitoring of your business relationship with your client to:
    • detect any transactions that need to be reported as suspicious;
    • keep client identification and beneficial ownership information, as well as the purpose and intended nature records, up-to-date;
    • reassess your clients risk level based on their transactions and activities; and
    • determine if the transactions and activities are consistent with what you know about your client;
  • keep a record of the measures you take to monitor your business relationships and the information you obtain as a result.

We will have to wait for guidance to see how ongoing monitoring obligations applies to the real estate sector if this change takes effect.

PEP

The proposed amendments will require real estate developers, brokers and sale representatives to make a Politically exposed persons (PEP) determination when they enter into a business relationship (as defined above) with a client. In addition, they will also be required to take reasonable measures to determine whether a client from whom they receive an amount of CAD 100,000 or more is a PEP.

Beneficial Ownership

The proposed amendments will require real estate developers, brokers and sale representatives to comply with existing beneficial ownership requirements that apply to other reporting entities.

This means when identifying an entity, a reporting entity needs to collect the following for all Directors and individuals who own or control, directly or indirectly, 25% or more of the organization:

  • Their full legal name;
  • Their full home address; and
  • Their role and/or ownership stake in the organization.

Given the obligation is to obtain, rather than verify, such information, we do not expect this requirement to be overly burdensome for the real estate sector.

Dealers in Precious Metals and Stones

PEP

Dealers in Precious Metals and Stones (DPMS)s will be required to make a PEP determination when they enter into a business relationship with a client. In addition, a DPMS will be required to take reasonable measures to determine whether a person from whom they receive an amount of CAD 100,000 or more is a PEP.

A reminder that a business relationship is defined as:

If a person or entity does not have an account with you, a business relationship is formed once you have conducted two transactions or activities for which you have to:

  • verify the identity of the individual; or
  • confirm the existence of the entity.

Given the definition of a business relationship, we do not expect this requirement to be overly burdensome. If you currently conduct list screening, PEP screening could easily be added to that process.

Beneficial Ownership

The proposed amendments will required DPMSs to comply with existing beneficial ownership requirements that apply to other reporting entities.

This means when identifying an entity, a reporting entity needs to collect the following for all Directors and individuals who own or control, directly or indirectly, 25% or more of the organization:

  • Their full legal name;
  • Their full home address; and
  • Their role and/or ownership stake in the organization.

Given the obligation is to obtain, rather than verify, such information, we do not expect this requirement to be overly burdensome for the DPMS sector.

We’re Here To Help

If you would like assistance in updating your compliance program and processes, or have any questions related to the changes, please get in touch!

Regulations Amending the Regulations February 15, 2020- Redlined Versions

The following red-lined versions have been created to reflect the amendments to Canadian anti-money laundering (AML) regulations published in the Canada Gazette on February 15, 2020. You can also read our article “Amending the Amendments!” for a summary of the proposed changes by industry.

Redlined versions of all the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Regulations are listed below for download.

These documents are not official versions of the regulations. Official versions can be found on the Government of Canada’s Justice Laws Website.

Regulations Amending the Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Made Under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act

Please click the link below for downloadable PDF file.
Amending_the_Regulations_Amending_Certain_Regulations_Made_Under_the_Proceeds_of_Crime_July_2019 – Redlined_Feb_2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Regulations

Please click the links below for downloadable pdf files.
PCMLTF_July_2019_Redlined_Full_July_2019 – Redlined_Feb_2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Suspicious Transaction Reporting Regulations

Please click the links below for downloadable pdf files.
PCMLTF_Suspicious_Transaction_Reporting_Regulations_July_2019 – Redlined_Feb_2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Registration Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable PDF file.
PCMLTF_Registration_Regulations_July_2019 – Redlined_Feb_2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable pdf file.
PCMLTF_Administrative_Monetary_Penalties_Regulations_July_2019 – Redlined_Feb_2020

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Cross-Border Currency and Monetary Instruments Reporting Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable pdf file.
PCMLTF_Cross-Border_Currency_and_Monetary_Instruments_Reporting_Regulations_July_2019 – Redlined_Feb_2020

Need a Hand?
Whether you need to figure out if you’re a dealer in virtual currency, to put a compliance program in place, or to evaluate your existing compliance program, we can help. You can get in touch using our online form, by emailing info@outliercanada.com, or by calling us toll-free at 1-844-919-1623.

Are Your Business Relationship Records Ready for FINTRAC?

This article is focused on business relationships that are not account-based (which means that if you are a financial institution or a securities dealer that only conducts transactions with your customers in the context of the accounts that they hold with you, you can skip this one).

Over the past few months, I have assisted some of my clients with their Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) examinations.  While I cannot generally answer questions on my clients’ behalf during these meetings, I can help them prepare for the examination, understand what the examiner is asking for, and redirect them if they stray off track (provided that they have signed an Authorizing_or_Cancelling_a_Representative form). While the businesses examined were quite different in size and complexity, their examinations have been similar, particularly when it came to questions about business relationships.  

For certain types of reporting entities, including money services businesses (MSBs), real estate businesses, and dealers in precious metals and stones (DPMSs) (which are the focus of this article), during each on-site review, the FINTRAC examiner requested a list of all the “Business Relationships” for the review period. Certain information was requested, which was the same in each instance, and included the following:

  • The purpose and intended nature of the business relationship (sometimes called PINBR for short);
  • The risk rating;
  • The date the reporting entity entered into a business relationship with the customer; 
  • The records of any ongoing monitoring (or enhanced measures for high risk business relationships) that has been conducted; and 
  • The last time the customer information was reviewed/updated.

