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Treasury proposes rule to extend anti-money laundering regs to investment advisers

US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen speaks with the press after a tour with staff through the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) office in Vienna, Virginia, on January 8, 2024.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

The Treasury Department’s corruption watchdog on Tuesday issued new proposed regulations that would extend major pieces of the anti-money laundering (AML) rules that apply to banks to some investment advisers.

The new rules, from the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, would require covered investment advisers to file Suspicious Activity Reports, SARs, to FinCEN, and to disclose additional information about their clients under specific circumstances.

The new rules would apply to investment advisers who are registered with or report to the Securities Exchange Commission, leaving out what FinCEN estimates to be at least 17,000 state-registered investment advisers.

The proposed regulations stop short of requiring investment advisers to adopt formal customer identification programs, like banks do. Nor would they mandate that advisers report the beneficial ownership information to FinCEN for their clients that are legal entities, like LLCs.

But these few exemptions may not last very long. FinCEN said it intends to pursue both of these regulations in the near future, according to a fact sheet about Tuesday’s AML proposal.

Investment advisers manage tens of trillions of dollars, but until now, they have been largely exempt from the AML regulations arising from the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act and subsequent legislation. These rules govern banks and other “financial institutions,” as defined by FinCEN, like stock brokers and casinos.

“Right now there is a patchwork regulatory coverage in the investment advisor sector,” FinCEN director Andrea Gacki said on a call with reporters on Monday. “These gaps in regulations allow illicit actors to shop around for an advisor who does not need to inquire about their source of wealth.”

Treasury investigations have found that money launderers, tax evaders and other criminal actors exploit U.S. investment advisers as an “entry point to invest in U.S. securities, real estate, and other assets,” according to a FinCEN statement.

In some of these cases, officials found instances of China and Russia investing in “early-stage” companies to access sensitive data and new technologies.

FinCEN has been trying to fill in these cracks for over two decades.

In 2003 and 2015, FinCEN proposed similar rules that would have expanded BSA provisions to cover investment advisers.. to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. But in both instances, the rules were never finalized.

Tuesday’s announcement marks the third attempt, and comes amid a “tremendous surge in the use of investment advisors for illicit finance,” a senior FinCEN official said.

“We’ve seen abuse of investments by nation-state actors, Russia, China…oligarchs relying on us investment advisors to to move, to hide their funds.”

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