Lauren Bacall Whistling or How to Structure Customer Due Diligence

by Thomas Fox
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BacallYesterday we honored Robin Williams whom we lost earlier this week. Today we honor Lauren Bacall. She will always be a part of that great team of Bogey and Bacall. Most of us were introduced to her in the movie To Have and Have Not. I thought she was one of the most sultry and sexy icons of the 40s screen sirens. As Manohla Dargis wrote in her article for the New York Times (NYT) entitled, “That Voice and the Woman Attached,” that “When she opened her mouth in “To Have and Have Not” — taking a long drag on a cigarette while locking Humphrey Bogart in her gaze — she staked a claim on the screen and made an immortal Hollywood debut. But in 1944 at the exquisitely tender age of 19, she was also projecting an indelible screen persona: that of the tough, quick-witted American woman who could fight the good fight alongside her man.” She later married Bogart and together they were certainly Hollywood, if not American royalty, going forward. And she probably did more for the art of whistling than any person on Earth.

Yesterday I wrote about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation into certain transactions in Venezuela by Derwick Associates (Derwick) and a US company ProEnergy Services (ProEnergy). ProEnergy supplied turbines that Derwick resold to the Venezuelan government and then installed in that country. I wondered if US companies now need to become more concerned with not only who they do business with but how their customers might be doing business. In the parlance, you may now need to ramp up your ‘Know Your Customer’ information to continue throughout a seller-purchaser relationship.

Doug Cornelius, in a post on his Compliance Building blog, entitled “Proposed Regulations on Customer Due Diligence”, discussed “The U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has proposed revisions to its customer due diligence rules. Of course, the proposed rule would affect financial institutions that are currently subject to FinCEN’s customer identification program requirement: banks, brokers-dealers, and mutual funds.” While, investment advisers and private fund managers are not specifically mentioned in the proposed new regulation, Cornelius noted, “FinCEN suggested that it may be considering expanding these customer due diligence requirements to other types of financial institutions.” In other words, this new proposed regulation would not be directly applicable to a large number of US commercial enterprises doing business outside the United States.

However, the proposed regulation did provide some insight into how US companies, not otherwise subject to it, might think about ways to approach such an inquiry. Referencing an inquiry into anti-money laundering issues (AML) Cornelius wrote that AML programs should have four elements:

  1. Identify and verify the identity of customers;
  2. Identify and verify the identity of beneficial owners of legal entity customers;
  3. Understand the nature and purpose of customer relationships; and
  4. Conduct ongoing monitoring to maintain and update customer information and to identify and report suspicious transactions.

Clearly any FCPA based due diligence would focus on point 2. Cornelius zeroed in on it when he wrote “The definition of “beneficial owner” is proposed as have two prongs”:

  • Ownership Prong: each individual who, directly or indirectly, through any contract, arrangement, understanding, relationship or otherwise, owns 25% or more of the equity interests of a legal entity customer, and
  • Control Prong: An individual with significant responsibility to control, manage, or direct a legal entity customer, including an executive officer or senior manager (g., a Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Managing Member, General Partner, President, Vice President, or Treasurer); or (ii) any other individual who regularly performs similar functions.

He also noted, “For identifying ownership of an entity, FinCEN has proposed a form of certification.” But he found such a “certification to be overly simplistic. It only asks for individuals with ownership in the entity. This would clearly miss ownership of the account holder by other entities who could be “bad guys.” The certification also only requires one senior officer.  That makes it too easy to appoint a straw man as executive officer to hide the underlying control by a “bad guy.”” But the FinCen proposed notice itself states “these existing core requirements are already laid out in the BSA [Bank Secrecy Act] as minimum requirements”.

I was equally interested in points 3 and 4. Under point 3, an entity subject to the regulation needs to “Understand the nature and purpose of customer relationships”. The proposed regulation further explained “to gain an understanding of a customer in order to assess the risk associated with that customer to help inform when the customer’s activity might be considered “suspicious.”” Such an inquiry could help a business to “understand the relationship for purposes of identifying transactions in which the customer would not normally be expected to engage. Identifying such transactions is a critical and necessary aspect of complying with the existing requirement to report suspicious activity and maintain an effective AML (or anti-corruption compliance) program.”

The final point 4 relates to ongoing monitoring. Once again consider the position of the US Company, ProEnergy, in the referenced FCPA investigation. What can or should it have done in the way of ongoing monitoring of its customer. The proposed regulation states “industry practice generally involves using activity data to inform what types of transactions might be considered “normal” or “suspicious.”

Furthermore, FinCEN understands that information that might result from monitoring could be relevant to the assessment of risk posed by a particular customer. The proposed requirement to update a customer’s profile as a result of ongoing monitoring (including obtaining beneficial ownership information for existing customers on a risk basis), is different and distinct from a categorical requirement to update or refresh the information received from the customer at the outset of the account relationship at prescribed periods”. Lastly the proposed regulation states, “Finally, as noted above with respect to the obligation to understand the nature and purpose of customer relationships, monitoring is also a necessary element of detecting and reporting suspicious activities”.

There does not have to be a direct bribe or other corrupt payment made by a US company to have liability under the FCPA. FCPA enforcement is littered with companies that have paid bribes through third parties. However, as the Fifth Circuit said in Kay v. US, “[W]e hold that Congress intended for the FCPA to apply broadly to payments intended to assist the payor, either directly or indirectly,” [emphasis mine]. ProEnergy would seem to be at the far edge of potential FCPA liability but if it knew, had reason to know, or even perhaps should have known about some nefarious conduct by its customer, it does not take too many steps to get to some FCPA exposure. The proposed FinCEN rules on customer due diligence for financial institutions might be a good starting point for other commercial entities to consider.

If all of the above is a bit too heavy for a Friday, well view this clip on how to whistle by clicking here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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