We thank our colleague Carlos Grossman, for the report out of Chile where the Antimonopoly Division of the National Economic Prosecutor Office (División Antimonopolios de la Fiscalía Nacional Económica – FNE) reports the investigation that took place after an August 2015 complaint by a Forex Firm denouncing seven banks of denying the opening of a bank account. The investigation and the conclusions are very important for the industry worldwide and Mr. Grossman has provided us with the report, so it can be read and used by any company in the industry that is been denied an account.
As you recall from the earlier blog, there are many reasons for MSBs to be cautiously optimistic: new banks are opening with a focus on various types of MSBs, regional and community-based financial institutions are gearing up to perform appropriate due diligence on potential clients, online firms who do not require branches for deposits are springing up rapidly and regulators are able to distinguish quality within the MSB industry vs. the historical “one size fits all” approach. The combination of these factors is opening doors for money transmitters, pre-paid providers, 3rd party processors and others in our much-maligned industry.
Key positive developments in banking for MSBs
It’s been a bleak period for money transmitters over the past several years. The specter of derisking —that business-killing policy of many banks in the US and globally—may be disappearing. At least in the US where other entities are stepping up. Our colleagues in other parts of the world are still seeing their local banks derisking yielding to the pressure of large global banks.
So, in preparing for the panel on “Derisking and MSB Friendly Banks” that I am coordinating with Hugo Cuevas-Mohr for IMTC WORLD 2017 I came up with 7 emerging factors that are giving hope to a strong, but beleaguered industry.
De-risking was an acute illness for the Caribbean financial sector in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, the height of the fever has broken, but the patient is still sick. Though correspondent banks in developed countries are no longer dropping services to Caribbean banks at a rapid pace, the region’s economies remain encumbered with a residue of increased costs, forgone opportunities, and reduced efficiency.
The problem developed early in this decade, as a reaction on the part of banks to the heightened scrutiny and increased capital and liquidity requirements they faced in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Facing an increase in costs – particularly on account of the increased due diligence required by enhanced anti-money-laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) risk management procedures – major banks took a close look at the bottom line associated with servicing the customers Caribbean banks and their customers, and decided that the relatively small amount of business wasn’t worth the hassle.
Daniel Trías, consultant and specialist in foreign trade, banking, finance and family remittances, founder of DT Consulting and Member of the IMTC Advisory Board and who has accompanied the “Cono Sur” (southern cone) Associations in their meetings, their initiatives to find solutions to De-Risking, such as Creation of CIASEFIM, presents this Document entitled: “De-Risking: The Risk of No-Risk”. This Document (in spanish) not only illustrates the problem faced by financial services companies in the region but also sets out a road map and suggests solutions for regulators, banks, the financial services industry, Multilateral agencies and even politicians, to participate in a constructive dialogue on the subject. Failure to do so will continue to deepen the impact to financial inclusion and transparency undertakings, fostering informality and many unintended consequences, not yet imaginable at this moment.
Read the document online, download it as a PDF for print, Tablet or Kindle read.
How De-Risking is changing the face of Financial Services worldwide
In July 6th & 8th the Economist published two articles that, again, raised the de-risking threat discussion to new levels. The July 6th article was entitled “The great unbanking  – Swingeing fines have made banks too risk-averse – It is time to rethink anti-money-laundering rules” and the July 8th one: “Rolling up the welcome mat  – A crackdown on financial crime means global banks are derisking – Charities and poor migrants are among the hardest hit”. For us in the “low-income financial services provider’s sector”  the challenges, from regulatory pressures, rise in compliance costs and most of all, de-risking, are a survival issue.
This article is a broad view of de-risking, my opinions on some of the most recent developments that I have been reading, hearing and witnessing recently as we prepare for the “De-Risking Forum” on Nov 30 at IMTC WORLD 2017 in Miami. For detailed analysis on de-risking, its causes and the implications for FIs, you can find many great articles & documents online.
Mexican migrants in the USA are first class Mexicans. They are in general the risk-taker population, hardworking, with a different work ethic compared to the average American worker. They give a different value to their labor and the remuneration that they receive for that effort. Some are prosperous entrepreneurs too. Success stories abound throughout the US. They are far removed from the political campaigns in Mexico, in which they are included, to their regret, in the political speeches with highly demagogic and populist content. They are generally skeptical of the political agendas of migrant associations in the USA. For these reasons, among others, they are most likely to repudiate acts of corruption. They are also highly reasonable users (consumers) of the electronic remittances market.
How the financial crisis, the evolution of Banking and Unbanking and the rise of technology in financial services are all connected
The financial crisis and the rise of technology in financial services, that has led to an increase in the importance of NBFIs (Non-Bank Financial Institutions) in the provision of financial services, has created a number of challenging situations that might seem unconnected but could be associated to the evolution of a new world financial order.