In most cases, this information was not requested in advance.  This meant that it needed to be provided to the examiner while the examiner was on-site (typically a single business day).  For some reporting entities, obtaining this information was not something that their recordkeeping systems were set up to do easily.

Quick Review – What is a Business Relationship?

The Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Regulations (PCMLTFR) defines a Business Relationship as:

Any relationship with a client, established by a person or entity, to conduct financial transactions or provide services related to those transactions and, as the case may be,

(a) If the client holds one or more accounts with that person or entity, all transactions and activities relating to those accounts; or

(b) If the client does not hold an account, only those transactions and activities in respect of which that person or entity is required to ascertain the identity of a person or confirm the existence of an entity under these Regulations.

If you’re not entirely certain what that means, FINTRAC’s guidance on Business Relationship Requirements provides additional clarification:

You enter into a Business Relationship when you conduct two or more transactions where you have to:

    1. ID an individual; or
    2. Confirm the existence of an organization.

Specifically, conducting the following transactions or activities that require you to identify an individual or confirm the existence of an entity:

  • Remittances or transmissions of $1,000 or more (for MSBs);
  • Foreign currency exchange of $3,000 or more (for MSBs);
  • Issuing or redeeming negotiable instruments of $3,000 or more (for MSBs);
  • Large cash transactions (for all reporting entity types);
  • Suspicious transactions and attempted suspicious transactions (for all reporting entity types);
  • Activities which trigger a receipt of funds record (for Real Estate);
  • Virtual currency exchange transactions of $1,000 or more (for MSBs as of June 1, 2020);
  • Large Virtual Currency Transactions Reports (for all reporting entities as of June 1, 2020); and
  • Activities which trigger the creation of a client information record (it’s probably worth mentioning here that these will also trigger a third party determination):
    • Entering into an ongoing service agreement with a customer that is an entity (for MSBs); and/or
    • Entering into a purchase or sale agreement (for Real Estate).

In its simplest form, a business relationship means that a client or customer has done two things that cause identification requirements to be triggered.

Business Relationship Recordkeeping & Monitoring

When you establish a Business Relationship with a customer, you have three things to do.  

First, determine and record the “purpose and intended nature” of the Business Relationship. Some examples provided in the FINTRAC guidance are: 

For MSBs:

  • Foreign exchange for travel or purchase of goods; 
  • Funds transfers for family support or purchase of goods; 
  • Buying/cashing money orders or traveller’s cheques; 

For Real Estate businesses:

  • Purchasing or selling residential property;
  • Purchasing or selling commercial property;
  • Purchase or selling land for commercial use;

For DPMSs:

  • Purchasing or selling jewellery;
  • Purchasing or selling precious metals (for example, gold, silver, platinum, or palladium); and
  • Purchasing or selling precious stones (for example, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, tanzanite, rubies, or alexandrite).

Next, you need to conduct ongoing monitoring of all Business Relationships, based on the level of risk.  This seems to be where the biggest stumbling blocks are for reporting entities. The purpose of ongoing monitoring is to ensure the following:

  • Detect any transactions that need to be reported as suspicious;
  • Keep identification and beneficial ownership information, as well as the purpose and intended nature records, up-to-date;
  • Reassess the risk level based on their transactions and activities; and 
  • Determine if the transactions make sense given the nature and purpose recorded.

It is not enough just to conduct the monitoring, you must be able to produce some type of record that proves that you’ve done the monitoring. The record should be specific about what was done, and what conclusions were drawn.

If there is something out of the ordinary, expect that the FINTRAC examiner will ask questions. For example, if a customer has indicated that the purpose and intended nature of the business relationship is “fund transfer for family support” but it is clear that payments are being made that are related to the purchase of goods, questions will be raised. It is expected that information about the purpose and intended nature of the business relationship is updated if it has changed – and that you will ask questions when the actual transaction patterns are different than what you expected.

It is this final step, keeping a record of the measures taken to monitor your business relationships and the information you obtain as a result, that is most crucial to successful examination results. 

The additional information collected about the customer is used to compare your expectations for that relationship, with the transactions that customer is conducting.  

Here are a few examples, broken down by industry:

MSBs

If the nature and purpose provided was foreign exchange for travel, does it make sense that the customer returns every other day with $2,700 in cash?   

DPMSs

If the nature and purpose provided was purchasing jewellery as a wedding gift, does it make sense that the customer returns every month on the same day to make a new purchase?

Real Estate

If the nature and purpose provided was the purchase of a first-time owner-occupied home, does it make sense that the customer purchases another owner-occupied home shortly after?  

In each of the scenarios above, it is quite clear that the activities don’t align with the nature and purpose of the business relationship collected. This doesn’t automatically make it suspicious, but certainly leaves some questions that need answering. When you question the customer about the discrepancy, be sure you’re taking notes.  This does not have to be a complete reiteration (though it can be), but simply a brief synopsis of the conversation, any additional information collected and/or adjustments made to the customer’s risk rating. It should be written in a way that would be clear to someone from outside of your business that is reading the notes two years later.

