Tag Archives: Correspondent Banking

De-Risking discussed at CARICOM 28th Inter-sessional Meeting

Alicia Nicholls

The issue of de-risking by global banks, manifested most prominently by the restriction or withdrawal of correspondent banking relationships with mainly indigenous banks in the Region, was discussed at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Twenty-Eighth Inter-sessional Meeting of the Heads of Government of CARICOM which took place in Georgetown, Guyana February 16-17 last week.

CARICOM countries have been engaging in high-level advocacy to raise awareness of the implications of global banks’ de-risking, including the restriction and termination of correspondent banking services to mainly indigenous Caribbean banks. In the Communique released after the Inter-Sessional Meeting, it was noted that Heads of Government recognised the need for a continued regional approach and concerted action on this issue which has the potential to undermine the region’s financial systems and to cut off access to trade, investment and other financial flows, with both economic and poverty-reduction implications.

Heads of Government also  recognised the need for continued urgent action to strengthen the integrity of the financial system in CARICOM Member States and to address the perception of the Caribbean as a high-risk Region. They also commended the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, and the Committee of Ministers of Finance for spearheading the advocacy initiatives towards resolution of the issue.

Below are the main take-aways from the Communique in regards to Heads of Government’s current and further action on the de-risking issue:

  • Heads of Government considered the Strategy and Action Plan submitted by the Committee of Central Bank Governors, and requested the Committee of Ministers of Finance with responsibility for Correspondent Financing to assume the oversight of its roll-out.
  • The Heads of Government agreed that the Region must continue its robust and unrelenting advocacy on the issue of Correspondent Banking, noting the advocacy initiatives’ success in raising international awareness of the consequences of de-risking.
  • Heads of Government encouraged Member States to seize the opportunity of heightened awareness among International Development Partners (IDPs) to secure the resources and support required to strengthen the domestic and regional financial system.
  • Heads of Government welcomed the efforts of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to assist Member States to strengthen their financial systems and partnering with multilateral financial institutions to determine solutions to the ongoing de-risking threat to the Community.
  • Heads of Government acknowledged the multi-dimensional nature of the several drivers behind the de-risking strategies being pursued by global banks, and called for a comprehensive stock-taking exercise to determine Member States’ status and ensure that national action plans are aligned with the timetable for compliance with global regulatory standards.
  • Heads of Government noted the need to strengthen Member States’ compliance with the global regulatory standards with regard to Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) and Tax Transparency Information Exchange.

More on the 28th Inter-sessional Meeting may be viewed here.

The full communique is available here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

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De-Risking remains “a key priority”, according to US Treasury

Alicia Nicholls

De-risking remains a “key priority” for the United States’ (US) Department of the Treasury. This is according to Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in the US Department of the Treasury, Mr. Adam Szubin, in a key note address delivered at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association’s annual Money Laundering Enforcement Conference held in Washington DC November 13-15, 2016.

The withdrawal and/or restriction of correspondent banking services as part of banks’ de-risking efforts has been a growing problem internationally, with small states in the Caribbean appearing to be the most affected, according to a World Bank study published last year. For small open economies, the loss of correspondent banking relationships threatens to sever their access to global trade, finance and remittance flows. Belize in particular has been seriously impacted by de-risking as even its Central Bank has seen some of its CBRs severed.

Responding to those who highlight that the current regulatory environment is prohibiting  financial inclusion, Mr. Szubin noted that “we at Treasury firmly believe that expanding access to the financial system and protecting it from illicit activity are mutually reinforcing goals that can and must be addressed simultaneously.”

He went on to discuss what the Treasury found were the reasons why some international banks were reassessing their business relationships:

  • Correspondent banking is a low-margin business in a global banking environment that has seen many multinational banks reassess their global strategic footprint, cut costs, and reallocate capital.
  • Heightened prudential standards following the global financial crisis
  • There are often very real concerns about the risks presented by anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) compliance

It should be pointed out that Caribbean-based research on De-Risking and Its Impact found that “[banks’] decisions are based on a complex of factors, including the cost of compliance with laws and regulations, and is an unintended consequence of decisions taken by the official sector in globally systemic countries.”

