Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Updated: As AML/SAR Rule Anniversary Approaches, Little or No SAR Reporting Activity for Mortgage Brokers

Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) for Non-Depository Mortgage Brokers and Correspondents became mandatory in August of 2012.  Two years later, we see little activity. Why?

7/18/14 Updated - New SAR Analysis from FinCEN?

It seems that FinCEN, after requiring so much input from the mortgage industry, but yet not releasing data, felt compelled to release a report.  That analysis is available here:

Click here to download FinCEN SAR Reporting Data 7/2014

Mortgage News Digest began requesting information from FinCEN's press office for statistics at the end of May.  Calls went unreturned, but this data satisfies the request.
From Mortgage News Digest June 2014 "Threats were made, and the industry scrambled to make sense of the procedures required and implement them.  Systems were automated to allow easier online reporting. Yet FinCEN still hasn't released any new data since Q2 of 2012 - almost 2 years later. How does this help us in the field?  Several calls to FinCEN went unreturned, so while there may be information in the works, we haven't seen it yet. (June 2014)
At last we have the data, but it shows anemic reporting data.  No wonder this became a low priority.

Of all product types resulting in filings, Mortgages rank #2 behind only credit cards for incidence rate.  In 2013 there were over 2500 mortgage related reports

Overall, mortgage fraud ranks behind Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud as reported by Other Financial Institutions.  This is reflective of similar statistics by other regulated institutions, but the scale is much smaller.

Hotspots Revisited

While we knew Southern California, New York and Florida were hotspots, it may come as a surprise that Utah leads the nation in SAR reports.  Why is this?  Tribal Casinos report many transactions where chips are cashed in.  That would not be the case for the other states. 

Reviewing Closed Loans - Wrong Selection Criteria

Although the FinCEN guidelines suggest a strategy of annual audits and loan level audits, such as those conducted for quality control by most lenders, from the perspective of the initiative that spawned this requirement, the audits come too late to have any real benefit.  We have found that most mortgage brokers don't understand their role in this process.  "We haven't had any SARs!" comes the report at the audit.

These words are spoken with pride, but the revelation of NO findings may actually be a trigger for a regulator to look MORE closely, and then discover that the only loans included in the sampling are those which have already passed underwriting muster.  In today's environment brokers and small lenders alike should take the approach that the government has assigned them the role of "watchdog."  Embrace it.  File a SAR today! It's your PATRIOTic duty!

NO SAR may actually trigger an audit.  If your production staff isn't identifying red flags, you can't report.

"Don't Worry - Be SAR-ry!"

As lenders and brokers we also experience the mixed message: "Keep your customer's information private at all costs."  This trust is the foundation of our business.  "If I report this information about my customer to the Federal authorities, am I not breaching that trust? Won't it come back to me through my referral sources?" These concerns have a reasonable basis, but understand this:

  1. There is no direct line from the reporting activity to the investigation and prosecution.  In fact, if it is an isolated incident, it likely will not draw attention to the authorities given the number of enforcement priorities already occupying their attention.  
  2. You are not allowed to disclose the fact that a SAR is in process.  
  3. Your potential criminal and legal liability for being perceived as participating or assisting in perpetrating fraud is far greater if it turns out you did not report something that later gets revealed.

July 4th - PATRIOT Act

The BSA/SAR reporting requirement is based on information derived from the mandatory requirements of the PATRIOT Act (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). Your prospect may not seem to be a terrorist, but terrorist funding is commonly sourced through illegal activity like real estate investment, cash businesses, medical companies and many self-employed businessmen.  After 9-11, your company mantra - regardless of whether you are a one-man shop or a large lender - should include "If you see something, say something."

Oh, By the Way, Your Annual AML Audit Deadline is Just Around the Corner

If you initiated your AML plan in August, 2012 with everyone else who became subject to the FinCEN rule at that time, you were required to review your AML procedures annually.  Your audit would be due in August. Let us help you with that.  Call or e-mail today.

You can also receive a free, simple self-audit checklist by requesting it here:

1 comment:

  1. See something, say something. Our plan gives you the process to follow to conduct your own audit, but at a minimum you should be checking:

    1.) You have an AML Plan
    2.) You have a BSA/AML officer and that officer has logged in to FinCEN portal
    3.) That you have a QC review process identifying fraud red flags - you should be able to identify a case where the file was elevated (whether reported or not)
    4.) That you are conducting a fraud review at least annually
    5.) That you have training certificates at least annually for your employees - and that if the loan officers receive it as part of their PE that you have verified that the content met requirements.