Recording these types of discussions is paramount to evidence that you’re meeting your ongoing monitoring obligations because, in the compliance world, if you can’t prove it… it never happened.

FINTRAC Exam Readiness Tool for Business Relationships

We’ve made a quick checklist to help you prepare for your FINTRAC examinations.

Question Response & Action Plan
Can I generate a list of my business relationships for the examination period?
Is there a risk rating recorded for each business relationship?
Do I have evidence of ongoing monitoring being conducted?
Do I have evidence of enhanced due diligence and enhanced transaction monitoring for high risk business relationships?
Do I have the date of when I entered in the business relationship with each customer?
Is there a record of the last time the customer information was reviewed and/or updated?

 

Need a Hand?

Outlier has created a FINTRAC Examination Preparation Package, and it can be downloaded for free here.  FINTRAC has also provided information on their assessment manual, which details the approach and methods it uses to conduct compliance examinations

For additional information, assistance, or a review of your FINTRAC Examination submission package (the information requested by FINTRAC for an examination), you can get in touch using our online form, by emailing info@outliercanada.com, or by calling us toll-free at 1-844-919-1623.  At Outlier, we firmly believe that good compliance is good business.

Dealers In Virtual Currencies Can Pre-Register With FINTRAC

Last week, the Canadian Federal anti–money laundering agency, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), announced that money services businesses (MSBs) dealing in virtual currencies will be allowed to voluntarily register in advance of becoming reporting entities. All dealers in virtual currency are expected to register with FINTRAC by June 1, 2020.

The process of registration is relatively straightforward, beginning with a pre-registration form. In order to complete pre-registration, you simply need to provide full business and contact information. There is no cost to register an MSB with FINTRAC, although we’ve heard of several scams claiming that there is a fee. We also suggest that before you hire someone to assist, you try to complete the form on your own. 

To read more on the full registration details and all obligations that will apply to dealers in virtual currency beginning June 1, 2020, check out our blog 2019 AML Regulation Highlights for Dealers in Virtual Currency.

We’re Here To Help

Whether you need to figure out if you’re a dealer in virtual currency, put a compliance program in place, or evaluate your existing compliance program, we can help. You can get in touch using our online form, by emailing info@outliercanada.com, or by calling us toll-free at 1-844-919-1623.

FINTRAC Identification Guidance

Background

On July 10th, 2019, the final amendments to Canada’s anti-money laundering (AML) regulations were published in the Canada Gazette.  One of the welcomed changes that came into force immediately upon publication was related to identification. On November 14th, 2019, FINTRAC published guidance related to “Methods to verify the identity of an individual and confirm the existence of a corporation or an entity other than a corporation.” This is good news considering the range of identification methods has been broadened, and a step forward in digital identification methods. The updated methods are designed to make it easier to identify customers that are not physically present.

As defined under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Regulations (PCMLTFR), reporting entities have to identify their customers in certain situations (specific information on when customers need to be identified is outlined in FINTRAC’s guidance on “When to identify individuals and confirm the existence of entities”). The identification guidance outlines ways to verify the identity of an individual, and how to identify corporations or entities other than corporations (such as a partnership).

Identification Methods For Individuals

There are three ways in which an individual can be identified:

  • Government-issued photo identification method;
  • Credit file method; and
  • Dual-process method.

Government-Issued Photo Identification Method

Under this method, an organization can use an authenticvalid and current government-issued photo identification document, issued by either a federal, provincial or territorial government in order to be used to verify the identity of an individual. Foreign government-issued photo identification can be accepted if it’s equivalent to a Canadian document such as those listed in the guidance.

The photo identification document used to verify identity must:

  • indicate the individual’s name;
  • include a photo of the individual;
  • include a unique identifying number; and
  • match the name and appearance of the individual being identified.

If a customer is physically present, an organization can authenticate an identification document by looking at the characteristics on the physical document such as security features.

If the customer is not physically present, the authentication of the identification document must be determined by using technology capable of assessing the document’s authenticity. The guidance makes it clear that it is not sufficient to view a person and an identification document through video conference or similar. Meaning, a selfie while holding your driver’s license is not sufficient for identification purposes.

Whatever method is selected by an organization, the process to authenticate a photo identification document, and how the organization will confirm that it is authentic, valid and current, must be documented.

Credit File Method

Under this method, an organization can use valid and current information from a Canadian credit file to identify an individual.

The Credit File must:

  • be from a Canadian credit bureau (credit files from foreign credit bureaus are not acceptable);
  • have been in existence for at least three years; and
  • match the name, address and date of birth that the individual provided.

To rely on a credit file, the search must be completed at the time an organization is verifying the individual’s identity, and can be completed via an automated system or the use of a third party vendor.

When using the Credit File method, organizations must keep a record of the following information:

  • the individual’s name;
  • the date they consulted or searched the credit file;
  • the name of the Canadian credit bureau or third party vendor holding the credit file; and
  • the individual’s credit file number.

The guidance clarifies that sometimes information found within the credit file may contain variations of the name or address provided by a customer. In these cases, it’s up to the organization to determine whether the information in the credit file is a match to the information collected from the individual.

Dual-Process Method

Under this method, an organization can use valid and current information from two reliable sources. Under the dual-process method, an organization can verify an individual’s identity by referring to any two of the following options:

  • information from a reliable source that includes the individual’s name and address;
  • information from a reliable source that includes the individual’s name and date of birth; or
  • information that includes the individual’s name and confirms that they have a deposit account, credit card or other loan account with a financial entity.