It is also worth noting that no CARICOM state is currently on the CFATF’s watch list, not even Belize which has been the most affected. Therefore, the view of Caribbean countries as “high risk” is unfounded. Another issue is that US banks themselves have highlighted the need for better regulatory guidance on de-risking, which shows that ambiguous regulations are indeed part of the problem. A good step is the Joint Fact Sheet entitled “Joint Fact Sheet on Foreign Correspondent Banking” released by the US Treasury and US regulators this August.

Mr. Szubin then outlined the following ways in which the US is dealing with the problem:

  • On-going engagement with the private sector, foreign jurisdictions, money services businesses, non-profit organizations, including with the Caribbean
  • Ensuring that the global standards in place are well understood and implemented consistently and effectively e.g: release of its Factsheet clarifying that Knowing your customer’s customer – KYCC is not required
  • Treasury’s Office of Technical Assistance offers technical assistance to roughly 18 countries, including a number of countries impacted by de-risking
  • Information sharing and he gave an example of Mexico

Mr. Szubin called the perception that banks are taking an indiscriminate approach to terminating, restricting, or denying services across entire sectors as “inaccurate and overblown and not, in fact, what most institutions are doing in terms of best practice”. This, however, has not been the experience of some banks in the Caribbean which have had their correspondent banking relationships severed without a concrete explanation and often with only a short notification period. Bank of America’s abrupt termination of its relationship with Belize’s largest bank, Belize Bank, is perhaps the most glaring example.

Mr. Szubin did, however, encourage banks “to continue to take the time and effort to assess your controls and the risks presented by individual clients and where you cannot manage effectively that risk make conscientious decisions.”

It is, however, comforting to know the US Treasury has reiterated its prioritisation of the phenomenon of de-risking, which bodes well for Caribbean governments and other stakeholders as they continue their lobbying on this issue.

The full remarks may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Caribbean Response to the Withdrawal of Correspondent Banking

Alicia Nicholls

IMF Deputy Managing Director, Mr. Tao Zhang, gave an interesting and comprehensive speech summarising the “Caribbean response to the Withdrawal of Correspondent Banking” at the Conference on the Withdrawal of Correspondent Banking in Antigua & Barbuda on October 28, 2016.

The following realities stood out to me from Mr. Zhang’s speech:

  1. Almost 60% of the Caribbean Association of Banks’ member institutions,  which it has interviewed, report a loss of CBRs.
  2. In some cases where the banks have been able to hold on to CBRs,  some key services have been discontinued e.g: cheque clearance, trade finance and wire transfers
  3. Some banks face higher costs for the remaining services.
  4. Global correspondent banks are withdrawing from transactions involving money transfer operators.

Given the above, Mr. Zhang rightly noted that if this continues, not only would it affect the financial stability of affected countries, but also economic growth, financial inclusion, and other development goals. He further reiterated that continued loss of CBRs would drive legitimate transactions underground and encourage increased informality, thereby undermining anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) objectives.

Mr. Zhang then turned to the issues driving this trend. A number of international organisations and agencies have studied this issue, including the IMF, and their findings were echoed in Mr. Zhang’s speech. He noted, for example, the cost-benefit considerations which banks have to weigh; rising expenses associated with compliance and international tax transparency versus limited profitability in some CBRs.

He made reference to several policy responses being made by Caribbean authorities and other affected regions which he  noted have already started to have some results. He gave the example of the US Treasury Department which has increased its education of financial institutions on the “precise nature of transactions and behaviours that are subject to sanctions”. He further made reference of Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) countries’ decision to consolidate their national AML/CFT work into one regional operation under the responsibility of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB).

Mr. Zhang emphasised that there is “no quick fix” to the problem and reiterated the need for urgent action to mitigate the impact on affected economies.

In addressing what are the next steps, he outlined three areas for further exploration:

  • Addressing the problem of economies of scale
  • Mitigating cost and technical limitations
  • Improving information flows

He also set out a number of ways in which the IMF could be of assistance, including for example, facilitating dialogue and encouraging standard-setting bodies to take account of the impact of CBR policies.

In concluding, Mr. Zhang reiterated the IMF’s continued commitment to working with affected countries on the issue until it is solved.

