WASHINGTON Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery pushed back again Tuesday against the idea that reports filed by bankers vanish into a "black hole."
Speaking to American Banker's Regulatory Symposium, Calvery said that there are more than 100 teams across the country that review banks' suspicious activity reports.
They bring "together prosecutors and investigators to review the reports in their geographic area and initiate investigations," she said.
In the second quarter of fiscal year 2014, those teams reviewed 180,000 SARs out of 290,000 filed during that period. That represents nearly 62% of all SARs filed. There are also 11,000 other users that query FinCEN for BSA information.
"It appears that more reports are reviewed by law enforcement and other users on a given day than are actually filed by financial institutions," Calvery said. "As you can see, BSA reporting does not go into a black hole as suggested by some in the financial industry."
Banks have complained for years that the burden of filing SARs and currency transaction reports is not worth the effort for law enforcement officials. But Calvery said the FBI and other agencies routinely search such data looking for connections to their cases.
The former Justice Department official stressed that it is important to instill a "culture of compliance" at financial institutions so that personnel at all levels understand the purpose and usefulness of BSA reporting.
The failure to devote sufficient staff and resources can lead to reputational risk if a bank is implicated in money laundering or other criminal activities.
"Based on the enforcement cases I have seen time and time again, both during my years as a prosecutor and now as the director of Fincen, I can say without a doubt that a strong culture of compliance can make all the difference," Calvery said.
In August, Fincen issued a proposal that would "clarify and strengthen" banks requirements to identify beneficial owners of companies.
The plan would ask banks to identify individuals who ultimately own or control accounts of legal entities. The proposal would "increase the ability of financial institutions and law enforcement to identify the assets of illicit actors and further help financial institutions better assess and mitigate risk," Calvery said.