In order to qualify as reliable, the sources should be well-known and considered reputable. There must be two sources providing the information, and the information cannot come from the individual whose identity is being verified, nor can it come from the organization doing the verification. For example, reliable and independent sources can be the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels of government, crown corporations, financial entities or utility providers.

A Canadian credit file can be used as one of the two sources required to verify the identity of an individual. so long as the credit file has been in existence for at least six months.

The organization must keep a record of the following:

  • the individual’s name;
  • the date they verified the information;
  • the name of the two different sources that were used to verify the identity of the individual;
  • the type of information consulted (for example, utility statement, bank statement, marriage licence); and
  • the number associated with the information (for example, account number or if there is no account number, a number that is associated with the information, which could be a reference number or certificate number, etc.).

Identification Methods For Organizations

The guidance details how to confirm the existence of a corporation, or an organization that is not a corporation. This can be done by referring to a paper or electronic record that was obtained from a source that is accessible to the public such as:

  • For corporations:
    • its certificate of incorporation;
    • a certificate of active corporate status;
    • a record that has to be filed annually under provincial securities legislation; or
    • any other record that confirms the corporation’s existence, such as the corporation’s published annual report.
  • For organizations that are not corporations:
    • a partnership agreement;
    • articles of association; or
    • any other record that confirms its existence as a legal entity.

If an organization refers to a publicly accessible electronic record to confirm the existence of a corporation or of an entity other than a corporation, a record must be retained including the corporation/entity’s registration number and the source of the electronic version of the record. If a paper record is used, a copy should be retained. At a minimum, for all organization types, an organization must collect and keep a record of the following:

  • their full legal name;
  • the organization’s structure;
  • the organization’s principal business;
  • the organization’s physical address; and
  • information about the organization’s directors and beneficial owners.

Other Identification Considerations

The guidance details how a domestic or foreign affiliate, an agent or a mandatary can be used to verify the identify of a customer. If this method is used, it is important for organizations to remember that, legally, they are responsible for verifying a customer’s identity, even though they are relying on someone else to do it. Organizations should obtain the identification information from the other entity and have a written agreement in place requiring the entity doing the identification to provide the identification verification as soon as feasible.

The guidance details how to identify children under 12 years of age (organizations must verify the identity of a parent, guardian, or tutor) and how to identify children between the ages of 12 and 15. For this age range, organizations can verify identity by using one of the prescribed methods to verify an individual’s identity and where not possible, relying on certain  information from the child’s parent, guardian, or tutor, and information that includes the child’s name and date of birth.

The guidance also reminds organizations that while the personal information that they are collecting is protected by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), personal information that is required to be included in reporting to FINTRAC does not have to be disclosed to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. It is important that organizations remember that safeguarding is a key consideration for all personal information collected in the normal course of business.

Conclusion

The most significant change for identification standards is related to the Government-Issued Photo Identification Method. A wording change from “original” to “authentic”, that was found in the prior version of the regulations, now allows for scanned copies of documentation, so long as it can be authenticated. It is noteworthy that the guidance gives clarity to all methods that can be used. Where further clarity is warranted, organizations can contact FINTRAC for a policy position related to the identification guidance. This can be done free of charge by emailing guidelines-lignesdirectrices@fintrac-canafe.gc.ca. This can also be done on a no-names basis by a lawyer or consultant on your behalf.

We’re Here To Help

If you have questions related to the identification changes, or need help updating your identification processes, you can get in touch using the online form on our website, by emailing us at info@outliercanada.com, or by calling us toll-free at 1-844-919-1623.

2019 AML Regulation Highlights for Dealers in Virtual Currency

Back in June 2018, we published an article on proposed AML rules for dealers in Virtual Currency. On July 10th, 2019, updates to Canada’s anti-money laundering (AML) regulations were published in the Canada Gazette. There are three different “coming into force” dates (the dates on which the content of various updates become requirements for regulated entities). 

  • July 10, 2019: a small change in wording (from “original” to “authentic”) is good news for digital identification.
  • June 1, 2020: dealers in virtual currency must be registered as money services businesses (MSBs) and have AML compliance programs in place.
  • June 1, 2021: additional provisions, including reporting large virtual currency transactions.

This is a significant regulatory package with a lot of changes (the document is over 200 pages long). This article will cover the major points for dealers in virtual currency, but it’s important to remember that there is a lot of nuances and differences between business models. We recommend speaking to your local neighbourhood compliance geek about how to adapt to these changes (if you need a compliance geek, please get in touch).

It is also worth noting that tokens that are considered securities would not be considered virtual currencies. Securities and securities dealers were already regulated. If you’re not sure whether or not a token is a security, we recommend reaching out to a securities lawyer (if you need recommendations, please feel free to contact us). It is possible to be both a securities dealer and a dealer in virtual currencies, but if you are only looking for the changes pertinent to securities dealers, you will find those in another article.

Hefty Disclaimers & Sharing

This article should not be considered advice (legal, tax or otherwise). That said, any of the content shared here may be used and shared freely – you don’t need our permission. While we’d love for content that we’ve written to be attributed to us, we believe that it’s more important to get reliable information into the hands of community members (meaning that if you punk content that we wrote, we may think you’re a jerk but we’re not sending an army of lawyers).