The full speech is a must-read and may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

FATF releases Guidance on Correspondent Banking Services

Alicia Nicholls

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has released its long-awaited guidance on the application of FATF standards in the context of correspondent banking services following its plenary session held October 19-21st, 2016. The purpose of the guidance is to address de-risking and has been prepared in collaboration with the Financial Stability Board (FSB).

The target audience for the guidance includes not just banks and money or value transfer service (MVTS) providers engaged in providing correspondent banking or respondent bank services, but financial institutions with account holders that are MVTS which in turn provide correspondent banking-type services to their own customers, as well as competent authorities (particularly AML/CFT regulators and supervisors of banks and of MVTS providers).

Key Points from FATF Guidance on Correspondent Banking Services

Some key points from the Guidance are as follows:

  • FATF recommendations do NOT require the correspondent bank to know its customer’s customers (KYCC). In other words, correspondent banks are not required to conduct CDD (Customer Due Diligence) on the individual customers of its respondent institution.
  • While noting that simplified CDD are never appropriate in the cross-border correspondent banking context, FATF explains that not all correspondent banking services carry the same level of money laundering or terrorist financing risk so enhanced due diligence measures must be commensurate with the degree of risk identified.
  • FATF identified some factors to consider in assessing correspondent banking risks, including the respondent institution’s jurisdiction, products/services offered and customer base. FATF recommended the risk factors included in Annex II of the BCBS Guidelines on Sound Management of Risks related to ML/FT.
  • However, FATF stopped short of defining what constitutes a higher risk on the basis that doing so could lead to ‘a tick the box approach’ which could encourage, rather than discourage, de-risking.
  • The requirements of FATF Recommendations 10 (Customer Due Diligence) and 13 (Correspondent Banking) must be met before correspondent banking services may be provided to a respondent institution.
  • Correspondent institutions may obtain information required by FATF recommendations 10 and 13 directly from the respondent institution but this information MUST be verified in order for it to meet those requirements.
  • FATF provided some examples of sources of verification from BCBS General Guide on Account Opening
  • On-going due diligence of existing and new CBRs is required but the frequency should depend on the level of risk associated with each relationship.
  • FATF recommended maintaining an on-going, open dialogue with correspondents and noted that while FATF requirements require termination of customer relations where identified risks cannot be managed in accordance with the risk-based approach (RBA), the other options offered by recommendation 10 should be explored before the relationship is terminated.

This is welcomed news especially for Caribbean countries which, according to a World Bank study released in September 2015, appear to be the most affected by the loss of correspondent banking relationships.  This guidance is an important step in tackling de-risking by providing definitive clarity on a number of key areas, including on the hitherto confusing issue of KYCC.

It also stresses against the wholesale termination of CBRs as a first resort, but rather keeping an open dialogue with respondent banks. If followed, therefore, the guidance should reduce the alacrity with which some banks have restricted or terminated correspondent banking relationships. However, this guidance is not binding and the effectiveness will depend on the level of observance by foreign banks and by their regulators.

The Guidance on Correspondent Banking Services is to be read in conjunction with FATF recommendations and guidance papers, including the guidance on RBA for the Banking Sector. It also complements other guidance on correspondent banking services previously released by the Wolfsberg Group and the Committee on Payments & Market Infrastructure (CPMI).

The full FATF Guidance on Correspondent Banking Services may be read here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Caribbean States raise de-risking concerns at the 71st United Nations General Assembly

Alicia Nicholls

De-risking was one of the myriad of developmental issues raised by small states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at the 71st Regular General Assembly of the United Nations in New York over the past few days. The theme of the general debate of the 71st session was “The Sustainable Development Goals: a universal push to transform our world.”

De-risking practices by banks involve the avoidance of risk by discontinuing business with whole classes of customers without taking into account their levels of risk. This is in direct contradiction to the risk-based approach advocated by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The major manifestation of bank de-risking has been the restriction or termination by large banks (particularly in the US) of correspondent banking relationships with banks and discontinuing relationships with money transfer operators (MTOs).

