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Why rich people don’t just open a bank…

 

It can be tough to open and maintain a bank account as a crypto-business. A policy of “derisking” (when banks avoid conducting business with customers perceived as being higher risk) leaves many crypto-businesses (and other MSBs) ill-served by the existing banking system.

A not-uncommon response to this reality (i.e. we’ve had this conversation enough times to deem it worthy of a blog post) is some variation of: “I’m a rich person! Why don’t I just open a bank?”

No doubt, this impulse comes from the admirably entrepreneurial spirit of our community. There’s a problem (lack of access to banking services), so let’s solve it.

But if you don’t have a background in compliance or banking and think that you’re “just” going to magically open your dream-crypto-paradise-bank… We’re here to advise you to slow your roll. We’re not saying you can’t do it… but here are some things you should consider. Knowledge is power.

Sidenote: We’re Canadian and these notes refer to Canadian processes. There are likely to be some differences in other countries, but we won’t know what they are. If you want to know, do the research. Let us know what you find if it’s interesting.

Opening a bank is expensive.

While you may think you have the cash to spare, opening a bank is expensive, and probably more expensive than you expect, both in terms of what you need to have in reserve, and what you’ll spend initially. We’ve heard the figure of $50m buy-in—which, by the way, does not guarantee you a charter.

You will spend money for years before you serve customers.

If you’re curious about where all those millions could possibly go, you’re going to get friendly* with an army of consultants, lawyers, and accountants over the next few years. (*And by friendly, we mean pay a lot of money to).

The process of getting issued a charter is lengthy (if you don’t believe us, you may enjoy perusing the 27-page long PDF guide from OFSI on the subject) and getting this process right means your investment will be whittled away by hiring people who can help navigate you through this labyrinth. You’ll also be spending money on employees, by the way, for years before you’ll ever have the privilege of serving a customer. Years. Plural.

Your team will spend a long time pleasing regulators before you’re operational.

Yes, even though you won’t be permitted to have customers for a long time, you will still need to assemble a team that can put together all of the elements of a bank into place. Your team will spend all of their time implementing processes, demonstrating to the regulator(s) that they’ve done so, and then tweaking these processes as the regulators require or request (in these instances, a request is really a politely stated requirement). If it’s any comfort, your employees will certainly be kept busy, even without customers.

You’re probably not going to be the CEO…

Despite making the decision to open a bank, you will likely not become the bank’s CEO, or even its COO. Senior management positions at banks require regulatory approval. Regulators are looking for you to have had a long history, at a senior level, in a bank or other federally regulated financial institution

… or even on the Board of Directors.

As with senior management positions, seats on the Board of Directors require regulatory approval. Even if you successfully jump through all the hoops required to start your bank, you will likely end up with little to no say in how it is ultimately run.

Well That’s Awkward!

There’s a noble sentiment behind the desire to “just open a bank” and solve the problems you see in the current banking system. But, the risks, effort, and returns are seldom well understood. In essence, opening a bank means making a substantial investment (in both time and money) in something that may one day become an asset (but may not). You can own the bank, but will likely not run it, despite the multi-year multi-million commitment you make. Even if you’re a wealthy investor with patient money, we’d suggest that you ought to be really passionate about setting up a bank if you want to embark upon this kind of endeavour.

What can you do instead?

So, if you’re not going to start a bank but are still frustrated by the banking system as it currently stands—what can you do instead?

Frankly, we need grassroots pressure to change the system we have. It’s important for us to have discussions with the gatekeepers (regulators, traditional banking institutions) for crypto business to get access to banking services. Part of the burden of being in this space is taking the time to educate those who control access to the resources we need. We’ve found that often even people with responsibility for developing policy related to bitcoin and other virtual currencies or tokens don’t fully understand it (and therefore its risk implications). While it may be frustrating to explain that it is possible to buy a fraction of a bitcoin to someone who we really think ought to understand this already, the more we can normalize crypto within the system, the more access we can hope to gain.