Dealers In Virtual Currency

It’s important to start by understanding what’s being regulated. This is best done by considering some of the definitions that have been added to the regulation.

fiat currency means a currency that is issued by a country and is designated as legal tender in that country. (monnaie fiduciaire)

funds means

(a) cash and other fiat currencies, and securities, negotiable instruments or other financial instruments that indicate a title or right to or interest in them; or

(b) a private key of a cryptographic system that enables a person or entity to have access to a fiat currency other than cash.

For greater certainty, it does not include virtual currency. (fonds)

virtual currency means

(a) a digital representation of value that can be used for payment or investment purposes that is not a fiat currency and that can be readily exchanged for funds or for another virtual currency that can be readily exchanged for funds; or

(b) a private key of a cryptographic system that enables a person or entity to have access to a digital representation of value referred to in paragraph (a). (monnaie virtuelle)

virtual currency exchange transaction means an exchange, at the request of another person or entity, of virtual currency for funds, funds for virtual currency or one virtual currency for another. (opération de change en monnaie virtuelle)

In terms of who will be regulated, businesses (whether or not the business is incorporated) that conduct transactions on behalf of their customers, including:

  • Exchanging digital currencies for fiat currencies; and 
  • Exchanging between virtual currencies.

This would include custodial wallet services that hold customers’ private keys on their behalf, as well as exchanges, brokerages, and automated teller machines (ATMs). The requirements apply to foreign and domestically based businesses. The inclusion of foreign MSBs means that it won’t matter where your business is incorporated. If you are targeting your services to Canadians, you are expected to comply with Canadian rules and you will need to be aware of requirements as they apply to your Canadian customers.

One of the most important notes in our view is “These amendments serve to mitigate the money laundering and terrorist activity financing vulnerabilities of virtual currency in a way that is consistent with the existing legal framework, while not unduly hindering innovation. For this reason, the amendments are targeted at persons or entities engaged in the business of dealing in virtual currencies, and not virtual currencies themselves.” It is expected that there will be additional updates to the regulations, and community consultations. During these processes, this distinction should remain an important one.

Digital Identification and “Authentic” Documents

Canadian businesses, such as MSBs, that are regulated for AML purposes must identify certain customers either because there is an ongoing service agreement, an account, or because the customer performs specific types of transactions. In these instances, the methods used to identify customers are prescribed in the regulations. Previously, there was a requirement that any document that was used in identification processes be “original”. A narrow view was taken of the definition of the word original: the document itself, in whatever form it was issued. No scans, copies or other digital representations were permitted. This was a significant challenge in non-face-to-face environments.

Effective on publication of the updates, the word “original” has been replaced with “authentic”. It’s important to keep in mind that while this does allow for documents to be submitted in a myriad of digital formats, there will be an expectation that reporting entities do something in order to determine whether or not the document is authentic. The regulations are not prescriptive in terms of how this will be done. We expect that a number of different solutions, ranging from having a human review documents, to using AI to make risk-based determinations, will be valid. If there are processes that you aren’t sure about, it is possible to write to FINTRAC to request a policy interpretation. We expect that FINTRAC will release updated guidance on identification, and issue many subsequent policy interpretations as the landscape evolves.

For customers that were previously identified, there is an expectation that the customer is identified in accordance with the rules that were in place at the time. Unfortunately, this means that if a customer was identified before the updated regulations were published, and an electronic version of a document was used, the identification may not be considered complete. It will be important for businesses to assess the processes that were in place at this point in time in order to make an accurate determination of whether or not the standards were being met.

Registering as a Money Services Business (MSB)

Although the legislation has been published, Dealers in Virtual Currency are not yet able to register as money services businesses (MSBs) with FINTRAC, Canada’s federal AML regulator and financial intelligence unit (FIU). The process is relatively straightforward, beginning with a pre-registration form. 

The FINTRAC registration process is generally very efficient (taking two to four weeks in total). As part of this process, you must provide FINTRAC with complete information about your business, including:

  • Bank account information;
  • Information about your compliance officer;
  • Number of employees;
  • Incorporation information (if your business type is a corporation);
  • Information about your MSB’s owners and senior management, such as their name and date of birth;
  • An estimate of the expected total dollar amount of transactions per year for each MSB service you provide;
  • Detailed information about every branch; and
  • Detailed information about every Canadian MSB agent.

You are not required to have locations or offices in Canada in order to register as an MSB with FINTRAC. Once registered, the registration must be maintained and you must:

  • Keep registration information up to date;
  • Respond to requests for, or to clarify information, in the prescribed form and manner, within 30 days;
  • Renew our registration before it expires; and
  •  Let FINTRAC know if we stop offering MSB services to Canadians

SCAM ALERT: There is no cost to register an MSB with FINTRAC – although we’ve heard of several scams claiming that there is a fee. Please ensure that you are only registering through valid FINTRAC sites, which will contain “fintrac-canafe.gc.ca” in the url. If you have received a phishing email or other request to pay FINTRAC registration fees, we recommend reporting this to both the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and to FINTRAC directly.

All dealers in virtual currency are expected to register with FINTRAC by June 1, 2020.