We will explore in this article two books, discuss small loans by NBFIs, mention the work of a California-based fintech and close with links to introduce our next blog, how the unbanking or derisking is also phase of the struggles we are facing as an industry and a major challenge for NBFIs all over the world.
Georgia & Iowa move to leverage a tax on remittances – Financial Institutions are reacting
In a previous blog (in Spanish), posted in the midst of the many reporter calls, especially from Latinamerica (driven by the anxiety over the migration policies of the new US Trump administration), I mentioned the US legislators drive to tax remittances in the US. The State of Oklahoma is taxing remittances for some years now ($5 up to $500 and 1% after that). Several other States such as Georgia and Iowa are moving on this direction and the industry is watching. In the federal level there are also some initiatives being proposed. in an effort to fund the border wall.
After a series of media interviews a couple of weeks ago, in a trip to Guatemala, I realized in a moment that I was witnessing a change in the public perception of remittances that I had not grasped before. Answering one by one journalist questions, it was unquestionable that I was witnessing a shift that I had not noticed before. After thinking about it, I could say that the shift is global although that doesn’t mean that a shift is happening in the same way or at the same time in every region or country in the world. Having been a part of the remittance industry for three decades I suddenly saw it very clearly. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself so let’s back up a little.
Remesas, impuestos, migración, deportaciones y la construcción del muro
Durante las primarias presidenciales republicanas del año pasado, Donald Trump expuso su propuesta de cómo forzar a México a pagar por el muro de 1,000 millas en la frontera entre Estados Unidos y este país. Los periodistas Bob Woodward y Robert Costa del Washington Post publicaron en Abril 5 de 2016 la noticia (http://wapo.st/2jbWHFn) en la cual Trump manifestaba su intención de amenazar a México con “cortar el suministro de remesas”. Trump envió en esta ocasión un memorando de dos páginas…
On December 12 in São Paulo, Brazil at the 2nd ABRACAM COMPLIANCE DAY an International Commission of Associations of Money Transfers Companies, Non-Bank Financial Services Companies, Foreign Exchange Firms and their Agents, was formed to make a public statement, signed by all the Associations, voicing their extreme concern regarding the negative impacts of “DE-RISKING” in the economic, financial e social areas of several countries in the region. They had met previously in November 11th, as part of IMTC WORLD 2016 “DE-RISKING & BANK DISCONTINUANCE FORUM” that discussed the impact of this practice in the Money Transfer, Remittance and Payment Industry. The termination of correspondent accounts of foreign financial institutions (FFIs) by US Commercial Banks as well as some these US Banks forcing local bank account closures by their corresponding banks in many countries in the region was also discussed at IMTC WORLD in an afternoon round table on Nov. 10, moderated by Daniel Trias.
On November 11th, as part of IMTC WORLD 2016 we will be having a “DE-RISKING & BANK DISCONTINUANCE FORUM” to discuss the impact of this practice in the Money Transfer, Remittance and Payment Industry as well as the U.S. depository institutions termination of correspondent accounts of foreign financial institutions (FFIs) as well as some US Banks forcing local bank account closures by their corresponding banks in many countries in the world.
As we informed all our special Friday Newsletter to subscribers in the UK, the Commonwealth Secretariat invited the International Money Transfer & Payments Industry to the “Disconnecting from Global Finance: A Conversation on De-Risking” meeting that was programmed this past Thursday, August 10th at Marlborough House in London. The meeting was called following the release of the Commonwealth’s report “Disconnecting from Global Finance: The Impact of AML/CFT Regulations in Commonwealth Developing Countries”. Passions ran high at the meeting as money transfer businesses and smaller financial institutions complained about the “detrimental” decline in international banking for many businesses and individuals.
To show how critical MSBs are to the functioning of the U.S. financial system, a 2013 Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. survey found 9.6 million U.S. households did not have bank accounts and 24.8 million households — 20 percent of the U.S. population — were underbanked, meaning they had bank accounts but also used alternative financial services outside of the banking system
Today, MSBs worldwide are caught in a banking crisis showing no signs of relenting. Based on real and imagined enforcement risks, most banks have categorically decided against providing accounts to MSBs, while others have been ordered by regulators to stop serving MSBs. This process of “de-risking,” by which banks terminate relationships with “high-risk” customers, has been brutal for the MSB industry and resulted in unforeseen consequences, including:
The Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) and the Money Transmitter Regulators Association (MTRA) released an important report on the state of the industry that is a must read for anyone in the industry and a report that all US Money Transmitters should be sending to their banks. The report is entitled “The state of state money services businesses regulation & supervision” and it examines the non-bank financial sector in the US and the bank discontinuance and de-risking challenges the industry faces. But the main objective is to let the banks know of the strict regulations and close supervision the state regulators have on all licensed MSBs.