While countries across the world have been affected by de-risking in varying degrees, a World Bank study published in 2015 found that the Caribbean region appeared to be the most affected by a decline in correspondent banking relationships. This situation is even more vexing considering CARICOM countries’ adherence to international regulations and best practices, including the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force.

Arguing that correspondent banking services are a public good, CARICOM countries launched a high-level diplomatic offensive over the past months to raise awareness and mobilise action on this serious issue. The restriction and loss of correspondent banking relationships not only threaten the region’s financial stability but also threaten to de-link Caribbean countries from the global financial and trading system, undermining their sustainable development prospects. There has, however, been limited international progress on this front despite strong advocacy and a myriad of studies on the issue by regional and international development agencies.

Singing from the same hymn sheet, CARICOM representatives consistently raised the issue in their national speeches before the UN General Assembly.  In perhaps one of the most comprehensive and impassioned statements, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas, H.E. Frederick Mitchell,  made de-risking the starting point in his speech, emphasizing not only the difficulty being faced in opening accounts, but also the impact on tourism, remittance and financial flows. Calling it a “moral imperative,” he reiterated Caribbean countries’ adherence to anti-money laundering rules, while condemning the over-regulation which has had led to the de-risking phenomenon. He also termed the attacks on the Bahamas and the CARICOM region as “inaccurate and unfair”.

Touching on the sustainable development implications of de-risking, representative of Trinidad & Tobago, Senator the Honourable Dennis Moses, Minister of Foreign and CARICOM  Affairs, poignantly stated as follows:

“The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda recognizes that national development efforts need to be supported by an enabling international economic environment through international business activity and finance, international development cooperation, and international trade. However, the issue of financial institutions terminating or restricting correspondent banking relations in the CARICOM Region has destabilized the financial sectors of our Member States and has disrupted the Region’s growth and economic progress.”

On behalf of Trinidad & Tobago and CARICOM, Senator Moses further called on “international banks to engage collaboratively with affected Member States to restore normal financial relationships between domestic banks and international markets.”

Prime Minister of St. Kitts & Nevis, the Hon. Timothy Harris noted that “[a]lready, in the Caribbean, as of the first half of this year, some 16 banks, across five countries have lost all or some of their correspondent banking relationships putting the financial lifeline of these countries at great risk”. Highlighting Caribbean countries’ dependence on tourism and remittance flows, he further explained that “such [de-risking] actions threaten to derail progress, undermine trade, direct foreign investment and repatriation of business profits.”

Laying the blame for de-risking on “heavy-handed” FATF regulations, Prime Minister of St. Vincent & Grenadines reiterated the potential of de-risking to disconnect Caribbean countries from global finance and “a shifting of potentially risky transactions to institutions that lack the regulatory wherewithal to handle them”. He further explained that “these [FATF] regulations must be revised urgently before legitimate transactions in the Caribbean–from credit card payments to remittances to foreign direct investment–grind to a halt.”

Besides de-risking, CARICOM representatives raised several other development issues, including climate change, graduation policies of international development agencies, United Nations reform, the US embargo of Cuba, the attack on international financial centres by OECD countries and the on-going border disputes between Guyana and Venezuela and Belize and Guatemala. CARICOM states also congratulated newly elected UNGA President, Peter Thomson of Fiji, and thanked outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for his service, particularly his support of SIDS.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

De-risking and its Foreign Trade Impact in the Caribbean

Alicia Nicholls

A few weeks ago I had the honour and pleasure of presenting on the Foreign Trade Impact of De-Risking at the Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (ICAC) 34th Annual Conference in beautiful Belize as part of a panel discussion along with Dr. Trevor Brathwaite, Deputy Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and Mr. Filippo Alario, Chief Risk Officer of Belize Bank.

Alicia Nicholls ICAC 2016 Belize

Alicia Nicholls  at ICAC 2016 Photo compliments of R Mohammed

I wish to again express my gratitude to ICAC for the invitation and to all stakeholders and everyone who kindly provided me with information and assisted me in my research.