Building or Updating Your Compliance Program

MSBs in Canada are required to have a documented AML compliance program in place. In all instances, when something is a requirement it’s not enough to have done something to meet that requirement. Both your process and what you’ve actually done in order to meet the requirement must be documented. An AML compliance program has these elements:

  1. Compliance Officer: this is the person who will be responsible for your AML compliance program. They should understand Canadian AML requirements, be relatively senior in your company (access to your Board and Management team is necessary), and sign up to receive updates from FINTRAC.
  2. Policies and Procedures: these are documents that describe what you are required to do, and how you will do it. The processes should be an accurate description of what you are actually doing and detailed enough that a new hire could follow them.
  3. Risk Assessment: this is a document that considers the risk that your business could be used to launder money and/or finance terrorism. FINTRAC has released detailed guidance for MSBs to help create this type of document.
  4. Ongoing Training: any staff (including part-time and temporary staff) that deal with customers, transactions, and systems must receive training on a regular basis (this is generally interpreted to mean at least annually). It’s fine to rely on an external vendor, but your training should also include training on your processes.
  5. AML Compliance Effectiveness Reviews/Audits: every two years, you must complete a formal review of the effectiveness of your AML compliance program and operations. This can be conducted internally or by an external vendor.

In addition, to your documented program, you will need to ensure you operate in a compliant manner which includes, registering with FINTRAC, identifying customers under certain circumstances (more on this under customer identification), collect know your customer (KYC) information, keep records, and report certain transactions to FINTRAC.

All dealers in virtual currency are expected to have compliance programs in place and operational by June 1, 2020.

Customer Identification and Collecting KYC Information

For dealers in virtual currency, customer identification and the collection of KYC information will be required where virtual currency exchange transactions valued at CAD 1,000 or more are conducted. This will include exchanging fiat for virtual currency, as well as exchanges between virtual currencies.

Customers must also be identified, where possible if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a transaction is related to money laundering or terrorist financing. When a transaction is suspicious, there is no minimum value threshold for identification.

Identification in this context must be completed in specific ways, each of which require particular records to be maintained. The chart below is from FINTRAC’s current customer identification guidance (which must be updated to reflect the change in wording from original to authentic, though other elements remain unchanged).

If the customer is an entity (a company, partnership, trust, etc.), then measures must be taken to confirm the entity’s existence and beneficial ownership. Certain details must be collected for directors, trustees, beneficiaries of trusts, and anyone that owns or controls 25% or more of an entity. This includes “indirect ownership” (such as ownership through another company).

There is also information about the customer that must be collected. For individuals, this includes name, date of birth, address, and occupation or principal business. For entities, this includes name, address, place of incorporation (if applicable), and incorporation number (if applicable). 

All dealers in virtual currency are expected to have processes in place to identify customers and collect KYC information by June 1, 2020.

FINTRAC Reporting

For reporting, there are two important dates. By June 1, 2020, dealers in virtual currency will need to report the same types of transactions that MSBs are currently required to report. These are:

  • Large Cash Transactions: if you receive cash (this means fiat in the form of bills and/or coins) valued at CAD 10,000 or more in the same 24-hour period, by or on behalf of the same customer, it must be reported to FINTRAC within 15 calendar days. 
  • Suspicious Transactions: if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a transaction is related to money laundering or terrorist financing, it must be reported to FINTRAC within 30 calendar days of the discovery of a fact that led you to determine that the transaction was suspicious.
  • Attempted Suspicious Transactions: if a customer or prospective customer requests a transaction, but does not complete it (including transactions that you reject), and there are reasonable grounds to suspect money laundering or terrorist financing, then it must be reported. The timeframe is the same as it would be for completed transactions.
  • Terrorist Property: if you’re in possession of property (which includes funds and virtual currency) that belong to a terrorist or terrorist group, it must be reported without delay, and the property must be frozen. In addition to reporting to FINTRAC, these reports are also sent to the CSIS and RCMP – by fax. In order to know if customers fall into this category, it is important to screen against lists published by OSFI. We’ve worked with some friends on a tool to make this easier, which you can try here (use the code Free100 for a free trial).
  • Electronic Funds Transfers: if you send or receive international electronic funds transfers (EFTs), including wires, valued at CAD 10,000 or more, by or on behalf of the same customer, it must be reported to FINTRAC within 5 working days.

If you are required to report transactions valued at CAD 10,000 or more in a 24-hour period, you must have a mechanism in place to detect reportable transactions.

It’s noteworthy that if you are conducting international EFTs on your customers’ behalf, you may already be an MSB. The best way to know for certain, in our opinion, is to request a policy position from FINTRAC. This can be done free of charge by emailing guidelines-lignesdirectrices@fintrac-canafe.gc.ca. This can also be done on your behalf by a lawyer or consultant.

By June 1, 2021, a new report will be introduced.

  • Large Virtual Currency Transactions: if you receive virtual currency valued at CAD 10,000 or more in the same 24-hour period, by or on behalf of the same customer, it must be reported to FINTRAC within 5 working days.

There will be some additional changes to reporting and reporting timelines, including the requirement to report suspicious and attempted suspicious transactions “as soon as practicable” after you have determined that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the transaction is related to money laundering or terrorist financing.

For Extreme Compliance Nerds

We clearly mean nerd as the highest term of admiration and endearment, and for you, we have created red-lined versions of the regulations, with new content showing as tracked changes. This is not an official version of the regulations, and we do, of course, recommend that you check it against the official version.

Need a Hand?

