A bill pending in the Hawaii Legislature would create a new form of financial institution that state banking regulators fear would attract money launderers.
Under the measure, approved by the Hawaii House and pending in the state Senate, the new limited-purpose depository institutions would be permitted only to accept deposits of more than $200,000 from non-U.S. citizens; they would not make loans. The state government would collect 1.5% of each deposit.
The bill was introduced by Hawaii House Democrat Romy M. Cachola to infuse capital into the stagnant state economy. But Lynn Y. Wakatsuki, Hawaii's commissioner of financial institutions, said that because the new institutions would provide customers with a high level of confidentiality, they would become a haven for money launderers.
"Safety and soundness, which is what we are here to take care of, isn't the issue," Ms. Wakatsuki said in an interview this week. "Our focus will have to be dealing with possible criminal activities, and we don't have the expertise or resources to do that."
As a result of funding cuts, the number of Aloha State bank supervisors has dwindled through early retirements and attrition to four field examiners and two applications specialists, Ms. Wakatsuki said.
The bill has also raised concerns at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or Fincen, the Treasury Department unit responsible for preventing money laundering. In testimony submitted last month to a hearing before a state House committee, Fincen recommended that the bill provide for the hiring of independent auditors to aid state regulators.
"The state banking commission in Hawaii would be required to perform a very important role in assuring the ongoing integrity of the foreign capital depositories," Fincen said. "Appropriate levels of resources would be needed to ensure that this important task be performed properly."
Rep. Cachola, however, said concerns about money laundering are overblown but that lawmakers will address regulators' concerns by "working to tighten this bill."
"These institutions will have to comply with all the state and federal money laundering rules," Rep. Cachola said in an interview this week.
The legislation mirrors a Montana law enacted last year. Donald W. Hutchinson, Montana's commissioner of financial institutions, said he will have to increase his staff slightly as applications are filed. However, he added that he will be well prepared to detect and prevent any criminal involvement with the new institutions.
"Our regulatory oversight, combined with our cross-references to federal money laundering rules, will be sufficient," Mr. Hutchinson said. He said he expects to receive two applications within a week and that another dozen are being prepared.