FinCEN – BSA Expectations – Cannabis Industry

FinCEN – BSA Expectations – Cannabis Industry

FinCEN - BSA Expectations
FinCEN – BSA Expectations

An update FinCEN – BSA Expectations,  the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) is issuing guidance to clarify Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) expectations for financial institutions seeking to provide services to marijuana-related businesses. FinCEN is issuing this guidance in light of recent state initiatives to legalize certain marijuana-related activity and related guidance by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) concerning marijuana-related enforcement priorities. This FinCEN guidance clarifies how financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses consistent with their BSA obligations, and aligns the information provided by financial institutions in BSA reports with federal and state law enforcement priorities. This FinCEN guidance should enhance the availability of financial services for, and the financial transparency of, marijuana-related businesses.

FIN-2014-G001 is the document that summarizes expectation with respect to reporting by financial institutions involving the Banking Secrecy Act [“BSA”].

This FinCEN guidance clarifies how financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses consistent with their BSA obligations. In general, the decision to open, close, or refuse any particular account or relationship should be made by each financial institution based on a number of factors specific to that institution. These factors may include its particular business objectives, an evaluation of the risks associated with offering a particular product or service, and its capacity to manage those risks effectively. Thorough customer due diligence is a critical aspect of making this assessment.

In assessing the risk of providing services to a marijuana-related business, a financial institution should conduct customer due diligence that includes:

(i) verifying with the appropriate state authorities whether the business is duly licensed and registered;

(ii) reviewing the license application (and related documentation) submitted by the business for obtaining a state license to operate its marijuana-related business;

(iii) requesting from state licensing and enforcement authorities available information about the business and related parties;

(iv) developing an understanding of the normal and expected activity for the business, including the types of marijuana-related business implicates one of the Cole Memo priorities or violates state law.

This is a particularly important factor for a financial institution to consider when assessing the risk of providing financial services to a marijuana-related business. Considering this factor also enables the financial institution to provide information in BSA reports pertinent to law enforcement’s priorities. A financial institution that decides to provide financial services to a marijuana-related business would be required to file suspicious activity reports (“SARs”) as described below.

Filing Suspicious Activity Reports on Marijuana-Related Businesses

The obligation to file a SAR is unaffected by any state law that legalizes marijuana-related activity. A financial institution is required to file a SAR if, consistent with FinCEN regulations, the financial institution knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that a transaction conducted or attempted by, at, or through the financial institution:

(i) involves funds derived from illegal activity or is an attempt to disguise funds derived from illegal activity;

(ii) is designed to evade regulations promulgated under the BSA, or

(iii) lacks a business or apparent lawful purpose.

Because federal law prohibits the distribution and sale of marijuana, financial transactions involving a marijuana-related business would generally involve funds derived from illegal activity. Therefore, a financial institution is required to file a SAR on activity involving a marijuana-related business (including those duly licensed under state law), in accordance with this guidance and FinCEN’s suspicious activity reporting requirements and related thresholds.

One of the FinCEN – BSA Expectations purposes is to require financial institutions to file reports that are highly useful in criminal investigations and proceedings. The guidance below furthers this objective by assisting financial institutions in determining how to file a SAR that facilitates law enforcement’s access to information pertinent to a priority.

Marijuana Limited” SAR Filings

A financial institution should follow FinCEN’s existing guidance on the timing of filing continuing activity reports for the same activity initially reported on a “Marijuana Limited” SAR. The continuing activity report may contain the same limited content as the initial SAR, plus details about the number of deposits, withdrawals, and transfers in the account since the last SAR. However, if, in the course of conducting customer due diligence (including ongoing monitoring for red flags), the financial institution detects changes in activity that potentially implicate one of the Cole Memo priorities or violate state law, the financial institution should file a “Marijuana Priority” SAR

“Marijuana Priority” SAR Filings

A financial institution filing a SAR on a marijuana-related business that it reasonably believes, based on its customer due diligence, implicates one of the Cole Memo priorities or violates state law should file a “Marijuana Priority” SAR. The content of this SAR should include comprehensive detail in accordance with existing regulations and guidance. Details particularly relevant to law enforcement in this context include: (i) identifying information of the subject and related parties; (ii) addresses of the subject and related parties; (iii) details regarding the enforcement priorities the financial institution believes have been implicated; and (iv) dates, amounts, and other relevant details of financial transactions involved in the suspicious activity.

Financial institutions should use the term “MARIJUANA PRIORITY” in the narrative section to help law enforcement distinguish these SARs.

“Marijuana Termination” SAR Filings

If a financial institution deems it necessary to terminate a relationship with a marijuana-related business in order to maintain an effective anti-money laundering compliance program, it should file a SAR and note in the narrative the basis for the termination. Financial institutions should use the term “MARIJUANA TERMINATION” in the narrative section. To the extent the financial institution becomes aware that the marijuana-related business seeks to move to a second financial institution, FinCEN urges the first institution to use Section 314(b) voluntary information sharing (if it qualifies) to alert the second financial institution of potential illegal activity.  See Section 314(b) Fact Sheet for more information

FinCEN – BSA Expectations

Regulatory Compliance