Whether you need to figure out if you’re a dealer in virtual currency, to put a compliance program in place, or to evaluate your existing compliance program, we can help. You can get in touch using our online form, by emailing info@outliercanada.com, or by calling us toll-free at 1-844-919-1623.

2019 AML Updates – Redlined Versions

The following red-lined versions have been created to reflect the changes to Canadian anti-money laundering (AML) regulations published in the Canada Gazette on July 10th, 2019.  A redlined version of the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA), reflecting the changes published in Bill C-97 which received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019, is also included below.

These documents are not official versions of the regulations. Official versions can be found on the Government of Canada’s Justice Laws Website.

 

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act

Please click the link below for a downloadable pdf file.

PCMLTFA_July_2019_Redline

 

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Regulations

Please click the links below for downloadable pdf files.

PCMLTFR_July_2019_Redlined_Full

PCMLTFR_July_2019_Redlined_Schedules Removed

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Suspicious Transaction Reporting Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable pdf file.

PCMLTF_Suspicious_Transaction_Reporting_Regulations_July_2019_Redlined

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Registration Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable pdf file.

PCMLTF_Registration_Regulations_July_2019_Redlined

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable pdf file.

PCMLTFR_Administrative_Monetary_Penalties_Regulations_July_2019_Redlined

Cross-Border Currency and Monetary Instruments Reporting Regulations

Please click the link below for a downloadable pdf file.

PCMLTFR_Cross-Border_Currency_and_Monetary_Instruments_Reporting_Regulations_July_2019_redline

 

Need a Hand?

Whether you need to figure out if you’re a dealer in virtual currency, to put a compliance program in place, or to evaluate your existing compliance program, we can help. You can get in touch using our online form, by emailing info@outliercanada.com, or by calling us toll-free at 1-844-919-1623.

FATF, VASP – What Does It All Mean?

On June 21, 2019 the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) released “Guidance for a Risk-Based Approach to Virtual Assets and Virtual Asset Service Providers”. In the ensuing days, while we read through and considered the implications of this dense 57 page document, we watched social media go overboard with all sorts of wild speculation and inaccurate representations. When that happens, and it’s within our power to get good information out there, we do our best to get solid information out fast to fight the fear, uncertainty and doubt (affectionately referred to as FUD online). Let’s take a closer look at the latest FATF guidance, and what it means for businesses that deal in crypto/digital/virtual currencies like bitcoin, and other virtual assets.

What is the FATF Anyway?

If you’re an AML geek, you can probably skip this section. For the other 99.99% of the world, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF for short) is an inter-governmental body formed in 1989 by its member jurisdictions. If you live in the developed world, odds are good that your country is a FATF member. The role of this organization is to issue guidance to countries on anti-money laundering (AML) and combatting terrorist financing. Countries that are members of the FATF are also evaluated in terms of how well they’re doing at following the FATF’s recommendations (these are called mutual evaluations). Generally speaking, member countries face a good deal of pressure to achieve positive results in mutual evaluations. Countries that are deemed to be non-compliant, or to have strategic deficiencies, are publicly listed and can face significant trade barriers.

To sum it up, the FATF is an international group made up of member countries that issues guidance to countries. That guidance is not law, but it certainly shapes the laws that are written by member countries. It may seem pedantic, but if you hear/read someone saying that the FATF has issued a law or a regulation, it’s likely that the speaker/writer doesn’t really understand how the FATF works – and this is the first piece of FUD that we’re going to dispel today: the FATF does not write laws or regulations.

Once the FATF has issued guidance, its member countries adapt their existing laws and regulations, and in some instances, impose new ones. Generally speaking, the more common approach is to adapt existing laws and regulations.  Regardless of the approach taken, a statement released with the guidance stating that the FATF will monitor implementation of the new requirements by countries and service providers and conduct a 12-month review in June 2020. The guidance is also expected to be the subject of further discussion at other international forums, including the G20.

Virtual Assets and Virtual Asset Service Providers

The FATF’s Guidance introduces new terms (and corresponding acronyms): virtual assets (VAs) and virtual asset service providers (VASPs). These are defined in the glossary at the end of the document, but it’s useful to start off by understanding what the terms mean.

A virtual asset is a digital representation of value that can be digitally traded, or transferred, and can be used for payment or investment purposes. Virtual assets do not include digital representations of fiat currencies, securities and other financial assets that are already covered elsewhere in the FATF Recommendations.

The broader text makes it clear that VAs are being broadly defined, and may include cryptocurrencies like bitcoin as well as other types of assets, like initial coin offering (ICO) tokens, which may also be considered securities.

There are also clear statements about the intent of the guidance, and that it is not an attempt to regulate technology. This is another important distinction, in particular where there is a discussion of regulation applicable to Bitcoin (with the capital B indicating that this is a reference to the Bitcoin protocol). That is simply not the case. In fact, the guidance notes that the intent is to remain technology agnostic, and that no specific technological adaptations to protocols are being proposed (we’ll dive a bit more deeply into this in the section that covers customer information).

What the guidance is, however, suggesting should be regulated are certain business activities that involve virtual assets.

Virtual asset service provider means any natural or legal person who is not covered elsewhere under the Recommendations, and as a business conducts one or more of the following activities or operations for or on behalf of another natural or legal person:

i) exchange between virtual assets and fiat currencies;

ii) exchange between one or more forms of virtual assets;

iii) transfer of virtual assets;

iv) safekeeping and/or administration of virtual assets or instruments enabling control over virtual assets; and

v) participation in and provision of financial services related to an issuer’s offer and/or sale of a virtual asset.