Some of the key points from the presentation were as follows:

  • De-risking is a business decision but with serious implications for Caribbean foreign trade.
  • As small open economies, Caribbean countries are highly dependent on foreign trade as evidenced by their high trade to GDP ratios which range between 70-130% of GDP, according to World Bank data.
  • Several Caribbean countries are among the most dependent in the world on remittance-inflows.
  • Bank de-risking threatens the region’s integration into the global trade and financial systems and has implications for economic growth, stability, employment.
  • Disruptions to remittance and FDI flows by de-risking also have poverty alleviation and sustainable development implications.
  • Cross-border payment for goods via wire transfer and remittance sending appear to be the most affected from a trade perspective.

Several persons  have written me requesting a copy of the full presentation. It is available below:

ICAC_Presentation_2016_ANicholls(1)

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

CARICOM countries continue fight against bank de-risking

Alicia Nicholls

The countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are continuing their fight against bank de-risking practices which are resulting in the restriction, threat of, or outright termination of correspondent banking relations with banks and wire transfer providers in the Caribbean region.

Onerous global and national regulatory requirements (such as anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism standards), burdensome compliance costs and the stringent sanctions for breach of these regulations are increasingly leading banks in metropolitan countries, particularly in the United States, to de-risk, that is, avoid risk by discontinuing business with whole classes of customers without taking into account their levels of risk, as opposed to managing and mitigating risk. While other countries are also experiencing this disquieting phenomenon, the Caribbean appears to be the most affected region according to a World Bank survey conducted last year.

There are a number of other factors influencing de-risking decisions. Besides risk and reward considerations, added to the mix is the growing perception of the Caribbean as a “risky” place for financial transactions. The unwarranted attacks against legitimate offshore financial centres in the Caribbean in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal will no doubt unfortunately add fuel to the fire. The net result is an increasing unwillingness of international banks to continue correspondent banking relationships with banks and wire transfer providers in the region.

Belize has been the hardest hit so far by bank de-risking, but other Caribbean countries are also being affected. In the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Caribbean Corner publication of September 2015, it was reported that “[a]lready at least 10 banks in the region in five countries have (as of June 2015) lost all or some of their CBRs, including two central banks.” This number has grown.

At the meeting of the Financial Stability Board in Tokyo in March this year, Barbados’ Central Bank Governor, Dr. Delisle Worrell, reporting in his capacity as co-Chair of the Financial Stability Board’s Regional Consultative Group for the Americas, highlighted that eight correspondent banking relationships in Barbados’ international business sector have already been severed. He further warned that the lack of correspondent banking services could lead individuals to utilise unregulated channels, thereby limiting transparency and adding further risk to international transactions.

The loss of correspondent banking relationships disrupts the processing of financial instruments, such as credit card transactions and cheques,  needed for trade, investment, tourism and remittance flows, and would effectively de-link regional economies from the international financial system. It also has humanitarian and poverty eradication consequences as well. Remittances are the “bread and butter” for many poor families who depend on earnings made by breadwinners abroad. In light of the serious threat posed to the region’s economic, financial and social stability by de-risking, CARICOM heads of government took the decision to raise the issue not just bilaterally but in multilateral fora.In March Caribbean countries sought the Organisation of American States’ support.

Last week, Prime Minister of St. Kitts & Nevis, Dr. Timothy Harris took the lead during an important consultation with officials from the US State and Treasury Departments in Washington DC raised the serious impact de-risking was having on regional economies. The issue was also raised at the recently concluded Ninth UK-Caribbean Forum. The Ministers noted at paragraph 9 of the Communique:

The Caribbean therefore called on the UK to continue to work with international
partners to address this global phenomenon, and to encourage banks which
provide correspondent banking services, and regulatory authorities, to take
into account the efforts being made by Caribbean countries and financial
institutions to implement international regulations and to mitigate risks.

The full communique from that meeting may be viewed here.

The Caribbean Association of Banks has also been playing a critical role in lobbying efforts. At the Association’s recently held CEO Forum on May 3rd, parties came together “to explore potential solutions and develop a set of actions in response to this threat”. According to the press release, the Forum “discussed and agreed” on the following possible solutions:  the establishment of a clearing institution in the US, alternative Payment Methods and alternative Correspondent Banking Relationships. The forum also established a six member committee to advance these recommendations. The full press release from the CAB’s CEO Forum may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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