And while it can be difficult to speak out if you are a business who has been refused a bank account (or had your account shut down), we’d encourage you to share your experiences of trying to find banking services. Make a complaint to the institution. Share your story with the media (even if you don’t name the FI) or contact your political representatives. You can also, at the moment, contribute your feedback on the draft legislation on AML Regulations for “Virtual Currencies.” (See this blog post for more on how to do that). Exert pressure on the existing players.

But, of course… if you’ve decided you are passionate enough (and deep-pocketed enough) to start a truly crypto-friendly bank: more power to you and definitely let us know how you get on.

We’re Here To Help

If you have questions about virtual currency and regulation in Canada, or regulation in Canada in general, please contact us.

AML Changes For The Real Estate Sector

Here We Go Again! Canada’s Proposed AML Changes for Real Estate Developers, Brokers and Sales Representatives

 

On June 9th, 2018, draft amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) and its enacted regulations (there are five separate regulations that we’re going to collectively call regulations here for simplicity’s sake). This article is intended to give a high-level summary of the proposed amendments as they relate to the real estate industry.

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).

Finally, we want to encourage the community to discuss the proposed changes and submit meaningful feedback for policy makers. The comment period for this draft is 90 days. After this, the Department of Finance takes the feedback to the bat cave and drafts a final version of the amendments. From the time that the final version is published, the draft indicates that there will be 12 months of transition to comply with the new requirements.

What does this mean for my business?

While there are quite a number of proposed changes (the draft is about 200 pages in length), some are likely to have more of an impact on for real estate developers, brokers and sales representatives than others. We’ve summarized the changes that we expect to have the most impact below. Remember these are just proposed changes so there is no need to update your compliance material just yet.

What’s New?

Virtual Currency:

While there are not many proposed amendments that will introduce new requirements for real estate developers, brokers and sales representatives the draft regulations introduce reporting requirements for the receipt of CAD 10,000 or more of virtual currency. These basically are the same as large cash reporting obligations and will require reporting entities to maintain a large virtual currency transaction record.

The requirements for reporting and recordkeeping for virtual currency will be very similar to cash reporting requirements.

What existing requirements are changing?

24-hour rule:

The draft regulations clarify that multiple transactions performed by or on behalf of the same customer or entity within a 24-hour period are considered a single transaction for reporting purposes when they total CAD 10,000 or more. Only one report would need to be submitted to capture all transactions that aggregate to CAD 10,000 or more. For real estate developers, brokers and sales representatives this would apply to recipient of cash deposits. Specifically, this will apply to large cash transactions or CAD 10,000 or more. 

Identification:

The draft regulations replace the word “original” with “authentic” and states that a document used for verification of identity must be “authentic, valid and current. This would allow for scanned copies of documentation and/or for software that can authenticate identification documents to be used for the dual process method for real estate developers, brokers and sales representatives that identify clients in a non-face-to-face manner. Another change, related to measures for verifying identity, is that the word “verify” has been replaced with “confirm” and “ascertain” has been replaced with confirm. What this will mean exactly is still unclear (FINTRAC will need to provide more guidance once the final amendments are released). We are hopeful that it will allow for easier customer identification – especially for customers outside of Canada.

Records:

There have been some changes to the details that must be recorded in records that real estate broker or sales representative must maintain. In particular, the draft regulations add the requirement that information records must contain details of every person or entity for which they act as an agent or mandatary in respect of the purchase or sale of real property. Under the existing regulations information related to the person or entity purchasing real estate only.

Risk Assessment:

Under current regulations, reporting entities are required to assess the risks associated with its business and develop a risk assessment specific to your situation. For real estate developers, brokers and sales representatives a risk assessment must address the following four areas:

  • Products, services, and delivery channels (to better reflect the reality of the real estate sector, this workbook will now only refer to services and delivery channels);
  • Geography;
  • Clients and business relationships; and
  • Other relevant factors

A proposed amendment would require all reporting entities to assess the risk related the use of new technologies, before they are implemented.  This has been a best practice since the requirement to conduct a risk assessment came into force, but this change would make this a formal requirement.

