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What is a money services business (MSB)?

A money services business (MSB) is any business that converts, transmits, or exchanges money. Learn more.

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⚡ Key takeaways
  • A money services business (MSB) is any business that transmits or converts money for its customers or clients.
  • MSBs are considered financial institutions under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), and are required to implement anti-money laundering (AML) measures.
  • AML requirements include implementing a risk-based approach, Know Your Customer (KYC) and customer due diligence (CDD) measures, transaction monitoring, and more.

Money isn’t necessarily the root of all evil. But when money changes forms or hands without an underlying transaction — for example, through conversion or transmission — it can be the root of money laundering. 

These applications, known as money services, can take place not only at banks but also at a wide range of financial institutions, such as neobanks, fintech companies, check cashers, and more.

Because conversion and transmission carry a large risk of being used for money laundering, these money services businesses (MSBs) are subject to anti-money laundering (AML) laws and regulations. 

What is a money services business?

A money services business (MSB) is any business, other than a bank, that facilitates the transmission, exchange, or conversion of money. Although many traditional banks also provide these services, they are excluded from the legal definition of an MSB. 

Money services businesses are still considered financial institutions under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and related laws. They are therefore subject to the same anti-money laundering, KYC, and due diligence requirements as all other financial institutions.

Types of money services businesses

According to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the arm of the U.S. Department of the Treasury responsible for most anti-money laundering regulations, a business is considered an MSB if they:

  • Exchange currency
  • Transmit money
  • Cash checks
  • Issue or sell traveler’s checks, money orders, or stored value (prepaid) cards
  • Redeem traveler’s checks, money orders, or stored value (prepaid) cards

These services are offered by a wide range of businesses. Remittance services, cryptocurrency exchanges, bill payment services, equity crowdfunding platforms, digital payment processors, peer-to-peer lending platforms, and many different fintech companies are all MSBs. Even the U.S. Postal Service is an MSB because it issues and cash money orders. 

Examples of money services businesses

The list below represents some common MSB categories, but is not comprehensive. Some businesses can fall into multiple categories, and we listed these under their primary application.

Currency exchanges

Currency exchanges are businesses that exchange one currency for another. This includes the exchange of flat currencies as well as cryptocurrencies. Forex, Coinbase, eToro, Gemini, Binance, and Robinhood are all examples of businesses that offer currency exchange services to their customers. 

Digital payment processors

A digital payment processor is a business that facilitates the digital transfer of money between two or more parties. PayPal, Cash App, and Venmo are the most popular digital payment processors in the U.S., but there are many others worldwide, including JumiaPay in Africa, Mercado Pago in Latin America, and SeaMoney in Southeast Asia. 

Money transfer services

Money transfer services transmit money from one individual to another. MoneyGram, Western Union, Wise, and Flywire are some of the most well-known money transfer services.

Remittance processors

Remittance processors facilitate money transfers from an individual to their family, friends, or acquaintances in another country. Remitly, WorldRemit, Instarem, and Xoom are examples of remittance processors. Many money transfer services also offer remittance services.

Regulatory requirements for MSBs 

Many of the services provided by MSBs are particularly sought out for money laundering and other financial crimes. For example, a bad actor might use money transfer services and digital payment processors to move money and obscure its illegal origins. According to a recent report by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), remittance processors and currency exchanges can be leveraged for all stages of the money laundering process — placement, layering, and integration. 

MSB registration requirements

In the U.S., all money services businesses are required to register with the Department of the Treasury. To do so, the business must complete and submit FinCEN Form 107 within 180 days of establishing their business. Every two years, MSBs must renew their registration with the Treasury. 

AML risk-based approach

All financial institutions subject to the BSA, including MSBs, are required to implement a risk-based approach to AML. In short, this means that the business’ AML policies must be tailored to its unique money laundering risks. This approach should be informed by both an internal AML risk assessment as well as a customer risk assessment, and should periodically be adjusted as the risk profile changes.

