New York State Issues Important Guidance on Virtual Currency and BSA Requirements

April 29, 2022 at 10:20 am Leave a comment

New York’s Department of Financial Services issued guidance yesterday emphasizing the unique BSA concerns raised by virtual currency.  While this guidance only applies to entities subject to the Department’s virtual currency license requirements as well as certain trust companies, categories which do not include credit unions, I would suggest anyone responsible for integrating virtual currency oversight into your credit unions compliance framework would be well advised to analyze New York State’s missive. 

In today’s blog, yours truly is not going to summarize the guidance but instead provide some context as to the considerations that regulators and financial institutions should take into account as they begin to dip their virtual toes into the virtual currency space.  In doing so I want to illustrate why I think the DFS guidance is important. 

What virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Ether have in common is that they allow individuals to transfer these currencies between computers so long as the sender and receiver have set-up virtual wallets.  The key to this arrangement is Distributed-Ledger-Technology (DLT). 

With apologies to the technologically savvy out there, every time a request is made to send or receive “currency” from, or to, a wallet and the transaction is confirmed as valid, a notation is added to a computer program called a block-chain.  This technology is the key to the whole process since it provides a virtual ledger confirming the transfer of debits and credits. 

This means that without the use of a financial institution, any two individuals, using fictitious names, can transfer money.  Needless to say, since the emergence of the Bitcoin, there have been concerns raised about the utility of this technology to facilitate money laundering and other illicit activities (since we’re on the subject of money laundering, my wife and I have started binge watching Ozarks, which is the best show I’ve seen since I binged Breaking Bad, but I digress). 

These concerns have been partially vindicated since ransomware attacks typically include a demand for payment in Bitcoin.  But that may be changing.  Law enforcement is beginning to understand DLT.  For example, the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline understandably got a lot of attention last year, but as significant as the attack itself, is the fact that the FBI was able to track down at least some of the culprits and retrieve much of the ransomed funds. 

Now, I’m not suggesting that credit unions or vendors need to be as savvy as the FBI in order to ensure compliance with BSA and AML requirements, but in the old days it was thought that the only way of deterring illicit activity was to make it as difficult as possible to convert Bitcoin and its prodigies into cold hard cash.  The DFS guidance emphasizes that even now there are basic steps that financial institutions can take as they begin to consider how to integrate virtual currency offerings into their lines of products or working with third party vendors as already permitted by the NCUA.  Besides, as virtual currencies become more widely accepted, there will be less and less need to convert them into fiat currency, but that’s a blog for another day.

Entry filed under: Compliance, New York State, Regulatory, Technology. Tags: , , , , , .

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., Senior Vice President, General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association. In addition, although Henry strives to give his readers useful and accurate information on a broad range of subjects, many of which involve legal disputes, his views are not a substitute for legal advise from retained counsel.

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