Suspicious Transaction Reporting:

Under current regulations if a reporting entity has reasonable grounds to suspect that a transaction or attempted transaction is related to money laundering or terrorist financing, a report must be submitted to FINTRAC within 30 days of the date that a fact was discovered that caused the suspicion. The revised regulations add to this requirement by stating:

The person or entity shall send the report to the Centre within three days after the day on which measures taken by them enable them to establish that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the transaction or attempted transaction is related to the commission of a money laundering offence or a terrorist activity financing offence.

This would require reports to be submitted to FINTRAC within three days after the reporting entity conducts an analysis that established reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Schedules:

The draft regulations introduce changes to reporting schedules, requiring more detailed information to be filed with FINTRAC then previously was required. This is in addition to including information that is marked as optional, if a reporting entity has the information. As it relates real estate developers, brokers and sales representatives these changes will impact attempted suspicious and suspicious transaction reporting, terrorist property reporting and large cash reporting. Some of the additional proposed data fields are:

  • every reference number that is connected to the transaction,
  • every other known detail that identifies the receipt (of cash for large cash transactions),
  • type of device used by person who makes request online,
  • number that identifies device,
  • internet protocol address (IP address) used by device,
  • person’s user name, and
  • date and time of person’s online session in which request is made.

Such changes may be onerous for reporting entities, especially for transactions that are conducted online.

Training:

Under current regulation, if real estate developers, brokers and sales representatives use agents, mandataries or other persons to act on their behalf, they must develop and maintain a written, ongoing compliance training program for those agents, mandataries or other persons. The draft regulations introduces an additional requirement in which there must be a documented plan for the ongoing compliance training program and delivering of that the training.

What’s Next?

If you’ve read this far, congratulations and thank you!

We hope that you will contribute your thoughts and comments. You can do this by contacting the Department of Finance directly. Their representative on this file is:

Lynn Hemmings
Acting Director General
Financial Systems Division
Financial Sector Policy Branch
Department of Finance
90 Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G5
Email: fin.fc-cf.fin@canada.ca

If you would like assistance drafting a submission, or have questions that you would like Outlier to answer, please get in touch!

Canada’s Proposed AML Changes for MSBs

What’s Old is New Again, Well Updated

On June 9th, 2018, draft amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) and its enacted regulations (there are five separate regulations that we’re going to collectively call regulations here for simplicity’s sake). This article is intended to give a high-level summary of the proposed amendments as they relate to Money Services Businesses (MSBs).

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).

Finally, we want to encourage the community to discuss the proposed changes and submit meaningful feedback for policy makers. The comment period for this draft is 90 days. After this, the Department of Finance takes the feedback to the bat cave and drafts a final version of the amendments. From the time that the final version is published, the draft indicates that there will be 12 months of transition to comply with the new requirements.

♬The Times Regulations Are Changing♬

Foreign MSBs

Currently, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) has issued a policy interpretation (PI-5594) in August of 2013, which states that a “real and substantial connection” to Canada must be present for an entity to be required to register as an MSB with FINTRAC.  A “real and substantial connection” was defined in the interpretation as having one or more of the following:

  • Whether the business is incorporated in Canada;
  • Whether the business has agents in Canada;
  • Whether the business has physical locations in Canada; and/ or
  • Whether the business maintains a bank account or a server in Canada.

The draft amendments introduce a new definition, which is “Foreign Money Services Business” that means anyone serving Canadian customers or entities in Canada is now subject to all Canadian requirements no matter where they are located.  Throughout the proposed changes, where there is a reference to money services businesses, there is also a reference to foreign money services businesses.  This will be significant to MSBs who operate non-face-to-face in the online marketplace and do not reside in Canada.

Non-Face-To-Face Customer Identification

Currently, there is a requirement that when customers are identified using the dual process method, the document and/or data that you collect is in its “original” format. This has been interpreted to mean that if the customer receives a utility bill in the mail, they must send you the original paper (not scanned or copied) document. The word “original” will be replaced with “authentic” (meaning that so long as you believe that the utility bill is a real utility bill for that person, it doesn’t need to be the same piece of paper that they received in the mail).

