Anti-Money Laundering
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Keeping Your Bank Happy

For many reporting entities, a growing concern has become obtaining and maintaining banking relationships.  Most, if not all, businesses need a banking relationship to survive and prosper.  If you are an individual in Canada, you are entitled to basic banking services, but it is not so for businesses.  Banks and other financial service providers choose the business customers that they will serve.  This means that the stakes can be very high for businesses shopping for a banking relationship.

As reporting entities themselves, banks and other financial services companies have similar obligations to other reporting entities.  They must understand their customers and their customer’s transactions.  There is mounting pressure for banks to conduct due diligence that includes reviewing the compliance programs of clients that are reporting entities.  As a business owner, your best defence against losing your banking relationship is making your banker’s work easier.

This isn’t something that most business owners have spent a lot of time thinking about, but a few hours every year can go a long way towards ensuring that your banking relationships keep operating smoothly.  Based on my clients (and my own) experiences, I’ve summed up a five-step plan to help you on your way, which includes links to free resources to help you get started.

Step 1:  Have A Compliance Program (and Keep It Up To Date)

All reporting entities need to have an anti money laundering (AML) and counter terrorist financing (CTF) compliance program in place, that includes these five elements:

  1. Appoint A Compliance Officer (this is the person that is responsible for the compliance program; they should be fairly senior within your company and their appointment should be documented);
  2. Document Your Policies And Procedures (your documentation should be detailed enough to describe what you actually do, and be updated at least once a year);
  3. Create A Risk Assessment (this is a document that describes the risk that your business could be used to launder money or finance terrorism, and the controls that you have in place to prevent that from happening);
  4. Train Your Staff (this should happen at least once a year and all training sessions should be documented); and
  5. Have An AML Compliance Effectiveness Review (this is like an audit of your AML program and operations; it must be done at least every two years).

When you are creating and updating your documentation, remember that you and your staff are not the only people that will see it.  Your regulators, bankers and other people that don’t know your business the way that you do will also need to rely on your documentation.  This means that you need to write as if your reader doesn’t know your business.  Take the time to explain everything clearly.

If you need help creating a compliance program, please have a look at our resources pages for your reporting entity type or contact us.

Step 2:  Have a business plan

Your business plan should describe what you do, how you make money and include historical business volumes (for existing businesses) and predicted business volumes (for new and existing businesses).  This document should explain your business simply and clearly (to someone outside of your industry).  To make things easier for your banking service provider, you should explain the types of transactions that will go through your bank account and the estimated volumes.

Many business owners are hesitant to describe their transactions and marketing strategies in any type of document that will leave their hands.  This type of thinking can seriously harm banking relationships, especially if the bank perceives you as being secretive or evasive.  Remember that the bank needs to understand your business in order to keep you as a customer, and the easier that you can make it for them to understand, the better off you’ll be.

I’ve worked with consulting firms that charge high rates for business planning, but there is no real need to spend a lot of money creating a business plan.  There are many free resources available for Canadian businesses.  Here are some of my favourites:

Not surprisingly, the banks themselves offer many of these resources!

Step 3:  Have Contracts In Place

Any third party that is involved in your business (vendors, agents, etc) should have contracts in place, and your bankers may ask to see these agreements.  The contracts should spell out what the third party is obligated to do on your behalf and the copies of the agreements that you provide to your banker should be signed and dated by all parties.  Don’t provide original documents to your bank unless you are required to do so (often banks want copies only, as they will not be returned to you).

Many existing businesses have long-term business relationships that may never have had a formal agreement in place.  In these cases, especially if the third party is doing something like identifying customers on your behalf, you will need to get written agreements.  These don’t need to be overly complicated.  The agreement should state what all parties are required to do and when.  It can be a plain language document that you draft yourself, or something more complicated that you work on with the advice of a lawyer.  The important thing is that you have agreements in place and that they’re clear enough to allow the reader to understand how the parties are related.

Step 4:  Take The Time to Build Alliances

You don’t usually get to speak directly with your bank’s compliance department. The sales representative or branch manager is your liaison. They need to be your advocate.  In this type of scenario, a person becomes your advocate not because you’re cute or gave a nice gift but because they know, understand and can explain your business. This takes patience and time.  Remember you need them as much as they need you. Make it a no brainer for them to want you as a customer (profitable, low risk, low effort).

Your representative at the branch is your point of contact and can act as a sounding board for your documentation.  For instance, if they have requested your business plan, ask if you can walk through it with them and get their advice before it is submitted to the bank’s head office or compliance department.  Remember that they can’t write documentation for you, but they can provide excellent insights about what the bank expects to see.

Step 5:  Consider Having Audited Financial Statements Completed

In some cases, your financial service provider may require audited financial statements. Only a licensed accounting professional or firm (specifically someone with a CA or CPA) can issue this type of report in Canada.  The process involves an independent evaluation of your company’s financial statements and other documents.  The auditor expresses an opinion about your company’s financial statements, based on the audit work performed, to state if they feel that the financials are free from material errors.  This is not specific to anti-money laundering.  The audit report refers to the company’s financial risk and fraud risk, among many other topics, to give your financial service provider more comfort over the financials they are reviewing to help lower your risk profile.  While we at Outlier aren’t accountants, and don’t perform this type of work, we’re happy to recommend accounting firms that have experience with audited financial statements, including our friends at Helen Loukatos Chartered Accountant, who’ve generously given us permission to link to this Money Service Businesses Audit FAQ.

Stepping It Up

All of this is relatively simple, but it takes time.  Consider it an investment in your business.  If you need a hand getting started, please feel free to contact us.

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