KYC, or "know your customer," is a term used to describe the identity and background checks that financial institutions are required to conduct on their customers. These checks are important for risk mitigation and are part of the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations that these institutions must follow. In the cryptocurrency space, KYC regulations are becoming increasingly important as more and more people use digital assets for financial transactions. By conducting KYC checks, cryptocurrency exchanges and other financial institutions can help prevent money laundering and other illegal activities.
History of Know Your Customer
The United States government has implemented a number of measures to help financial service institutions detect and prevent financial crimes. These measures were established by the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and were finalized in 2002, making KYC (know your customer) checks mandatory for all US financial institutions. In 2016, the Department of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) expanded these regulations to include the FinTech sector, which resulted in virtual currency exchange platforms being declared official money services businesses under the Bank Secrecy Act. This means that these platforms are subject to all AML (anti-money laundering) and KYC requirements.
KYC in Practice
While it is up to regulated entities (banks, crypto exchanges, and other financial institutions) to implement the specifics of KYC and AML regulations, the KYC practices and programs generally include three essential components:
- Customer Identification Program (CIP): Through CIP, firms verify the customer's identity through independent data. This includes the client's name, address, and date of birth. Some firms even request a form of identification (passport or ID), social security number, or a video and selfie from their customers to verify their identity.
- Customer Due Diligence (CDD): CDD is the process of screening the background of a prospective client. Thorough background checks are essential to understand the risks that a new customer could bring to the firm. This process can expose fraudulent activity that potential new clients may have taken part in. If necessary, firms will perform enhanced due diligence (EDD) to get a deeper look into the new customer's past in order to mitigate risk further.
- Ongoing Monitoring and Risk Management: Even after Customer Identification Programs and Due Diligence take place, firms will continue to monitor and manage the potential risks of new customers. They will continue to oversee their customer's transactions and flag anything unusual. This ensures ongoing risk mitigation which is essential for the trust between financial firms and their clients.
Why is KYC/AML Important?
KYC regulations aim to discern that customers are who they say they are. This helps to prevent money laundering, terrorist financing, and fraud within the financial market.
Know Your Customer and other Anti-Money Laundering regulations benefit both financial institutions and their clients. These rules improve security and mitigate risk by keeping bad actors off the books. This acts as an assurance for customers and leads to a more trustworthy company-client relationship.
KYC and Cryptocurrency
The cryptocurrency industry is still relatively new, and its decentralized nature can make it difficult to implement KYC (know your customer) measures. Crypto regulations are also still evolving as regulators seek to prevent financial crimes using cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. As mentioned, crypto exchanges are considered official money services businesses and are therefore subject to KYC rules. These rules require exchanges to conduct identity and background checks on their customers, which may include requiring a photo ID. Many exchanges only allow transactions to occur once KYC is completed, especially for large sums of money.
However, some exchanges may try to avoid these rules by establishing their companies in countries with less stringent regulations. Exchanges that do not follow KYC and AML laws may not be available to use in countries that have these laws. This is why implementing KYC practices can actually increase an exchange's global reach by making it available in countries that have these laws, such as the US.
As the FinTech industry continues to grow and develop, it is important to regulate and mitigate risks to prevent illegal or suspicious behavior. AML laws are essential for ensuring fairness and equity in the emerging financial technology industry. Over time, regulations will continue to evolve to keep pace with the rapidly changing market.