In addition, there are provisions that would allow reporting entities to rely on the identification conducted previously by other reporting entities. If this method is used to identify a customer, the reporting entity must immediately obtain the identification information from the other reporting entity and have a written agreement in place requiring the entity doing the identification to provide the identification verification within 3 days of the request.

Reporting EFTs of $10,000 or More

If you conduct international remittance transactions at the request of your customers, the requirement to report transactions of $10,000 or more will now be your responsibility, not your financial services provider.

The proposed change removes the language commonly known as the “first in, last out” rule.  This means that the first person/entity to ‘touch’ the funds for transactions incoming to Canada or the last person/entity to ‘touch’ the funds for a transaction outgoing from Canada had the reporting obligation (as long as the prescribed information was provided to them).

The update will change the reporting obligation to whoever maintains the customer relationship. So if you initiate a transaction at your customer’s request (outgoing transaction) or provide final receipt of payment to your customer (incoming transaction), it will be your obligation to report that transaction to FINTRAC.

For example, if the flow of the instructions for payment were as follows:

Currently, the reporting obligation of the outgoing EFT would fall to the bank in Canada.  With the draft updates, the reporting obligation would now fall to the MSB in Canada, because they have the relationship with the customer initiating the transaction.

 

Third Party Determination

Currently, the obligation to determine whether a third party is involved in a transaction relates to Large Cash Transactions.  The proposed changes would include the obligation to make a third party determination for all EFTs of $10,000 or more.  This would also require similar record keeping obligations as a third party determination under the current Large Cash Transaction records.

Suspicious Transaction Reporting

Currently, if a reporting entity has reasonable grounds to suspect that a transaction or attempted transaction is related to money laundering or terrorist financing, a report must be submitted to FINTRAC within 30 days of the date that a fact was discovered that caused the suspicion. This change appeared in the last round of amendments that came into force last year, and the proposed new wording would be another significant change:

The person or entity shall send the report to the Centre within three days after the day on which measures taken by them enable them to establish that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the transaction or attempted transaction is related to the commission of a money laundering offence or a terrorist activity financing offence.

This means that a report would be due three days after the reporting entity conducts an investigation or does something that allows them to reach the conclusion that there are reasonable grounds to suspect.

Information Included In Reports to FINTRAC

Certain information is required in reports to FINTRAC. Even where information is marked as being optional, if a reporting entity has the information, it becomes mandatory to include it. Some of the additional proposed data fields are:

  • every reference number that is connected to the transaction,
  • type of device used by person who makes request online,
  • number that identifies device,
  • internet protocol address (IP address) used by device,
  • person’s user name, and
  • date and time of person’s online session in which request is made.

These fields may require significantly more data to be included in reports, especially for transactions that are conducted online.

Ongoing Compliance Training

Currently, there are five required elements of a Canadian AML compliance program, but there is soon to be a sixth.  Before you get too worried, it’s not that major.  The change is specific to your ongoing compliance training obligations, which says you must institute and document a plan for your ongoing compliance training program and the delivery of the training.  Basically, in your AML compliance program documentation, you need to provide a description of your training program for at least the next year and how the training will be delivered. Many MSBs have already implemented this best practice.

Risk Assessment Obligations

With the recent addition of the “New Technologies and Developments” category to the Risk-Based Approach requirements, the next logical progression has be added.  The updates include the obligation to assess the money laundering and terrorist financing risk of any new technology before implementation.  Meaning, if you are looking to take your business online and are going to use this fancy, new non-face-to-face ID system, you had better take careful inventory of where your risks are and be sure the appropriate controls have been put in place before going live. Much like the training plan, many MSBs have already implemented this best practice.

Virtual Currency

The draft updates also include major changes related to virtual currency. “Dealers in virtual currencies’ would be regulated as MSBs. New record keeping and reporting obligations would apply to all reporting entities that accept payment in virtual currency, or send virtual currency on behalf of their customers.

For more information on updates specific to virtual currency, please check out our full article.

What Next

If you’ve read this far, congratulations and thank you!

