FinCEN Must Staff Up to Fulfill Reform Mandate, Director Says
03 Mar 2021

The U.S. Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit is focused on acquiring the resources it needs to implement sweeping new anti-money-laundering reforms—in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily burden the financial industry, its director said.

Putting into practice the anti-money-laundering legislation, which was passed in January as part of an annual defense-policy bill, is a priority of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, FinCEN Director Kenneth Blanco said Tuesday at a virtual conference hosted by International Institute of Bankers.

“The priority is to make sure that we do everything that we can to implement the [law], everything that we can to get FinCEN in a position where it can accomplish that,” Mr. Blanco said.

That means making sure FinCEN is “fully staffed” and “fully resourced,” and conducts outreach needed to carefully write regulations surrounding the law, he said.

The anti-money-laundering bill requires FinCEN to build a sophisticated corporate ownership registry that can help law-enforcement officials pierce anonymous shell companies and track illicit money.

Financial crimes experts say creation of the database is likely to be a big lift for FinCEN, whose workforce accounts for less than 1% of the Treasury Department’s entire full-time staff.

The agency last year requested a budget about nearly $130 million, with allocations for 346 full-time employees. A Congressional Budget Office report from 2019 that reviewed an earlier version of the beneficial-ownership bill estimated the one-time cost of updating FinCEN’s IT systems to build the registry would be about $40 million.

Mr. Blanco said his agency was up to the task of implementing the law. “We think we can do it,” he told financial industry representatives. But he said FinCEN would tread carefully in writing the rules implementing the legislation.

“We’ve waited so long for this kind of legislation,” Mr. Blanco said. “We need to make sure we’re very thoughtful in implementing it.”

To create the corporate registry, FinCEN will need to propose regulations that lay out exactly who will be required to file ownership information with the agency, and how often. It will have to decide who can access it, and how.

It will also need to write rules for many other provisions of the bill. The law requires FinCEN to start handing out financial awards to whistleblowers, and to roll out a pilot program allowing banks in the U.S. to share information about suspicious activity with their international operations.

The unit has a year to write the regulations, and another two to put them into practice, according to the law.

By Dylan Tokar, The Wall Street Journal, 2 March 2021

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