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Identifying and Reporting Suspicious Transactions for Introducing and Clearing Broker-Dealers

By FinCEN Office of Regulatory Policy

Since the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and the promulgation of enhanced requirements for the securities industry, there has been significant attention focused on the anti-money laundering requirements of introducing and clearing broker-dealers.

In the securities industry, it is common for ?introducing? firms to enter into arrangements with ?clearing? firms that establish the responsibility of each firm with respect to functions required to be performed, from opening the account to sending confirmations and statements to the customer. These clearing agreements, which are done pursuant to the rules of a self-regulatory organization, most typically allocate to the introducing firm the responsibilities for opening and approving accounts and taking and receiving orders. The clearing firm most commonly takes on the responsibilities for extending credit, executing and settling transactions, safeguarding funds and securities, and issuing confirmations and statements.

With respect to AML compliance, introducing and clearing brokers generally have independent responsibilities. In March 2008, FinCEN issued a no-action position with respect to the requirements under the Customer Identification Program Rule. FinCEN has also addressed obligations of clearing firms with respect to the Correspondent Account and Private Banking Rules under section 312.35 In addition, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has issued certain information since the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act addressing the SAR reporting obligations of introducing and clearing firms.36

Key Points for Suspicious Activity Reporting

1. The obligation to identify and report a suspicious transaction rests with each broker-dealer involved in a transaction.

  • Both introducing and clearing brokers have independent obligations to monitor account activity for suspicious transactions.
  • Introducing and clearing firms may coordinate their activities to detect suspicious activity to allow each firm to meet its obligations to comply with its SAR requirements.

    • Introducing firms may be in better position to monitor activity in connection with opening the account and communicating directly with the customer. Clearing firms may be in a better position to monitor customer transaction activity, including for example trading, wire transfers and cash movements into and out of the account.
    • In some situations, clearing firms may be able to develop tools or enhance existing tools which might assist introducing brokers in analyzing the transactional activity of its customer.

    2. Introducing brokers and clearing firms may develop effective communication procedures that permit coordination when questionable activity or potential indications of suspicious activity are detected by either firm.

    • Introducing and clearing firms involved in a transaction may share information about that particular suspicious transaction for purposes of determining which firm will file a SAR.
    • Introducing and clearing firms involved in a transaction may opt to file a joint SAR-SF, but the report must include all relevant facts covering the transaction or pattern of transactions. The purpose of this provision is to allow two broker-dealers that have participated in the same transaction or pattern of transactions to file only one SAR. However, each firm involved in the joint filing must maintain supporting documentation on the SAR filing.
    • Firms should remember that the disclosure limitations found in 31 U.S.C. 5318(g)(2) on dissemination of the SAR, and disclosure of the fact of its filing, apply equally to both broker-dealers that are jointly filing a SAR.
    • The introducing broker and clearing broker may have separate criteria for evaluating the transactions and may make different determinations as to whether a suspicious activity report is required to be filed. In cases where a SAR is not jointly filed, the filing institution may not disclose to the other broker that a SAR has been filed.
    • Introducing and clearing firms may file notices under the Section 314(b) safe harbor to share information that may involve possible terrorist or money laundering activities, as permitted for all financial institutions complying with the 314(b) rule. Such information sharing may allow firms to identify and report activities that may involve terrorist acts or money laundering and to determine whether to open or maintain an account or engage in a transaction. Firms should note, however, that although information shared under the 314(b) program enjoys the benefit of safe harbor protection, the 314(b) safe harbor does not cover the disclosure of a SAR or information indicating that a SAR has been filed. Firms must, therefore, abide by the rules governing SAR confidentiality.

    Broker-dealers that are either introducing or clearing firms should remember that each has independent responsibilities to identify and report suspicious activity. While introducing and clearing firms may allocate certain monitoring functions in a fully disclosed clearing agreement,37 this does not alter their separate and distinct obligations under the SAR rule. For example, when a clearing firm is not allocated the responsibility of monitoring customer accounts according to the terms of a fully disclosed clearing agreement, it nonetheless is obligated to establish policies, procedures, and controls that are reasonably designed to detect and report suspicious activity that is attempted or conducted by, at, or through it, including activity that is introduced to it by another firm.38 Moreover, firms may develop effective communication procedures when potential indications of suspicious activity are detected to ensure that each firm is able to satisfy its suspicious activity reporting requirements.

    35 See Application of the Regulations Requiring Special Due Diligence programs for Certain Foreign Accounts to the Securities and Futures Industries, FIN-2006-G009 (May 10, 2006).

    36 See NASD Notice to Members 02-21 (April 2002) and FINRA Small Firm Template (Last updated January 23, 2004), available at

    37 NYSE Rule 382 and NASD Rule 3230 (permitting clearing and introducing firms to allocate regulatory and operational functions between them, including the responsibility for opening, approving and monitoring accounts; extending credit; maintaining books and records; receiving and delivering funds and securities; safeguarding customers funds and securities; issuing trade confirmations and account statements; and accepting orders and executing transactions).

    38 See 31 C.F.R ? 103.19(a)(2).

    Excerpted from SAR Activity Review Issue 15, page 41

First published on 02/21/2013

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