Know Your Customer (KYC)

Before providing its services to a customer, an MSB must first verify the associated person’s identity to ensure that they are not attempting to conduct unauthorized business and so all activity is traceable. This requires an established Know Your Customer (KYC) process. At a minimum, MSBs must collect a customer’s name, date of birth, address, and taxpayer identification number (SSN or TIN). Verification may be accomplished through a variety of means, such as government ID verification, database verification, or document verification

Customer due diligence

Customer due diligence (CDD) is the process of evaluating a customer’s risk profile to determine whether it’s safe to do business with them. In addition to identity verification, CDD includes identifying and verifying the identities of all beneficial owners or companies or organizations seeking to open an account. The CDD rule also requires ongoing transaction monitoring.

Customers deemed to carry a high risk of money laundering may be turned away or subjected to an enhanced due diligence (EDD) process. This may include additional screenings, such as more stringent identity verification, source of funds verification, and other AML checks.

Suspicious activity reporting

Money services businesses providing certain types of services are required to monitor customer activity and report suspicious activity. These services include:

  • Transmitting money
  • Issuing, selling, or redeeming money orders
  • Issuing, selling, or redeeming traveler’s checks

A suspicious activity report (SAR) must be filed for any transaction known or suspected to involve illegally obtained funds. A SAR is also required if it is believed that a transaction is structured to evade the reporting requirements of the BSA, or if there appears to be no lawful reason for the transaction to occur.

The MSB must file the appropriate SAR within 30 days of becoming aware of the questionable transaction.

Money services businesses are also required to submit a currency transaction report (CTR) for any cash transaction exceeding $10,000.

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Getting started with AML compliance

If your business enables customers to send, transmit, convert, or exchange money, you’re most likely an MSB subject to the same AML, KYC, and CDD requirements as all financial institutions. Running afoul of these regulations can result in significant fines, regulatory sanctions, and even jail time depending on the severity of the transgressions.

You can start your AML compliance journey by making sure that you’ve implemented all five pillars of AML compliance, as established in the Bank Secrecy Act:

  1. You have a designated compliance officer.
  2. You have developed internal policies related to KYC, CDD, transaction monitoring, and suspicious activity reporting.
  3. You have created a training program for employees.
  4. Your program is regularly audited by an independent third party.
  5. You have deployed in-depth risk assessment as a part of the risk-based approach.

When selecting an AML or KYC solution, it pays to choose a partner that understands not only the relevant regulations, but also your business model, industry, geography, and the nuances that they can bring. 

Here at Persona, AML compliance is in our DNA. We’ve designed our entire suite of identity tools to empower you to build the KYC, customer identification program (CIP), and CDD processes that you need to stay on top of regulations while still meeting the needs and expectations of your customers. 

Interested in learning more? Start for free or get a demo today.

Frequently asked questions

What is considered a money services business?

Any business that transmits, exchanges, or converts money for its customers is considered a money services business. This is true whether the business provides its services to customers in person or digitally. Banks are not considered MSBs, as they have their own legal definition. 

What does an AML program look like for an MSB?

The AML program for an MSB should look nearly the same as an AML program for any other financial institution. It should be centered around the risk-based approach and include Know Your Customer (KYC), customer due diligence (CDD), transaction monitoring, and other forms of customer risk assessment. If suspicious activity is detected, there should be an established process for submitting a suspicious activity report (SAR) within the required timeframe.

What are the risks associated with MSBs?

Money laundering works by taking money obtained from illegal activities and obscuring those origins so that it appears that the funds have a legitimate source. 

Achieving this first requires that cash proceeds from illegal activity be deposited into the financial system. This is known as placement. Then, these funds must be transferred between accounts in an effort to conceal the source of funds in a process known as layering. Finally, the funds must be withdrawn or otherwise used as if they are legitimate. This is the final step of money laundering — integration

Any business that facilitates the transfer of money can theoretically be used to launder money. This includes MSBs. Money services businesses that deal in cash or one-time or instantaneous transactions are a favored tool of money launderers, as these are often difficult to trace once complete.

What services are considered high risk for money laundering?

While all financial services have the potential to be used for money laundering, these money services can more easily facilitate the transmission of funds:

  • Check cashing services
  • Payment processors
  • Flat currency exchanges
  • Cryptocurrency exchanges
  • Remittance processors

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