We hope that you will contribute your thoughts and comments. You can do this by contacting the Department of Finance directly. Their representative on this file is:

Lynn Hemmings

Acting Director General

Financial Systems Division

Financial Sector Policy Branch

Department of Finance

90 Elgin Street

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0G5

Email: fin.fc-cf.fin@canada.ca

If you would like assistance drafting a submission, or have questions that you would like Outlier to answer, please get in touch!

If you are interested in sharing your comments with the Canadian MSB Association (and we highly encourage you to do so) please email luisa@global-currency.com. She will have more information on the industry group’s submission and consultation process.

FCAC Supervision Framework

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) Supervision Framework updates and replaces FCAC’s current Compliance Framework. The updates provide a clearer and deeper understanding of how FCAC fulfills its mandate to protect financial consumer.

The current Compliance Framework combined the supervision and enforcement divisions.  Under the New Supervision Framework there will be three separate divisions:

  1. Promotion/Policy Division;
  2. Supervision/Monitoring Division; and
  3. Enforcement Division.

Who Does This Apply To?

The FCAC supervises the market conduct of federally regulated entities, there fall into two categories:

Tier 1 regulated entities – entities where business activities inherently include market conduct risk and nature of the products or services offered by tier 1 entities requires compliance with market conduct obligations overseen by FCAC. These include entities such as Federally Regulated Financial Institutions (FRFIs) that offering retail products and services to consumers; payment card network operators who offer payment services to merchants; and external complaints bodies (ECBs) offering dispute resolution services to member banks.

Tier 2 includes regulated entities such as banks and trust companies that do not offer retail products and services or insurance companies that restrict their business to the sale of insurance. FCAC monitors tier 2 regulated entities significantly less than tier 1 regulated entities.

What Do You Need To Do?

FCAC expects regulated entities to proactively identify, address and monitor and keep FCAC updated on their risks and controls. Also, they expect regulated entities to proactively report to FCAC any material developments that could change their market conduct risk.

Tools For Promotion

The FCAC promotes responsible market conduct by communicating expectations and interpretations using various tools. The FCAC will continue to promote responsible market conduct using guidelines and decisions, but will introduce a rulings process. Although rulings apply to a particular case and its specific circumstances, publishing information about the ruling provides direction to entities of similar nature.

Tools For Monitoring

FCAC monitoring activities include gathering and assessing information and introduces new monitoring tools. One such tool is the maintenance of a market conduct profile for each tier 1 regulated entity, which will help identify the entity’s risk profile.

Tools For Enforcement

Enforcement begins with the process of investigating a potential breach of a market conduct obligation. Such investigations may lead to the issuance of either a compliance report which is included in the existing FCAC Compliance Framework or a notice of breach which is a new tool under the Supervision Framework. There are three levels of a notice of breach.

What path of action the FCAC will take, when it comes to enforcement, remains unclear but perhaps the new ruling process discussed within the new Framework will be helpful for organizations.

When Does This Come Into Force?

It was expected that the FCAC would commence implementation of the Supervision Framework on November 1, 2017 and that the FCAC internal processes and tools that will be used (i.e. revised Publishing Principles) will likely come at a later date. This has now been extended to sometime in 2018. The FCAC’s website is vague on details as to when exactly enforcement will start or as to reasons why enforcement has been pushed out.

You can find the full text of FCAC Supervision Framework  :

We’re Here To Help

If you have questions about these changes, or compliance in general, please contact us.

The Secret Project: 2017

Thank you to the Canadian MSB Association for allowing us to present our research findings at the 2017 Fall Conference.

Money Services Business (MSBO and bitcoin business banking in Canada is the most significant barrier to entry. We set out to prove that the derisking crisis is real. In a first world country, this is absurd.We hope that this research facilitates an open and honest dialogue, that includes those with the power to improve the situation.

For those that have asked, here are our slides:

The Secret Project- MSB Banking(PDF)

The Secret Project- MSB Banking (PowerPoint)

Raw data: use it as you see fit. Seriously. We believe in open source. Information wants to be free.

Google Drive Access

A video of the presentation will follow.

