Feds may enlist advisors in battle against money laundering

As President Donald Trump continues his rollback of regulations, the fate of one that would hold financial advisors accountable for money laundering is uncertain.

In 2015, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, an arm of the Treasury Department charged with thwarting money laundering, proposed a rule that would require advisors registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to establish methods to combat the practice.

Specifically, those rules would require advisory firms to develop a written program to deter bad actors from using advisors to launder money to finance illicit activities.

Further, investment advisory firms would have to file currency transaction reports when they receive more than $10,000 in cash and negotiable instruments, as do banks. They will also have to retain records on where the funds went.

Though banks and broker-dealers are already subject to similar rules, the measure would cover investment advisors, as well as advisors overseeing certain hedge funds and private equity funds.

Whether that will happen, however, remains a question.

"What I'm concerned about is whether there will be an appetite for adopting new regulations with this new administration," said Amy Lynch, president of FrontLine Compliance, a consultancy in Rockville, Maryland.

The measure is still under development, said Steve Hudak, a spokesman for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Meanwhile, Trump has set his sights on easing regulations for businesses.

In February, Trump signed an executive order to begin a review of financial system regulations, including Dodd-Frank, the banking industry overhaul that arose after the 2008 financial crisis.

That same month, he issued a presidential memorandum calling for the Labor Department to review its so-called fiduciary rule. That regulation would require financial advisors to work in the best interests of their clients when advising on individual retirement accounts and 401(k) plan rollovers.

It's unclear whether Jay Clayton, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, and the president's nominee for chairman of the SEC, is interested in pushing the rule forward. The SEC declined to comment and an email to the White House was not immediately returned.

"Clayton has a different kind of background than the former chairman, so it will be interesting to see what he wants to prioritize," said Lynch of FrontLine Compliance.

A major concern for advisory firms would be the cost of compliance. Even large and well-known companies have been subject to steep penalties related to violations of the money laundering rules.

"The majority of investment advisory firms are small," Lynch said. "They have limited resources and may not be able to invest in the same surveillance technology that larger firms can invest in."

"There are sophisticated mechanisms today that can monitor accounts and look for patterns in activity," she added, referring to banks and big brokerage firms with more resources. "They are very valuable in preventing money laundering."

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