Fueled by the leak of the Panama Papers, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has published a final regulation requiring banks to identify beneficial owners of their legal entity customers. Heralding the new regulation as a critical step in its effort to prevent criminals from using companies to hide their identity and launder criminal proceeds, the Treasury Department, buttressed by new Justice Department initiatives, is amplifying the momentum building within the anti-money laundering (AML) enforcement community to achieve unprecedented transparency across the corporate spectrum.
What the Regulation Does
In writing the regulation, FinCEN has built upon the customer due diligence mandated by existing Customer Identification Program (CIP) regulations, adding a provision requiring banks to identify and verify natural persons who are beneficial owners of legal entity customers together with one individual who has significant management responsibility. To give adequate time for retooling of CIP programs, compliance with the final regulation becomes mandatory by May 11, 2018. Once in force, it will apply to all new accounts, but will only apply to existing accounts when the bank detects information relevant to reevaluating a customer’s risk profile.
FinCEN defines “legal entity customer” to mean a corporation, LLC, or other entity created by filing a public document with the secretary of state or similar office. General partnerships and other entities formed under foreign laws are also covered, but most trusts are excluded.
The regulation permits, but does not require, the use of an official Certification Form. Information must be provided to the best knowledge of the person opening an account. A bank may rely on the information supplied by its legal entity customer so long as it knows no facts causing it to question its reliability.
Beneficial ownership is measured by an “ownership prong” requiring identification of individuals owning 25 percent equity in the legal entity customer and a “control prong” requiring identification of a single individual having significant management responsibility. FinCEN makes clear that only the identity—not the status—of beneficial owners must be verified, and verification procedures should address elements in a bank’s CIP. Updating of beneficial ownership information would be triggered only if normal monitoring detects heightened risk in the profile or activities of a legal entity customer.
Even More Regulations May Be Coming Down the Pike
Treasury also proposes to issue regulations targeting U.S.-based, foreign-owned, single-member limited liability companies, to require taxpayer identification numbers and eliminate exemption from U.S. reporting requirements.
Treasury also has asked Congress to pass legislation requiring a company to disclose owner names at the time it is formed. If enacted, the legislation would enable the capture of critical information when a company commences business and would give U.S. enforcement authorities access to a central registry of beneficial ownership data. Treasury officials have not indicated whether the registry would be made available to banks. Treasury is also recommending legislation requiring U.S. banks to provide foreign jurisdictions with the same information that foreign banks must provide to the IRS.
Aligning itself with Treasury, the Justice Department also is proposing legislation to combat illegal proceeds of transnational corruption. If enacted, the legislation would allow prosecutors to pursue cases directly against corrupt foreign regimes, authorize administrative subpoenas and expand substantive corruption offenses.
How to Prepare
Even though mandatory compliance with the beneficial ownership regulation is two years away, the board should have compliance personnel begin the process of amending their bank’s CIP to satisfy the requirements of the new regulation, paying particular attention to the account opening process.
With regard to account opening, banks should:
- Determine whether and to what extent the CIP already captures beneficial ownership information.
- Develop beneficial owner identity verification procedures for legal entity customers that meet the new regulatory definition, and determine to what extent existing CIP verification procedures should be incorporated.
With regard to account maintenance, banks should:
- Establish criteria and “red flags” that will trigger beneficial ownership reviews and updates of legal entity customers.
- Identify legal entity customers that meet the new regulatory definition so that the institution will be able to act when triggering events occur.
- Consider the need, despite no regulatory requirement, for conducting standardized periodic updates of beneficial ownership information.
With two powerful agencies combining to tighten risk-based controls on money laundering and foreign corruption, it is clear that banks will need to devote increased resources to AML compliance. Board members must remain mindful that the functional regulators will continue to require the global enterprise to maintain safety and soundness by appropriately managing risk and minimizing susceptibility to illegal financial activity.