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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.

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.

Now We Wait… Canada’s Proposed AML Updates

As of last Friday (September 7, 2018) the comment period for Canada’s draft AML amendments has closed (if you have something to say, they’ll likely still accept submissions for a few more days).

TLDR?

Check out our summary here, or this panel digging into the details.

Want to read our submissions? Here they are!

2018Sep07_OutlierCanada Submission to Finance

2018Sep07_Apendix_SurveyResults

What Now?

The Department of Finance is going to head back to the Bat Cave to revise the policy. We expect that a final version will be published at some point in 2019, and that the content will include “dealing in virtual currency” (including businesses like bitcoin exchanges).

Once the final version is published, there will be a transition period (we expect a year or more) before everything is in force. In the meantime, if you’re expecting to be considered a money services business (MSB) when the final version is published, we recommend checking out some of the community events for MSBs, like the Canadian MSB Association (CMSBA)’s Fall Conference in Toronto.

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.

Canada’s AML Rules for “Virtual Currency”

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). While not all of the proposed amendments are related to virtual currency, many are (the term virtual currency comes up 304 times in about 200 pages). This article is intended to give a high-level summary of the proposed amendments as they relate to virtual currency for businesses in that industry (exchanges, brokerages, etc.).

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 draft and submit meaningful feedback for policymakers. To this end, we’re going to be posting, hosting and attending community events. We’ve also set up a survey that can be completed without submitting any personal information (though you may choose to do so). If you would like one of our compliance nerds at your event, please get in touch. If you’re already having a related event that benefits the community, let us know or post it in the comments.

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 to expect when you’re expecting (to be regulated)?

While we acknowledge that our sample is biased (people that talk to compliance geeks), we know that many businesses such as brokerages and exchanges have expected to be regulated as money services businesses (MSBs) since Bill C-31 was passed in 2014. Many of these businesses already have in place the required elements of an anti-money laundering (AML) compliance regime, including:

  1. The appointment of a Compliance Officer;
  2. Written policies and procedures;
  3. A documented risk assessment;
  4. Training; and
  5. Effectiveness testing (like an audit, but for compliance).

In addition, many have been voluntarily reporting suspicious activity to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), the body under which they expect to be regulated for AML.

The proposed amendments would formalize compliance program requirements, as well as create new requirements specific to businesses “dealing in virtual currency” (which would now be considered MSBs). While “dealing in virtual currency” itself is not defined, the text of the regulations implies that it will include exchanging, sending, and receiving virtual currency on behalf of other people or entities. Such entities would be required to register as MSBs if they are serving Canadian customers (whether or not they are located in Canada).

There are a number of thresholds that are proposed, including identification (at CAD 1,000) and reporting (at CAD 10,000). In each case, specific information must be collected and recorded. The identification methods that are available in these circumstances are relatively prescriptive, although the proposed amendments do make some headway towards supporting a broader array of identification methods by requiring that documents be considered “authentic” rather than requiring documents in their original format. Of course, as with any complex issue, guidance from FINTRAC will be required before we’re certain how this will be interpreted by the regulator (It’s good news; we’re just not sure how good, yet).

As always in compliance, the devil is in the details. What follows is a few of those key details, as well as some of the issues that we anticipate. We encourage you to conduct your own analysis and to join the conversation.

What’s In A Definition?

Definitions are generally not very interesting. When was the last time that you read the dictionary? (Sidenote: if you are a serious scrabble geek and do this on the regular, you will enjoy this section more than most)… In this case though, definitions matter. Definitions will make a difference in terms of the businesses and activities that are regulated, and how they are regulated. Fortunately, our community includes a number of engineers, debaters, and other individuals with a penchant for the precise – and your skills are needed here. We encourage you to carefully consider the following and to submit feedback on how they can be improved.

authorized user means a person who is authorized by a holder of a prepaid payment product account to have electronic access to funds or virtual currency available in the account by means of a prepaid payment product that is connected to it.

