International Financial Law Prof Blog

Editor: William Byrnes
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Monday, August 4, 2014

FINCEN Issues New Due Diligence for Beneficial Owners of US Accounts to Provide FATCA Reciprocity to Foreign Governments

FBARThe U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to amend existing Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) regulations to help prevent the use of anonymous companies to engage in or launder the proceeds of illegal activity in the U.S. financial sector.  See Proposed Rules and New Beneficial Ownership Form (Appendix A) here.

The proposed rule would clarify and strengthen customer due diligence obligations of banks and other financial institutions (including brokers or dealers in securities, mutual funds, futures commission merchants, and introducing brokers in commodities). 

The proposed amendments would add a new requirement that these entities know and verify the identities of the real people (also known as beneficial owners) who own, control, and profit from the companies they service.

FATCA's USA Reciprocity to Report Foreign Nationals Financial Information to Foreign Governments

The United States has collaborated with foreign governments to enter into intergovernmental agreements that facilitate the effective and efficient implementation of these requirements. Pursuant to many of these agreements, the United States has committed to pursuing reciprocity with respect to collecting and reporting to the authorities of the FATCA partner information on the U.S. accounts of residents of the FATCA partner.  A general requirement for U.S. financial institutions to obtain beneficial ownership information for AML purposes advances this commitment, and puts the United States in a better position to work with foreign governments to combat offshore tax evasion and other financial crimes.

The new rule will facilitate reporting and investigations in support of tax compliance, and advancing international commitments made to foreign counterparts in connection with the provisions commonly known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

Required Due Diligence by US Financial Institutions

The rulemaking clarifies that customer due diligence includes four core elements:

  1. identifying and verifying the identity of customers;
  2. identifying and verifying the beneficial owners of legal entity customers;
  3. understanding the nature and purpose of customer relationships; and
  4. conducting ongoing monitoring to maintain and update customer information and to identify and report suspicious transactions. 

The proposed requirement to identify and verify the identity of beneficial owners is addressed through the proposal of a new requirement for covered financial institutions to collect beneficial ownership in a standardized format. 

Those financial institutions will have to identify and verify any individual who owns 25 percent of more of a legal entity, and an individual who controls the legal entity.

Determining Beneficial Ownership

The second element of CDD requires financial institutions to identify and verify the beneficial owners of legal entity customers.  FinCEN proposes a new requirement that financial institutions identify the natural persons who are beneficial owners of legal entity customers, subject to certain exemptions.  

The definition of “beneficial owner” proposed herein requires that the person identified as a beneficial owner be a natural person (as opposed to another legal entity). A financial institution must satisfy this requirement by obtaining at the time a new account is opened a standard certification form (Appendix A of Proposed Rules) directly from the individual opening the new account on behalf of the legal entity customer.

Financial institutions would be required to verify the identity of beneficial owners consistent with their existing CIP practices.  However, FinCEN is not proposing to require that financial institutions verify that the natural persons identified on the form are in fact the beneficial owners. In other words, the requirement focuses on verifying the identity of the beneficial owners, but does not require the verification of their status as beneficial owners. This proposed requirement states minimum standards.

In order to identify the beneficial owner, a covered financial institution must obtain a certification from the individual opening the account on behalf of the legal entity customer (at the time of account opening) in the form of Appendix A.  The form requires the individual opening the account on behalf of the legal entity customer to identify the beneficial owner(s) of the legal entity customer by providing the beneficial owner’s

  • name,
  • date of birth,
  • address and
  • social security number (for U.S. persons).

This information is consistent with the information required under the CIP rules for identifying customers that are natural persons. The form also requires the individual opening the account on behalf of the legal entity customer to certify, to the best of his or her knowledge, that the information provided on the form is complete and correct.  Obtaining a signed and completed form from the individual opening the account on behalf of the legal entity customer shall satisfy the requirement to identify the beneficial owners. 

This section also requires financial institutions to verify the identity of the individuals identified as beneficial owners on the certification form.  The procedures for verification are to be identical to the procedures applicable to an individual opening an account under the existing CIP rules.

Accordingly, the financial institution must verify a beneficial owner’s identity using the information provided on the certification form.  For foreign persons, the form requires -

  • a passport number and country of issuance, or
  • other similar identification number (name, date of birth, address, and social security number (for U.S. persons), etc.),

according to the same documentary and non-documentary methods the financial institution may use in connection with its customer identification program (to the extent applicable to customers that are individuals), within a reasonable time after the account is opened.

A financial institution must also include procedures for responding to circumstances in which it cannot form a reasonable belief that it knows the true identity of the beneficial owner, as described under the CIP rules.

Definition of Beneficial Owner

The proposed definition of “beneficial owner” includes two independent prongs:

(a) an ownership prong and

(b) a control prong.

A covered financial institution must identify each individual under the ownership prong (i.e., each individual who owns 25 percent or more of the equity interests), in addition to one individual for the control prong (i.e., any individual with significant managerial control).

If no individual owns 25 percent or more of the equity interests, then the financial institution may identify a beneficial owner under the control prong only. If appropriate, the same individual(s) may be identified under both criteria.

Purpose of New CDD Rules

Clarifying and strengthening CDD requirements for U.S. financial institutions, including an obligation to identify beneficial owners, advances the purposes of the BSA by: 

  • Enhancing the availability to law enforcement, as well as to the federal functional regulators and SROs, of beneficial ownership information of legal entity customers obtained by U.S. financial institutions, which assists law enforcement financial investigations and regulatory examinations and investigations; 
  • Increasing the ability of financial institutions, law enforcement, and the intelligence community to identify the assets and accounts of terrorist organizations, money launderers, drug kingpins, weapons of mass destruction proliferators, and other national security threats, which strengthens compliance with sanctions programs designed to undercut financing and support for such persons; 
  • Helping financial institutions assess and mitigate risk, and comply with all existing legal requirements, including the BSA and related authorities;
  • Facilitating reporting and investigations in support of tax compliance, and advancing international commitments made to foreign counterparts in connection with the provisions commonly known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA); and 
  • Promoting consistency in implementing and enforcing CDD regulatory expectations across and within financial sectors.

Cost of New Compliance?

FinCEN believes that there are approximately eight million such accounts opened annually by covered financial institutions. Based on the total number of covered financial institutions,65 this would result in each covered financial institution opening approximately 368 such accounts per
year, or 1.5 per day. Estimating an average time for a covered financial institution to receive the certification and verify the information of 20 minutes and an average cost of $20 per hour, this results in a cost of approximately $54 million.

I will draft a topic chapter on the new FINCEN Beneficial Ownership Due Diligence requirements for the Winter release of LexisNexis’ Money Laundering, Asset Forfeiture and Recovery and Compliance: A Global Guide (free download through link)

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