The first, and probably most important, piece of FUD to fight here is the idea that peer-to-peer activity that is not being conducted for business purposes should be covered. This simply is not the FATF’s recommendation. This doesn’t preclude a country from writing laws or regulation that impose requirements on non-business peer-to-peer activity, but it does make that less likely in our estimation.

If you’ve looked at previous FATF guidance, you’ll notice that the scope is a bit different. Earlier guidance was focussed on what were termed “on and off ramps”, meaning transactions that involved trading fiat currency for a VA, or vice versa. The current scope includes trading between different VAs. To understand this change, consider that when the earlier guidance was issued there were no popular “stablecoin” VAs pegged to the value of an underlying asset (often a fiat currency) and ICOs had yet to raise millions in value in VA alone.

What Will It Mean for Businesses to be Regulated?

Businesses (including individuals that are conducting VASP activities on behalf of customers that have not incorporated a separate legal entity such as a company or partnership) may be subject to laws and regulations in more than one jurisdiction, and the specific requirements for each jurisdiction may be different (though most will follow the FATF’s guidance in broad strokes). For VASPs, it is important to understand the requirements that apply in each jurisdiction in which they operate (it is not enough to say that your business is following the FATF’s guidance).

The FATF recommends in its guidance that countries enact laws and regulations that apply to VASPs. This should include (not a comprehensive list):

  • The licensing and/or registration of VASPs;
  • A prohibition against criminals and their associates being beneficial owners of VASPs;
  • A requirement for VASPs to have qualified Compliance Officers, written policies and procedures, documented risk assessments, ongoing training, and measures of the effectiveness of the compliance program (audits);
  • Know your client (KYC) information and identification should be collected by VASPs for customers and business relationships (with a de minimis exception for occasional transactions valued at less than 1,000 EUR/USD);
  • Where transactions occur between two VASPs or between a VASP and another regulated entity type (such as banks), sender and receiver information must be transmitted. This has received a lot of attention, and it is not yet clear how this will be accomplished. The options noted in the guidance include:
    • Public and private keys,
    • Transport Layer Security/Secure Sockets Layer (TLS/SSL),
    • 590 Certificates,
    • 509 Attribute Certificates,
    • API Technology, and
    • Other Commercially Available Technology.
  • VASPs’ customers and business relationships should be subject to ongoing monitoring; and
  • Mechanisms in place to freeze assets and stop transfers in the case of listed persons and entities (such as known terrorists or sanctioned persons/entities).

The guidance also states that there should be true regulatory oversight, not self-regulatory organizations. There are additional considerations for other entity types that are already regulated (including securities dealers and banks) that engage in VASP activities.

Thinking about Risk

Some of the most interesting content in the guidance is related to the money laundering and terrorist financing risk posed by VAs and VASPs. Here, it was clear that the FATF had done their homework as the discussion included TOR, tumblers, mixers, and other technologies referred to as being “anonymity enhanced”. The factors that are listed as increasing a VAs/VASPs risk include:

  • Value moving into and out of fiat currency,
  • The use of anonymity-enhanced technologies,
  • Operations that are entirely online (non-face-to-face),
  • Links to high risk jurisdictions, and
  • The value that can be accessed/transferred.

The guidance does note that not all VAs/VASPs should be considered to be high risk.

A Quick Note on Financial Inclusion & De-Risking

The FATF’s page on financial inclusion defines the term as: Ensuring that financially excluded or underserved groups (such as low income, rural sector or undocumented groups) have access to regulated financial services helps to strengthen the implementation of AML/CTF measures.

If you’ve been watching or participating in VAs or VASPs, you’ll understand that many of these have financial inclusion related goals themselves, but VASPs often struggle with access to banking. In their guidance, the FATF makes a strong statement against banks and financial service providers de-risking all VASPs: It is important that FIs apply the risk-based approach properly and do not resort to the wholesale termination or exclusion of customer relationships within the VASP sector without a proper risk assessment.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of prohibition by countries: Some countries may decide to prohibit VA activities or VASPs, based on their assessment of risk and national regulatory context or in order to support other policy goals not addressed in this Guidance (e.g., consumer protection, safety and soundness, or monetary policy). The guidance goes on to note that countries that chose to ban VAs and/or VASPs would still need to ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place. This approach did not seem to be encouraged, but that it is explicitly mentioned is interesting of itself, as this is not the case for other asset or regulated entity types.

Margin Notes

We’ve been asked to post the annotated copy of the first read-through of the FATF’s guidance document. The annotations were not created with the expectation of the audience. They’re likely to be hard to read, idiosyncratic, and to clearly reveal that the author is dyslexic… but if they are of use to you, then these notes are yours to use.

Guidance for a Risk-Based Approach to Virtual Assets and Virtual Asset Service Providers Marked Up Copy

Need a Hand?

If you want to understand the regulations that apply to your VA business/VASP, please contact us.

Compliance with laws and regulations is nuanced; we do not practice in all jurisdictions (and quite frankly, we believe that anyone claiming to understand the nuance of AML in every jurisdiction is greatly exaggerating their skill set). If we don’t practice in the places that matter to you, we’ll do our best to connect you with qualified people that do.

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