After 9/11 attacks, Patriot Act put pressure on banks to fight terror

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Trinity Christian Academy/Allen, Texas
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COLUMBIA — Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, banking practices have been revised to help prevent international money laundering, as well as to stop those who finance terrorism.

Under the USA Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, all banks must now

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solicit sufficient data from customers to clearly identify them. Banks also must report potential money laundering and other suspicious activities.

Bank representatives in Columbia say the consequences of the act have been both good and bad for

financial institutions.

“On the one hand, there has been software development, which has allowed smaller banks to put systems

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in place that they may not have had previously,” said Matt Williams, Columbia Market president at Hawthorn Bank.

He said the systems allow banks to more readily safeguard against dishonest people, not just those focused on terrorism.

On the other hand, Williams said, “As with any regulation, it does take away flexibility.”

The Patriot Act was signed by then-President George W. Bush on Oct. 26, 2001. In May, President Barack Obama extended the provisions until 2015.

According to the U.S. Department

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of the Treasury, this legislation requires banks to have a customer identification program that asks for name, date of birth, address and ID or Social Security number.

The banks are required to keep and maintain records of the information.

In addition, banks must keep a list of the known or suspected terrorists and terrorist groups. A bank representative must check the list when someone opens a new account.

Initially, the Patriot Act was controversial, and several bills were introduced to end it. None of the bills passed through Congress.

NPR did a number of

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reports about the ongoing debate. Among the controversies were the government’s ability to distribute security letters to financial institutions and tap phone calls.

The Patriot Act made the banking process safer, but at the same time, it made it much more difficult, said Mary Wilkerson, Boone County National Bank senior vice president of marketing communications.

Wilkerson

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said the Patriot Act “created a much more difficult process for opening an account or making a loan.”

Stephen Ferris, the James Harvey Rogers Chair of Money, Credit and Banking Finance at the MU Trulaske School of Business, agreed that it made banking practices more burdensome.

“Banks have to investigate in more detail than before,” and it “gives excessive discretion to banks in terms of the questions they ask,” said Ferris, who has been a professor for 25 years.

He said he thinks the intent of the act was sound but the process is flawed. Accumulating the required information can be costly to the banks, he said — especially smaller banks that are less likely to be able to afford the costs.

“Community banks pride themselves on ‘knowing their customer,’” Williams said.

“However, with the Patriot Act, verification of a customer’s identity in concrete form is a must. You have to have proper ID or you can’t help the customer.”