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Insights From the 2014 CMSBA Conference


We were honoured to present at this year’s Canadian MSB Association (CMSBA) conference in Toronto. Speakers included representatives from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), money service businesses (MSBs), consultants, lawyers and technology service providers. Priced between CAD 200 and 250 (depending on membership status and the timing of the registration), the price of this annual event, which includes breakfast, lunch, a post event reception, an annual CMSBA membership and a training certificate is likely one of the most informative and reasonably priced resources for MSBs. We would like to thank the CMSBA for providing a top quality event.

The Big Disclaimer

The information that follows is based on our experience attending the conference, and the information that we feel will help our friends and clients the most. While there were many excellent sessions, we weren’t able to enjoy them all. If you feel that we’ve missed something vital, or misrepresented an important point, please feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to correct it.

FINTRAC Exams Are Changing

Lisa Douglas of FINTRAC tackled an update on the regulators expectations with candor, diplomacy and even a sense of humour on occasion. Among the most important points for reporting entities was the implementation of the regulatory changes that came into effect in February of 2014, and changes to the types of testing that FINTRAC will be performing in examination:

  • Business Relationships: has the nature and purpose of the business relationship been documented? Has the customer been identified where there is a business relationship (and if not, are efforts to identify the customer documented)? Is ongoing monitoring in place?
  • Suspicious Activity: Do the policies and procedures reflect the right indicators for the business model (see FINTRAC’s Guideline 2 for a full list)? Is there activity that seems to be suspicious that was not reported? If so, are you able to explain objectively why the activity was not considered to be suspicious (and is the explanation backed up by documentation)?
  • Ongoing Monitoring: Are monitoring efforts documented? Is the monitoring for high-risk customers and business relationships different (in nature and frequency)?
  • Beneficial Ownership: Is there documentation that confirms beneficial ownership? If not, has Senior Officer been identified and is the customer classified as high risk?
  • Customer Information Updates: Is customer information being updated on a regular schedule according to the customer’s risk?
  • Quality Reporting: Are the reports that FINTRAC receives complete and accurate? Are all fields (including fields that aren’t mandatory) completed if you have the information on file?

Ms. Douglas received the most questions about applying an ‘objective standard’ to deciding whether or not there are reasonable grounds to suspect money laundering or terrorist financing activity, and stressed that it is not enough to know that the activity is consistent for a customer over time if the activity could be indicative of money laundering or terrorist financing. This theme was echoed by Paul Burak of MNP LLP in his discussion of customer due diligence. In his illustrative example, Mr. Burak described a hotel that made large cash deposits with few credit card or debit card payments, in volumes that were out of synch with local tourist traffic. While the pattern of activity was consistent for the client over time, it did not make sense when an objective standard was applied.

There are Many More MSBs with ‘Zero Deficiencies’ Than MSBs with Penalties

Although there are several published administrative monetary penalties that have been published for MSBs, approximately 25% of MSBs examined between 2008 and 2014 have passed examinations with zero deficiencies.   While this isn’t likely to reduce the stress that comes with preparing for an examination, the information (obtained from a recent access to information request that Outlier filed with FINTRAC) is important in understanding that the MSB industry has historically been more compliant than the headlines would have us believe. That said it’s always vital to take the time to prepare for your examination and ensure that all of the materials requested by FINTRAC are assembled and delivered on time. We’ve put together some free resources to help reporting entities get organized, available here.

We were fortunate enough to co-present on this topic with two very experienced lawyers, J. Bruce McMeekin and Tushar K. Pain. Both emphasized the importance of reaching out to a legal professional early if you may be facing an administrative monetary penalty, as well as the value of regular compliance testing (not just limited to the effectiveness reviews required every two years) to assess compliance and fix anything that may be offside.

Banking Remains an Issue for MSBs

Robert Osbourne of Grant & Thornton provided excellent insights on maintaining banking relationships, including requesting and account manager, and maintaining regular contact (rather than simply responding to issues or information requests). Despite recent public policy positions from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) warning against wholesale de-risking, few Canadian banks are currently accepting MSBs. Among those that we are aware are taking on MSB customers:

  • Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
  • Bank of Montreal (BMO)
  • DirectCash Bank (DC)

There are additional financial institutions, including credit unions that offer accounts to MSBs, however many of these are not currently taking on new MSB customers. Access to banking is one of the issues that we’re likely to hear more about from both the CMSBA and the CFIB in the coming months.

Tools and Technology

The importance of tools and technology for recordkeeping and compliance management cannot be understated. The Canadian market is served by a number of great providers, and more solutions are being added on a regular basis. The solutions that are implemented should be well aligned with your business model and Risk Assessment. They should also be secure, in particular where sensitive or personal information (PI) is stored. Garry Clement of Clement Advisory Group emphasized how vulnerable the industry may be to cyber threats, and steps that MSBs can take to recognize threats and protect their data.

Digital Currency

Jillian Friedman of the Bitcoin Embassy (formerly, now she can be found at and Susan Han of Miller Thompson provided an overview of digital currency. While it was clear that many MSBs are interested in the potential that bitcoin and other digital currencies can offer, the same barriers to banking faced by MSBs are faced by digital currency companies in Canada. MSBs that deal in digital currency may face additional de-risking concerns with their banks. Zach Ramsay of CoinCulture, though not presenting, was on hand to offer clarification about the digital currency related services that may interest MSBs including bitcoin teller machines (BTMs) and bitcoin payment processing.

Need a Hand?

If you would like more information about the CMSA, including information about how to become a member, you can contact them here.

If you have questions about AML or CTF compliance, please contact us for more information.

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