WASHINGTON — Federal regulators on Tuesday pushed back against the perception that they are cracking down harder on Bank Secrecy Act violations, saying they have not made recent changes to the rules or how they enforce them.

"We haven't seen an uptick on enforcement actions on the BSA side for FDIC," said Doreen Eberley, the risk management chief of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., during a panel discussion at an American Bankers Association conference. "From an agency perspective... we issued the [BSA] manual, most recently updated it in December, but there aren't any fundamental changes, and the laws haven't changed. We keep hearing at FDIC from the folks that come in that they are worried about what has changed in our expectations, and there really hasn't been anything."

The remarks came in response to a question from the audience during the event. Bankers continue to argue that examiners are taking a tougher stance on anti-money laundering violations.

But Eberley said the FDIC has anecdotally seen cases of banks running afoul of BSA rules because they move to new compliance software without keeping the old software in place on a parallel track to ensure adequate data capture.

Alternately, she said that some institutions "have some program problems" in a gap period after a bank loses its BSA compliance officer and before a new one is found.

Maryann Hunter, deputy director of bank supervision and regulation at the Federal Reserve Board, agreed with Eberley's assessment that there has been little change to regulators' approach to BSA compliance, and speculated that it may simply appear to be a bigger problem than it is because other bank supervisory programs are operating smoothly.

"In some sense I'm kind of where Doreen is, in just needing more information about this change or the differences that you're seeing," Hunter said. "I wonder if it's the absence of other issues that is making this stand out more prominently."

Darrin Benhart, head of supervision risk management at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said that perhaps the perceived increase in BSA issues is coming from the proliferation of banking applications.

"A lot of us could pull out our cell phone and do most of our banking today," Benhart said. "That adds a new dynamic where there are a lot more venues, and that has raised the concern where some of the monitoring systems don't have that same capability."

Anti-money laundering concerns have driven some regulators — most notably New York State banking superintendent Benjamin Lawsky — to push for more stringent BSA controls. Lawsky last month proposed holding BSA compliance officers to the same standard that chief financial officers must meet in making financial statements under the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, namely facing criminal penalties for violations. Bankers have complained that that measure would make already-scarce BSA compliance officers even harder to find and keep.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.