As I leave Barcelona after IMTC EMEA 2016 this past May 18-20 and I reflect on the industry, I can’t help but feel proud of the work we do at IMTC and the people we serve. Even talking with long-time industry warriors who are tired of the increasing complexity of the sector, I am a positive person and I can’t help but look back on where we started, around 30-35 years ago, and where we are now. Yes, we face many problems: bank discontinuance, regulatory inconsistency, a somewhat tainted image, weak trade groups, just to name a few. But we are a strong and growing sector with new products and services, new client sectors and technology developments that are impressive. Let’s take a partial look at ourselves…
In the past IMTC BRASIL 2016 in Sao Paulo, Leonardo Costa made a presentation available in our Download Section entitled Nueva Guia GAFI Prestadores Servicios Transferencia Dinero Valores about the FATF – GAFI February 2016 document on the GUIDANCE FOR A RISK-BASED APPROACH for MONEY OR VALUE TRANSFER SERVICES. The Guidance in Page 46 (#125) urges the Banks to “not resort to the wholesale termination or exclusion of customer relationships within the MVTS (money or value transfer services) sector”.
Commenting on this Guidance and De-Risking and Bank Discontinuance problem – that is now extending as US Commercial Banks force local banks to close accounts of local MVTS companies – Leonardo use this great metaphor:
The Spanish Courts petitioned the European Tribunal for a guidance to clarify Bank Account Closure Cases and the presumption of remittances being high risk
Our IMTC speaker and colleague Antonio Selas from the firm Cremades & Calvo Sotelo in Madrid has been preventing Banks from closing bank accounts of MTOs in Spain by taking to court the banks and convincing judges that Banks are discriminating against their competitors and that their “remittances are high risk” argument has no factual evidence. We met Antonio Selas in IMTC EMEA 2015 in Istanbul and he came to Miami and made a presentation in IMTC WORLD 2015 entitled “Bank Account Closures Are Against the Law“.
The timing could not have been better. FATF just published – February 2016, a report that all Compliance Officers of this industry must read, entitled Guidance for a Risk-Based Approach for Money or Value Transfer Services (Summary – Full Report (69 pages). I want to highlight three statements in the presentation of the report:
- The risk-based approach, the cornerstone of the FATF Standards, requires that measures to combat ML/TF are commensurate with the risks. Such measures should not necessarily result into the categorization of all MVTS providers as inherently high-risk.
- The overall risks and threats are influenced by the extent and quality of regulatory and supervisory framework, as well as the implementation of risk-based controls and mitigating measures by each MVTS provider.
- While this Guidance is applicable to the entire MTVS sector (both banking and non-banking institutions offering MVTS); it is primarily intended for non-banking MVTS providers.
On De-Risking, Recent Bank Account Closures, The Somalian Remittance Crisis and the loud calls to try to resolve the MSB Bank Discontinuance crisis in the US (and UK, Australia… and almost everywhere)
In English, a “moving target” is when you set your expectation for something – some task, some desirable outcome, a target, and then when it is met you ‘move the target’ and set another expectation. It means that the person or entity you have set the expectation for is never able to fulfill it, never reaching the target. And “De-Risking” is fast becoming a moving target.
The Society for Risk Analysis states: “Risk analysis is broadly defined to include risk assessment, risk characterization, risk communication, risk management, and policy relating to risk, in the context of risks of concern to individuals, to public- and private-sector organizations, and to society at a local, regional, national, or global level“. Is quite a broad and very inexact science that all of us in the Financial Services area are trying all the time to define and manage.
Right at 9 am, in the Cash Room of the Treasury Building last Tuesday, January 13th,, 100+ attendees gathered to participate in the Roundtable.
Bank Discontinuance of MTOs in Australia has been in the news for a couple of weeks and all the small and medium sized companies in the country are being forced to shutdown because all the major banks have been closing their accounts and letters of discontinuance have been sent to the 5,000+ MTOs in the country*. This is just another round in a worldwide problem.
You can read several articles on the situation in Australia; check this one http://bit.ly/1uQctHe for example)
MTOs have launched the Remittance and Currency Providers Association, ARPAC, to represent them and to look for ways to get government support and find solutions (see http://ab.co/1xQlj9Z). We praise their effort. The UKMTA association lead the industry’s effort in UK when the Barclay’s situation came up in UK in 2013 (http://bit.ly/1toUhPp).
We can’t say that the access to banking accounts problem is new in the Money Transfer Industry, not in the USA or a number of other countries. It was one of the reasons why the NMTA was formed back in 1996, David Landsman, Executive Director, reminds us every now and then. So why is this a such an urgent issue in 2014? I think the answer is that in the last decade a large number of small money transfer companies, with very little capital and minimal compliance structures were the first to go, now is the medium sized, larger companies, well funded, with large investments in technology and compliance the ones that are feeling the brunt. What should the industry do?