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) information 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)

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

large virtual currency transaction record means a record that indicates the receipt of an amount of $10,000 or more in virtual currency in a single transaction and that contains the following information:

(a) the date of the receipt;

(b) if the amount is received for deposit into an account, the name of each account holder;

(c) the name, address and telephone number of every other person or entity that is involved in the transaction, the nature of their principal business or their occupation and, in the case of a person, their date of birth;

(d) the type and amount of each virtual currency involved in the receipt;

(e) the exchange rate used and the source of the exchange rate;

(f) the number of every other account that is affected by the transaction, the type of account and the name of each account holder;

(g) every reference number that is connected to the transaction;

(h) every other known detail that identifies the receipt; and

(i) if the amount is received by a dealer in precious metals and precious stones for the sale of precious metals, precious stones or jewellery,

(i) the type of precious metals, precious stones or jewellery,

(ii) the value of the precious metals, precious stones or jewellery, if different from the amount of virtual currency received, and

(iii) the wholesale value of the precious metals, precious stones or jewellery.

prepaid payment product means a product that is issued by a financial entity and that enables a person or entity to engage in a transaction by giving them electronic access to funds or virtual currency paid to a prepaid payment product account held with the financial entity in advance of the transaction. It excludes a product that enables a person or entity to access a credit or debit account or one that is issued for use only with particular merchants.

prepaid payment product account means an account that is connected to a prepaid payment product and that permits

(a) one or more transactions that total $1,000 or more to be conducted within a 24-hour period; or

(b) a balance of funds or virtual currency available of $1,000 or more to be maintained.

virtual currency means

(a) a digital currency 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) information that enables a person or entity to have access to a digital currency referred to in paragraph (a).

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.

virtual currency exchange transaction ticket means a record respecting a virtual currency exchange transaction — including an entry in a transaction register — that sets out

(a) the date of the transaction;

(b) in the case of a transaction of $1,000 or more, the name, address and telephone number of the person or entity that requests the exchange, the nature of their principal business or their occupation and, in the case of a person, their date of birth;

(c) the type and amount of each of the funds and virtual currencies involved in the payment made and received by the person or entity that requests the exchange;

(d) the method by which the payment is made and received;

(e) the exchange rate used and the source of the exchange rate;

(f) the number of every account that is affected by the transaction, the type of account and the name of each account holder;

(g) every reference number that is connected to the transaction; and

(h) every other known detail that identifies the transaction.

Diving Deeper – Obligations and Potential Issues

1 – Do the definitions capture unintended parties?

We were surprised to see that there were not specific carve-outs for certain types of tokens, including securities, and tokens intended specifically for gaming. The definition, as it’s currently written seems capable of encompassing both tokenized security offerings and gaming tokens.

In addition, the second part of the definition that includes “information that enables a person or entity to have access to a digital currency referred to in paragraph (a).” has the potential to open the definition even more broadly. For instance, if I have stored a copy of a seed phrase or a hardware device with a vault service – have they received virtual currency? Are they sending virtual currency to me if the contents of my vault are couriered to me?

 2 – What about peer-to-peer, decentralized applications, and smart contracts?

The amendments as they are presented appear to take the view that transactions have intermediaries. There are no specific carve-outs for peer-to-peer transactions (though we expect that previous guidance could be applied here), decentralized applications, and smart contracts. This may be a particularly contentious issue in the case of an exchange from one “virtual currency” to another – especially where such an exchange is initiated or completed without any human intervention. Similarly, questions arise for wallet service providers. For instance, what if a wallet provider does not have access to private keys, but connects to applications that permit users to initiate transactions that would be considered to be exchange transactions under the current definition?

That said, there are some astute exclusions, including the following activities which are explicitly not covered:

(a) a transfer or receipt of virtual currency as compensation for the validation of a transaction that is recorded in a distributed ledger; or

(b) an exchange, transfer or receipt of a nominal amount of virtual currency for the sole purpose of validating another transaction or a transfer of information.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to determine where the policymakers intended to draw the line, and where the regulator will later enforce it…

3 – Jurisdiction doesn’t matter; foreign money services businesses (MSBs) are covered.

While not specific to virtual currency, it is noteworthy that the proposed amendments expand the definition of an MSB to include any business that is providing prescribed services in Canada. As we’ve seen in the case of the NY BitLicense, badly drafted legislation can drive away business and lead to a lack of service providers willing to do business in a region.

While we’re not suggesting that the proposed amendments are nearly as ill-conceived as the NY BitLicense, it is important to consider whether or not these will affect Canadians’ ability to access services, and the attractiveness of the Canadian market generally for innovative international businesses. While we do not expect this particular amendment to be altered, we would encourage businesses located outside of Canada that serve Canadians to comment.

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!

You can also answer specific questions in our survey, or join us at a community event.

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.

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