Fast Facts

The Bank Secrecy Act requires financial institutions to report information to the federal government that law enforcement can use to investigate potential crimes, like money laundering.

Industry representatives told us that generating reports on suspicious activity can be labor intensive, and that they would like more feedback on whether the reports they submitted were useful.

We found the Treasury Department and some law enforcement agencies measured things like how many reports produced investigations. However, these metrics were not consistently communicated.

We made 4 recommendations, including for regular feedback.

Department of the Treasury building

Department of the Treasury building

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What GAO Found

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)—within the Department of Treasury—supervisory agencies (such as banking, securities, and futures regulators), and law enforcement agencies collaborate on implementing Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) regulations, primarily through cross-agency working groups, data-sharing agreements, and liaison positions.

Key Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Collaboration Mechanisms


FinCEN and law enforcement agencies provided some metrics and institution-specific feedback on the usefulness of BSA reporting (such as suspicious activity reports) to the financial industry but not regularly or broadly.

  • FinCEN and some agencies have metrics on the usefulness of BSA reports. One law enforcement agency annually publishes aggregate metrics on BSA reports that led to investigations and indictments. But FinCEN did not consistently communicate available metrics; it generally did so on an ad-hoc basis such as through published speeches. In 2019, FinCEN began a study to identify measures on the value and usefulness of BSA reporting—to be completed by the end of 2019. By consistently communicating currently available metrics (summary data), and any later identified by the study, FinCEN may assist financial institutions in more fully understanding the importance of their efforts.

Industry associations GAO interviewed noted financial institutions would like to receive more institution-specific feedback on the usefulness of their BSA reporting; they also identified suspicious activity reports as labor-intensive. In 2017, FinCEN began providing such feedback and some law enforcement agencies have ongoing efforts to provide institution-specific briefings. But these efforts have not been regularly made and involved relatively few institutions. Additional and more regular feedback, designed to cover different types of financial institutions and those with significant financial activity, may enhance the ability of the U.S. financial industry to effectively target efforts to identify suspicious activity and provide quality BSA reporting.

Why GAO Did This Study

Illicit finance activity, such as terrorist financing and money laundering, can pose threats to national security and the integrity of the U.S. financial system. FinCEN is responsible for administering BSA and has delegated examination responsibility to supervisory agencies. FinCEN also is to collect and disseminate BSA data. BSA requires that financial institutions submit reports, which may be used to assist law enforcement investigations. Industry perspectives on BSA reporting have included questions about its usefulness.

This report examines, among other objectives, how FinCEN and supervisory and law enforcement agencies (1) collaborate and (2) provide metrics and feedback on the usefulness of BSA reporting. GAO reviewed related laws and regulations; agency documentation; examination and enforcement action data; and interviewed FinCEN, supervisory agencies, and a nongeneralizable selection of six law enforcement agencies and seven industry associations.

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GAO makes four recommendations, including that FinCEN review options to consistently communicate summary data and regularly provide institution-specific feedback on its BSA reporting. FinCEN concurred with the recommendation on summary data and agreed with the spirit of the recommendation on feedback. FinCEN raised concerns with the need for the two other recommendations. GAO continues to believe the recommendations have merit, as discussed in the report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network 1. The Director of FinCEN, after consulting with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), should consider prioritizing the inclusion of the primary SRO conducting BSA examinations in the futures industry in the Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group (BSAAG) on a more consistent basis and also making the primary futures industry association a concurrent member. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
Although FinCEN disagreed with this recommendation, it took actions consistent with the intent of the recommendation--more consistent futures industry participation in BSAAG, particularly by the primary SRO conducting BSA examinations. We reported in August 2019 that officials from the primary futures SRO expressed concern that they were not a regular member of BSAAG. After a 5-year period of not being a BSAAG member, they were invited to be a member again in March 2018 and were accepted for a 3-year membership term. FinCEN again selected the primary futures SRO as a BSAAG member in 2021, with another 3-year term expiring in 2024. In 2021, FinCEN also considered an application by the primary futures industry association, and although it was denied, encouraged the association to apply again in the future. FinCEN officials said that they anticipate continued engagement with the futures industry but, per its policy, cannot commit to maintaining the membership of any specific BSAAG member.
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network 2. The Director of FinCEN, after consulting with CFTC, should take steps to explore providing direct BSA data access to the National Futures Association. (Recommendation 2)
Closed - Implemented
While FinCEN disagreed with this recommendation, both FinCEN and CFTC staff confirmed that FinCEN had advised CFTC staff on the areas the National Futures Association should include as part of a request for direct BSA data access. Specifically, FinCEN consulted with CFTC staff by detailing the information needed for FinCEN to process NFA's request for database access. NFA submitted its data access request to FinCEN in December 2020.
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network 3. The Director of FinCEN should review options for FinCEN to more consistently and publicly provide summary data on the usefulness of BSA reporting. This review could either be concurrent with FinCEN's BSA value study or through another method. (Recommendation 3)
As of August 2020, FinCEN officials told us that they began to implement a strategy to communicate the results of its BSA Value Study (completed in April 2020) and more generally publicize statistics on the value that BSA reporting provides to industry and the public. According to FinCEN officials, they have made some progress in implementing the communication strategy, including briefing key public and private sector stakeholders and developing fact sheets, videos and other materials for eventual public release, and expect to complete the initial phase of the communication plan by the end of 2020.
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network 4. The Director of FinCEN should review options for establishing a mechanism through which law enforcement agencies may provide regular and institution-specific feedback on BSA reporting. Options should take into consideration providing such feedback to cover different types of financial institutions and those with significant financial activity. This review could either be part of FinCEN's BSA value study or through another method. (Recommendation 4)
According to FinCEN officials, it will use measures outlined in response to Recommendation 3 and information gathered from the BSA Value Study to develop a specific action plan to better collect data for FinCEN and its law enforcement and other partners in a way that allows them to communicate more consistent feedback to reporting entities, and address the gaps and recommendations from the study. FinCEN anticipates the development and approval of the action plan by the end of 2020.

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