Dáil Éireann - Volume 530 - 08 February, 2001

Written Answers. - Bank Accounts.

74. Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Finance the identity documents required when opening an account in a bank or financial institution; if regulations can be made more user friendly; if financial institutions are required to accept a driving licence-passport as identification of a person who wishes to open an account or become a joint signatory on a spouse's account; if he will clarify the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3403/01]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): The guidance notes issued by the Money Laundering Steering Committee recommend that the true name of a person wishing to open a bank account or to become a joint signatory on a bank account should be verified by reference to a document obtained from a reputable source which bears a photograph and signature. The guidance notes recommend that wherever possible, a current full valid passport should be requested. It is accepted that there are other documents that customers [408] might produce as evidence of their identity and that it is for each credit institution to decide the appropriateness of such documents in the light of other security procedures operated and other information available at account opening. However, because of difficulties experienced by particular social groups it is hoped to issue revised guidance notes shortly to ensure that measures adopted by institutions should not deny a person access to financial services on the grounds that they do not possess specified identification documentation, while at the same time ensuring that financial institutions are in a position to comply with their legal obligations.

The Criminal Justice Act, 1994 implements the EU Money Laundering Directive in Ireland. Section 32 of the Act provides, inter alia, that a financial institution shall take reasonable measures to establish the identity of any person for whom it proposes to provide a service. It is the legal responsibility of each financial institution to ensure that it complies with this provision. Failure to comply carries penalties of a fine and-or imprisonment for a term of up to five years.

The Act does not state what may or may not represent reasonable measures and does not provide for the making of regulations in this regard. Accordingly, in order to facilitate consistent implementation of the anti-money laundering provisions of the Act, guidance notes were issued in April 1995 by the Money Laundering Steering Committee, established under the aegis of my Department and representing various sectors of the financial services industry and the relevant regulatory authorities.

These guidance notes recommend that a customer's identity be verified by reference to a document obtained from a reputable source which bears a photograph and signature. The guidance notes state, however, that it may be reasonable to depart from such specific verification procedures in certain circumstances where a person may not be able to provide such documentary evidence. It is a matter for an institution's management to determine the type of alternative evidence that it is prepared to accept in such cases in order to ensure that the institution complies with its legal obligations under the Act.

The 1995 guidance notes are under review. The issue of customer identification procedures, including the issue of setting out more specific guidance on alternative methods of identification in cases where persons are not in a position to produce a passport/driving licence, is being considered. The objective is to ensure that measures adopted by institutions should not deny a person access to financial services on the grounds that they do not possess specified identification documentation, while at the same time ensuring that financial institutions are in a position to comply with their legal obligations under the Act. It is expected that this review process will conclude [409] shortly and revised guidance notes will be issued in due course.