Strengthening BSA/AML & OFAC Compliance: Key Reactive Strategies

article governance risk assessment Jun 18, 2024

Financial institutions are held to rigorous standards to ensure operational safety, consumer protection, and compliance with risk-based programs designed to prevent exploitation for money laundering, terrorism financing, and other illicit activities. Despite these stringent expectations, lapses occur, impacting banks, money services businesses, fintechs, and other financial entities. These lapses can be costly, leading to regulatory sanctions, financial losses, and reputational damage, especially when prior warnings were ignored or inadequately addressed.

Identifying weaknesses is crucial, but the greater challenge lies in effectively remedying these faults. Acknowledging that errors are inevitable, given human involvement, this post emphasizes the necessity of robust reactive measures once proactive strategies falter. Below, we outline industry-recommended practices for tracking issues from regulatory exams, independent reviews, and internal audits and ensuring that corrective actions lead to sustained enhancements in BSA/AML and OFAC compliance programs.

Centralized Issue Tracking System for BSA/AML amp; OFAC

The cornerstone of effective issue management is a centralized tracking system capturing details of all BSA/AML & OFAC compliance findings, including nature, severity, source (exam, review, audit, self-identified), and recommendations.  The system facilitates assigning ownership and setting deadlines for resolution, fostering efficient communication and transparent progress tracking.

Prioritize Issues Based on Risk

Prioritization is critical for effective remediation in BSA/AML and OFAC compliance. Distinguish between findings, which identify existing deficiencies, and recommendations, which propose improvements. Address high-risk findings immediately to mitigate their impact on compliance, ensuring focus on issues that most significantly reduce your risk exposure and maximize the effectiveness of your compliance efforts.

Perform Root Cause Analysis

True effectiveness in corrective actions hinges on understanding and addressing the root causes of identified issues, not just treating the symptoms. Conduct a thorough root cause analysis to identify underlying issues and inform the development of targeted solutions that prevent similar issues from recurring. By mapping controls to identified risks and determining areas for additional periodic control testing, institutions can further strengthen their compliance posture.

Develop and Implement Remediation Plans

Action plans are the roadmap to resolving identified issues. Develop clear, actionable plans to address each issue effectively, outlining necessary steps, timelines, and ownership. Set clear milestones, such as "update risk assessment to address identified weaknesses by [date]" or "staff training on identified weaknesses concluded by [date]," to track progress. Ensure plans are realistic and achievable, considering the institution's operational capabilities.

Ensure Effective Communication and Reporting

Without clear communication, stakeholders cannot effectively address compliance issues. Keep all stakeholders, including senior management, the compliance committee, and the board of directors, informed of identified issues and their potential consequences. Regular reporting on resolution efforts, challenges, and progress fosters transparency, accountability, and successful remediation.

Monitor and Test Corrective Actions

Monitor and test the effectiveness of implemented corrective actions through methods like targeted internal control audits or focused reviews of addressed areas. Periodic monitoring allows for proactive adjustments, ensuring implemented changes remain effective over time.

Foster a Culture of Compliance

A sound governance structure and a strong culture of compliance are foundational to effective BSA/AML and OFAC programs. Senior management should actively demonstrate their commitment to ethical conduct and regulatory adherence, fostering a culture of open communication and accountability. Regularly updated training programs ensure all employees understand their BSA/AML and OFAC obligations, empowering them to identify and report suspicious activity and proactively mitigate risk.

Conduct Regular Training and Education

Provide ongoing training sessions tailored to address specific concerns and help ensure staff are fully aware of and better equipped to meet their compliance responsibilities.

Enhance Technology Solutions

Where necessary, invest in further training on the use of existing technology to enhance its effectiveness. Acquire the right technology appropriate to your risks and ensure staff are adequately trained to use it effectively. Advanced technology tools and software streamline compliance processes, improve data analysis capabilities, and enhance monitoring and reporting.

Update Risk Assessment, Policies, Procedures and Controls

Quick fixes that neglect the identification of root causes may result in a shallow patch that doesn’t hold up over time. Once you identify where and why things went wrong and determine appropriate corrective action, update the risk assessment, policies, procedures, controls, and training as needed.


Unresolved issues from reviews and audits can leave financial institutions vulnerable. By implementing a disciplined, risk-focused approach with robust tracking mechanisms, prioritized action plans, and a strong culture of compliance, financial institutions can ensure their BSA/AML and OFAC programs continuously improve. This proactive and systematic approach is essential for safeguarding against money laundering and terrorist financing, ultimately protecting the integrity of the financial institution as well as the broader financial system.



This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, accounting, or professional services advice. Our team of professionals with expertise in BSA/AML and OFAC compliance uses AI tools like ChatGPT to support our writing process in different ways. Sometimes, AI is used to improve upon a draft we've written, while other times, it's employed to synthesize and combine information from reputable sources, such as FinCEN, FFIEC, CFPB, FATF, and state regulatory bodies, around a concept or idea. In both cases, the final content is shaped and validated by professionals to ensure accuracy, clarity, and alignment with compliance standards. However, since each institution's compliance needs are unique, we recommend seeking advice from qualified experts in legal, accounting, or compliance consulting. The effectiveness of the strategies and practices discussed depends on your institution's specific risk profile and tolerance, so customization is advised.

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