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posted on 05 December 2015

Bitcoin's Bright Side

from the Atlanta Fed

-- this post authored by Douglas A. King

My kids' anticipation for the holiday season is at an all-time high because of the upcoming release of the new Star Wars movie. They are fans of Yoda, Chewbacca, and Luke, but are obsessed with the "Dark Side" and its band of characters, most notably Darth Vader. There is something about the mystery of the "dark side" that draws people in. Perhaps that is one reason that so much of the media coverage and discussion of Bitcoin has been focused on its being the preferred payment instrument for criminal enterprises.

Because the Bitcoin protocol does allow for a level of anonymity that is attractive to criminals, the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA)/Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Act compliance risks are heightened for transactions with bitcoin. Over the past several years, companies have emerged within the Bitcoin ecosystem seeking to make it more accessible to obtain and easier to use for legitimate payments. But how do they manage the BSA/AML compliance risks?

To minimize these risks, companies in the Bitcoin ecosystem are adopting policies, practices, and procedures that leverage the transparency but also minimize risks associated with the level of anonymity Bitcoin offers. These practices are intended to make Bitcoin a safer payment system, while also enhancing the ability of financial institutions, which might otherwise be cautious about the BSA/AML risks, to bank Bitcoin-related companies successfully.

The Retail Payments Risk Forum took a deep dive into the types of companies entering the Bitcoin ecosystem, assessing the regulatory landscape and identifying measures that these companies can take to fulfill regulatory obligations and minimize BSA/AML regulatory compliance risks. Among one of the measures identified in a paper available on the Atlanta Fed's website, Bitcoin-related companies should have a BSA/AML compliance program in place that is led by a dedicated compliance officer with support from a staff of professionals.

Just as in the Star Wars movies, which depict the ongoing struggle between the good guys - the Rebels - and the Dark Side, Bitcoin will continue to have a tug of war between the good forces and the bad. While the criminal element will continue to force attention to the risks of Bitcoin, it will be up to the new entrants into the Bitcoin ecosystem to mitigate these risks if Bitcoin is to enter the mainstream. Details on managing BSA/AML risks associated with Bitcoin can be found in the paper.

About the Author

Douglas A. King is a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

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