European Commission Requests Feedback on a Roadmap for Widening Access to Centralized Bank and Payment Account Registries


On August 9, 2017, the European Commission published an inception impact assessment (Ares (2017)3971182) (also called a roadmap) on access to centralized bank account registries.

In the roadmap, the Commission explains that the proposed Fifth Money Laundering Directive (“MLD5“) includes provisions that would require member states to establish automated centralized mechanisms, such as central registries or central electronic data retrieval systems, of bank and payment accounts. Member states would be required to grant access to these registries to financial intelligence units (FIUs) and national competent authorities (NCAs) to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. The registries are intelligence tools, not data warehouses. They do not contain any information on the balance of the account or transaction details. The minimum data that would be contained in the registries would include information on the identification of the account holder, of any person acting on their behalf, of the beneficial owners, the IBAN account number (which would also identify the bank), the account opening date and, where applicable, the closing date.

The Commission advises that the inter-institutional negotiations on MLD5 are well advanced. The Council of the EU adopted its general approach in December 2016, in which no substantial changes were made to Article 32a of MLD5, which establishes the registries. The European Parliament has not presented substantive amendments on Article 32a either. As a result, the Commission believes that the provisions establishing centralized registers are likely to be included in the final text of MLD5, to be adopted by the co-legislators later in 2017.

However, the Commission explains that the scope of MLD5 is limited to the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing. As a result, under MLD5, access to the registries can only be granted to FIUs and NCAs, but not to other law enforcement agencies. In some member states, a broader range of law enforcement agencies will be able to consult the registries. This means there will be differences among member states, which could be exploited by criminals and organized crime groups.

Under the Commission’s February 2016 terrorist financing action plan, it announced that it would explore the possibility of a self-standing legislative instrument to allow for broader access to the registries for other law enforcement investigations and by other authorities (such as tax authorities, asset recovery offices (AROs) and anti-corruption authorities (ACAs)). The Commission believes that this would contribute to the prevention of organized crime, and other serious offenses, by enabling public authorities to get timely access to information on the identity of holders of bank and payment accounts in their member state. This would facilitate criminal investigations, as well as the confiscation and recovery of criminal assets. The Commission also considers that banks are likely to benefit from the initiative, as they should experience a reduction in the administrative costs of regularly having to reply to authorities’ requests for information.

In June 2016, the Commission carried out a targeted consultation that involved sending a questionnaire on the issue of access to the registries to AROs and ACAs. 90% of all authorities who replied (representing 26 member states) consider that access would facilitate their tasks substantially. It is planning to launch a twelve-week public consultation in the third quarter of 2017 and, simultaneously, to carry out targeted consultations of key stakeholders (including banks) in the third and fourth quarter of 2017.

A related Commission webpage explains that comments can be made on the roadmap until September 6, 2017. The roadmap refers to an indicative planning date of the first quarter of 2018.