This week, the Obama Administration released the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Proposal. President Obama’s proposed budget for the Department of the Treasury would, through the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, reserve at least $10 million until September 30, 2018 to provide grants for loan loss reserve funds and to provide technical assistance for small dollar loan programs under section 1206 of the Dodd-Frank Act. The Small Dollar Loan Program, according to the budget proposal, “will support broader access to safe and affordable financial products and provide an alternative to predatory lending by encouraging CDFIs to establish and maintain small dollar loan programs.” Earlier this year, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), in a letter to the President, requested that the FY 2017 budget proposal prioritize funding for small dollar loan programs, as outlined in Title XII – Improving Access to Mainstream Financial Institutions – of the Dodd-Frank Act. Read more…
On March 15, OFAC issued a final rule updating the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), 31 C.F.R. Part 515. The amendments advance policy changes announced by the Obama administration in 2014 by further facilitating travel to Cuba for authorized purposes, expanding the range of authorized financial transactions, and authorizing business and physical presence in Cuba. Regarding financial transactions, the final rule (i) amends section 515.584(d) to authorize certain U-turn payments through the U.S. financial system; (ii) adds new section 515.584(g) to allow U.S. banking institutions to process U.S. dollar monetary instruments presented indirectly by Cuban financial institutions; and (iii) adds new section 515.584(h) to “authorize banking institutions to open and maintain accounts solely in the name of a Cuban national located in Cuba for the purposes only of receiving payments in the United States in connection with transactions authorized pursuant to or exempt from the prohibitions of this part and remitting such payments to Cuba.”
OFAC’s amendments to the CACR were published in the Federal Register on March 16, 2016 and are effective immediately. OFAC simultaneously released a revised set of FAQs and a fact sheet regarding the changes set forth in the CACR.
On January 16, the Department of the Treasury issued a statement regarding Implementation Day under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the plan reached between the P5+1 (the United States, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany), the European Union, and Iran concerning Iran’s nuclear program. In response to Iran taking the appropriate nuclear-related measures, the United States followed through on lifting nuclear-related “secondary sanctions” on Iran, which included certain financial and banking-related sanctions. To summarize the effect of Implementation Day, OFAC issued guidance and FAQs. As outlined in the FAQs and in addition to lifting the nuclear-related “secondary sanctions,” the United States removed more than 400 individuals and entities from OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List). Still, as Treasury Secretary Lew noted, “other than certain limited exceptions provided for in the JCPOA, the U.S. embargo broadly remains in place, meaning that U.S. persons, including U.S. banks, will still be prohibited from virtually all dealings with Iranian entities.”
On November 16, FinCEN Director Jennifer Calvery and Treasury’s Acting Under Secretary Adam Szubin delivered remarks at the American Bankers Association and American Bar Association Money Laundering Enforcement Conference on continued AML enforcement efforts. Szubin focused on the topic of “de-risking,” which he described as “instances in which a financial institution seeks to avoid perceived regulatory risk by indiscriminately terminating, restricting, or denying services to broad classes of clients, without case-by-case analysis or consideration of mitigating options,” and addressed Treasury’s efforts to curtail the negative effects attributed to de-risking, such as preventing access to the dollar and pushing people out of the regulated financial system. Szubin emphasized, however, that the Treasury would not “dilute or roll back [its] AML/CFT standards,” but expects financial institutions to be vigilant when identifying potential risks and to implement AML/CFT programs that effectively address risks associated with illicit financing on a client-by-client basis. In a separate speech, Director Calvery addressed FinCEN’s reliance on Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) data to “uncover risks, vulnerabilities, and gaps in each financial sector,” noting that BSA data supports FinCEN’s ongoing AML enforcement efforts.
On October 18, the Department of the Treasury released a statement on reaching the formal “Adoption Day” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the plan reached between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Adoption Day is the day JCPOA participants will begin taking steps necessary to implement their JCPOA commitments. According to Treasury Secretary Lew, October 18 marks an “important milestone” as “Iran begins taking its nuclear-related measures and the United States and [its] partners prepare to lift nuclear-related sanctions in response.” Although this action means that the JCPOA’s effective date is October 18, 2015, no sanctions will be lifted until Implementation Day, which will occur after international inspectors confirm that Iran has met its commitments under the JCPOA. As decided in July and outlined in an OFAC press release, licenses with certain credentials will remain in effect in accordance with their terms until Implementation Day. OFAC also issued FAQs concerning Adoption Day. Commenting on the implications of Adoption Day, the White House likewise issued a Statement that it had directed the heads of all relevant executive departments and agencies of the United States to begin preparations to implement U.S. commitments under the JCPOA.