 

Canada’s 2017 Budget & PCMLTFA Updates

Greetings fellow compliance geeks!

As you may know, Canada’s latest budget bill contains a number of amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA). We’ve created a marked up version of the PCMLTFA to help you work through and understand the changes, and you can access it using the link below with this caveat: you are welcome to use and share this markup, but you may not charge money for access to it. Information should be free.

Yes, I get it, give me access!

If you prefer a copy of the markups in Microsoft Word, please contact us.

Analysis Notes

The biggest takeaway from these amendments is related to section 5 (e.1), which adds “trust companies incorporated or formed by or under a provincial Act that are not regulated by a provincial Act” as being federally regulated entities. This has been a loophole in Canadian legislation for a long time, and was called out in Canada’s most recent mutual evaluation by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). If you’re company falls into this category, it’s time to start thinking about anti money laundering (AML) compliance. If you have business arrangements (clients, suppliers, etc.) that are unregulated provincial trusts, there are a few early steps that you might want to consider:

  • Re-assess the AML risk that these provincial trust companies pose;
  • Reach out to ask if they have a Compliance Officer and an AML program (in some cases, you will be pleasantly surprised); and
  • Consider whether or not additional controls are required to mitigate the risk posed.

The additional information that’s changing includes a lot of items that most us would consider housekeeping, like changing foreign country to foreign state in a number of places, and adding bullet points to what is considered “prescribed information:”

  • the name, address, electronic mail address and telephone number of every trustee and every known beneficiary and settlor of a trust referred to in paragraph (a);
  • the name, address, electronic mail address and telephone number of each person who owns or controls, directly or indirectly, 25 % or more of an entity referred to in paragraph (a), other than a trust; and
  • information respecting the ownership, control and structure of an entity referred to in paragraph (a).

The only piece there that will be new (at least in terms of requirements) is the “electronic mail address” (email) for beneficial owners. If you’re not already collecting this information, it’s time to think about how to get started. If you’re collecting the email address, but its optional, consider making it a required field.

The modifications also give the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) the ability to share information with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces where there are reasonable grounds to believe that there is a threat. Presumably, this would include contexts like a terrorist attack on Canada. It’s somewhat surprising that this was not already in place.

There have also been changes to the things about which “the Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Minister, make any regulations that the Governor in Council considers necessary for carrying out the purposes and provisions of this Act, including regulations…” These are interesting in thinking about what may be next in line for additional regulation:

  • respecting dealing in virtual currencies;
  • respecting the keeping of records referred to in section 6;
  • respecting the verification of the identity of persons and entities referred to in section 6.1; (d) respecting the reports to the Centre referred to in section 7 and subsections 7.1(1) and 9(1);
  • respecting the determination of whether a person is a person described in any of paragraphs 9.3(1)(a) to (c);
  • respecting the measures referred to in subsections 9.3(2) and (2.1);
  • respecting the measures referred to in subsection 9.4(1);
  • respecting the program referred to in subsection 9.6(1);
  • respecting the special measures referred to in subsection 9.6(3);
  • respecting the registration referred to in sections 11.1 to 11.2;
  • respecting the reports referred to in subsection 12(1); and
  • prescribing anything that by this Act is to be prescribed.

The only truly interesting point here is dealing in virtual currency, which also came up in Bill C-31 which passed in 2014. This bill, also called the Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1, has not been fully implemented. Some of its provisions (including those specifically related to including dealing in virtual currency under the definition of money services businesses) are also being amended. In the markups, these changes are highlighted in blue rather than in yellow to distinguish between the two.

Finally, there is a change to the definition of a head of an international organization. This one seems a bit nitpicky to me, but if you’re in the process of updating your documentation for the changes that are coming into force in June of this year, you might want to consider this as well. Head of an international organization (HIO) means a person who, at a given time, holds — or has held within a prescribed period before that time — the office or position of head of an international organization that is established by the governments of states or the head of an institution of any such organization.

We’re Here To Help

If you have questions about these changes, the changes coming into force in June of this year, or AML compliance in general, please contact us.

