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Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council Issues Revisions to BSA/AML Examination Manual


On April 15, 2020, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) released updates to the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) Examination Manual (Manual). The Manual, which was developed to instruct examiners in evaluating financial institutions’ compliance with the BSA/AML, is also a useful guide for financial institutions to gain insight into regulatory requirements and expectations for BSA/AML compliance programs. These are the first significant changes to the Manual since its 2014 publication.

According to Comptroller of the Currency Joseph M. Otting, the revisions represent a multiyear review of BSA/AML effectiveness and are intended to “update the nearly 50-year-old BSA/AML regime to better counter today’s criminal threats and promote the use of modern technology to protect the U.S. financial system from illicit activity.”1 The changes are designed to clarify BSA/AML supervision and evaluation expectations but are not meant to represent a departure from previous guidance.2

The Nature of the FFEIC Updates

The revisions were undertaken by the interagency BSA/AML Working Group (composed of the U.S. Department of the Treasury Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN), Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, National Credit Union Administration, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) and focus on the risk-based nature of BSA/AML compliance and the examination process, further distinguish between BSA/AML regulatory requirements and guidance, and incorporate regulatory changes that have occurred since 2014.

Broadly the revisions fall in the first section of the Manual on BSA/AML Compliance Programs, which is divided into four segments:

  • Scoping and Planning of Examination, instructing examiners to tailor the examination to the financial institution’s risk profile, including by conducting risk-focused testing;

  • BSA/AML Risk Assessment, instructing examiners on how to adequately evaluate a financial institution’s risk assessment processes, including identifying the specific risks unique to the financial institution, and focusing on the case-by-case circumstances of the financial institution;

  • BSA/AML Compliance Program Assessment, providing a minimum set of procedures for a full BSA/AML examination, including the required elements of a BSA/AML compliance program (internal controls, independent testing, designation of BSA compliance officer, and training); and

  • Examination Conclusions, instructing examiners to develop conclusions while keeping in mind that financial institutions have flexibility in designing BSA/AML compliance programs based on factors such as risk profile, size, complexity, and organizational structure.3

Among the updates, there is a focus on clarifying how examiners should be reviewing financial institutions’ compliance programs, risk assessments, and subsequent responses. The updates flag areas where examiners are encouraged to exercise discretion and not automatically fault financial institutions for failing to meet certain metrics, for example quotas for suspicious activity report (SAR) filings.4 The revisions also emphasize that “minor weaknesses, deficiencies, and technical violations alone are not indicative” of an inadequate compliance program.Overall, the updates clarify that the individual circumstances of each financial institution will dictate what is appropriate for a BSA/AML compliance program and risk assessment strategy.

What Does This Mean For Me?

The FFEIC Manual updates provide a good opportunity for financial institutions to assess current BSA/AML compliance programs and examination preparation and response protocols. For example, the revisions guide examiners to particular program benchmarks, which may serve as helpful guidance to financial institutions on enhancements to current compliance programs. The revisions also instruct examiners to review BSA compliance officers’ reports to boards of directors or senior management, as well methods to evaluate the adequacy and independence of BSA/AML compliance resources.

The FFIEC expects additional revisions to other sections of the Manual to be released in phases moving forward as the Working Group continues revising the 2014 version of the Manual. The updated first section of the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Examination Manual is available here.


1 Comptroller of the Currency Statement on FFIEC BSA/AML Manual, News Release 2020-55 (Apr. 15, 2020), https://www.occ.treas.gov/news-issuances/news-releases/2020/nr-occ-2020-55.html.

2 Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, Federal and State Regulators Release Updates to BSA/AML Examination Manual (Apr. 15, 2020), https://www.ffiec.gov/press/pr041520.htm.

3 Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, Interagency Statement on April 2020 Updates to the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Examination Manual (Apr. 15, 2020), https://www.ffiec.gov/press/PDF/Interagency%20Statement.pdf [hereinafter Interagency Statement].

4 See e.g., Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Examination Manual at 5 (Apr. 2020), https://www.ffiec.gov/press/PDF/FFIEC%20BSA-AML%20Exam%20Manual.pdf.

5 Interagency Statement.

© 2020 Foley & Lardner LLPNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 126


About this Author

Lisa Noller, Trial Lawyer, Foley Lardner Law Firm

Lisa Noller is a trial lawyer and investigator with Foley & Lardner LLP, where she is chair of the Government Enforcement, Compliance & White Collar Defense Practice. She has spent almost 20 years investigating, litigating and trying complex criminal and civil cases, including responding to government investigations, conducting corporate internal investigations, and persuading the government not to pursue clients. When cases proceed to trial, Ms. Noller also has significant experience successfully trying a wide variety of over 30 civil and criminal matters in...

Christopher M. Swift, government enforcement litigator, Foley lardner law firm
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Christopher Swift is a litigator with Foley & Lardner LLP and a member of Foley’s Government Enforcement, Compliance & White Collar Defense Practice. Focused on national security and international affairs, he represents clients in internal investigations and government enforcement actions involving anti-money laundering (AML), arms controls (ITAR), economic sanctions (OFAC), dual-use exports (EAR), and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Dr. Swift also counsels clients in proceedings before the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and advises them on the USA Patriot Act, security clearances, and Foreign Ownership, Control, and Influence (FOCI).

Kristen Maryn Litigation Attorney

Kristen Maryn is an associate and litigation attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP. She is a member of the firm’s Government Enforcement Defense & Investigations and Business Litigation & Dispute Resolution Practices.

Ms. Maryn primarily represents clients in internal investigations and government enforcement actions. Her work focuses on national security and international affairs involving economic sanctions (OFAC), arms control (ITAR), dual-use exports (EAR), Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), anti-money laundering (AML), and anti-slavery laws. Ms. Maryn also represents...