FINTRAC’s 2016 Real Estate Brief

Quick Overview

A little over a month ago, FINTRAC published an operational brief for the Canadian real estate industry.  The brief was intended to assist reporting entities in meeting the obligations to report suspicious transactions or attempted suspicious transactions that related to potential money laundering or terrorist financing.  The publication provided some common indicators that may be present in a transaction that suggest money laundering or terrorist financing could be involved.

What Does it Mean?

The suspicious indicators provided by FINTRAC list circumstances or activities that might signal potentially illicit activity.  This does not mean that if one or more of the indicators are present that the transaction is definitely suspicious and must be reported to FINTRAC, it is meant to ensure that you are aware of the potential that suspicious activity may be taking place.  In that context, if you are involved in real estate transactions, you must be aware of the indicators in the brief.  If you do encounter a transaction that may be considered suspicious, you will need to collect additional information that will aid in your decision to report it or document why it was not considered suspicious.

What Now?

In order to ensure familiarity for anyone who interacts with customers and their transactions, the list of FINTRAC’s indicators should be included in your ongoing AML compliance training program.  Furthermore, the indicators should also be included in your procedure manuals, allowing easy access to the information.  Finally, the indicators should be incorporated into your Risk Assessment documentation.  Specifically, when determining customer risk and the controls used to effectively mitigate potential risks.

We’ve made it easier for you to integrate this content into your program by putting the indicators in a Word document for you.

Need a Hand?

Outlier has taken the list of indicators provided by FINTRAC and formatted them into an easy to use Microsoft Word document, which can be downloaded here: FINTRAC Indicators Specific to Real Estate Transactions.  This should allow companies within the real estate sector to easily update their documentation and ensure they are sufficiently monitoring for potentially suspicious activity.  If you aren’t sure what to do with this information and would like some assistance, please feel free to contact us.

Would You Recognize Real Estate Red Flags?

Rodney_FINTRACOn November 14th, 2016 FINTRAC released a brief for all reporting entities who may be involved in real estate transactions.  The briefing is intended as guidance to provide some examples of indicators that may be present in transactions that may suggest they are linked to money laundering or terrorist financing.  The indicators described have been taken from transactions suspected of being related to money laundering or terrorist financing reported internationally.  The briefing focuses on the potential risks and vulnerabilities within the real estate industry and provides suggestions on how to ensure reporting entities are sufficiently meeting suspicious transaction reporting obligations.

The briefing is meant to provide operational guidance given the small overall number of suspicious transactions that have been reported to FINTRAC by the Real Estate industry.  The briefing states that these indicators will be used by FINTRAC to assess compliance with your reporting obligations.  If you are a reporting entity that interacts with the real estate industry in one form or another, the indicators and scenarios outlined in this brief should be considered when updating your Risk Assessment and training materials.

To put things into perspective, though the actual size of the real estate market is difficult to determine precisely, CMHC has produced some statistics.  CMHC suggests that between 2003 and 2013 over $9 trillion of mortgage credits were negotiated and roughly 5 million sales took place through Multiple Listing Services (MLS).  In contrast, FINTRAC received only 127 Suspicious Transactions Reports (STRs) from real estate brokers, agents and developers and 152 by other types of reporting entities, such as banks and trust/loan companies.  To go a step further, in FINTRAC’s 2015 Annual Report, between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015, a total of 92, 531 STRs were filed across all reporting entities.

re-strs-filed-vs-sales

This evidence supports FINTRAC’s assertion that operational guidance for the real estate industry is needed.

The indicators and examples covered in the brief outline numerous scenarios that may suggest that a transaction is related to a money laundering or terrorist financing offense.  It also speaks to how the appearance of legitimacy obfuscates the clarity of suspicious transactions and requires more than a just “gut feel”.  What is required is the consideration of the facts related to the transaction and their context.  Does the transaction with all the known factors, positive or negative, make sense?

What This Means to Your Business? 

First off, FINTRAC will be using the indicators provided to assess your compliance with reporting obligations.  This has a couple different applications.  The first being, does your AML compliance program documentation make reference to the suspicious indicators that are provided.  Basically, are staff aware of the elements that may be present in a transaction that would suggest money laundering or terrorist financing may be occurring?

Secondly, is there an oversight process to ensure if there are transactions that contain one or more of these indicators where an STR was not submitted, is reviewed?  If so, does the process ensure supporting evidence that the Compliance Officer reviewed the transaction and determined there were not reasonable grounds to suspect its relation to money laundering or terrorist financing?  When you encounter a transaction involving any of the indicators provided, it is very important that you collect as much information as possible to assist the Compliance Officer with their determination of whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a transaction, or attempted transaction, may be related to money laundering or terrorist financing.  Alternatively, even if none of the indicators provided by FINTRAC are present but we still feel there is “something off” about our customer’s transaction, speak with your Compliance Officer.  They will be able to provide some insight on additional information that may assist our decision.  Once you have collected any additional information you may still not feel comfortable, but this does not mean you cannot complete the transaction, but that you must be sure your Compliance Officer is provided with all the information, which includes our reason for the escalation, so that they can decide whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect it may be related to a money laundering or terrorist financing offense.  The Compliance Officer will document their decision and, if necessary, submit an STR to FINTRAC.

Need a Hand?

If you are a reporting entity that interacts with the real estate industry and would like assistance updating your AML compliance program documentation or simply have some questions, please contact us.

Sanctions This Week: July 25th – 29th, 2016

 

OSFISanctions Pic

There were no updates released from OSFI this week.

Go to the OSFI lists page.

OFAC

The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Branch, The Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), released four updates last week.  One update was related to the publication of Cuba-related Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), covering some of the recent changes made to the sanctions that had previously been placed on Cuba.  Other updates included the removal of 12 individuals from the Counter Terrorism Designations List, the issuance of a Finding of Violation and the publication of Iran General License J.

OFAC administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals.  The sanctions target countries, regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other threats to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the U.S.

The update to the Cuba-related FAQs was for the issuance of a new FAQ (#38) and a revision of an existing FAQ (#39), relating to certain information collection and recordkeeping requirements for persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction who provide authorized carrier or travel services to or from Cuba for specifically licensed travelers.

The update to the Counter Terrorism Designations List included the removal of 12 individuals of Libyan origin who are currently residing in the UK.

The Finding of Violation was issued to Compass Bank, which uses the trade name BBVA Compass, for violations of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Sanctions Regulations. From June 12, 2013 to June 3, 2014, Compass maintained accounts on behalf of two individuals on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (the “SDN List”).

The final update of the week was related to OFAC issuing “General License J”, authorizing the re-exportation of certain civil aircraft to Iran on temporary sojourn and related transactions.

See the Cuba-related FAQ update on OFAC’s website.

See the Counter Terrorism Designations List update on OFAC’s website.

See the issuance of a Finding of Violation to Compass Bank on OFAC’s website.

See the Iran General License J details on OFAC’s website.

See OFAC’s recent actions page.

Need A Hand?

We would love to hear from you.  If there are subjects in this post that you would like to know more about, or if you need assistance with your compliance program, please contact us.

Redlined PCMLTFR Updates (June 2016)

Amber with laptop logo on screen 2On June 29, 2016 updates to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) & Terrorist Financing Regulations (PCMLTFR) were published in the Canada Gazette. The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) has also published updated guidance related to identification, and we expect more updated guidance in the coming weeks.

In order to make it easier for our friends, colleagues and customers to understand the changes, we have created a “redlined” version of the document that can be downloaded and used free of charge.

Our only stipulation for those that choose to use this document in any way is that we do not permit a fee to be charged for access to it, in whole or in part, via any medium… That’s a fancy way of saying that you can share it as much as you like, but you can’t charge money for it.

That said, we hope that this document saves you time and money – it’s the least we can do:

June 29 2016 PCMLTFR Updates Redlined

Need A Hand?

Changes will not come into effect until next year (2017). If you need assistance updating your anti money laundering (AML) compliance program, please contact us.

 

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