The FINTRAC Charade – Realtors Have to collect the data and store it

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Marty Douglas

February – when every young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of, “How can I escape this dreary winter?” Then I opened an email from my real estate board. There, buried between the President’s Message – yawn – and the 2013 Sales and Summary Stats was an important update from CREA – the mother ship has called!

The update had three headline links. Nestled in the cleavage between the CREA Board of Directors for 2014-2015 and a no doubt riveting article on the enforcement of trademarks, was the teaser – FINTRAC Update.

Hold me back. (For those of you who are relatively new to the business, there hasn’t been a FINTRAC update since 2008 so you can imagine why the thought of an update was like the first tasting of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau to an oenophile.)

So I followed the link and read CREA’s blurb promising “to help members more easily meet their obligations”. Now I wanted to believe the two pages of clarification would indeed make our paper shuffling “easier”. (Okay, so I was really hoping for “lazier”.) Paragraph #1 was encouraging. It allows the substitution of the client’s work description rather than the client’s employer. In other words, instead of entering “Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada” I can put “bureaucrat”. If I can spell it.

Paragraph #2 stunned me with the news that Realtors can list a client’s occupation as “retired” if they are “retired”. Interestingly enough, I think a case could be made Paragraph #2 is uncertain as to whether the client or the Realtor needs to be “retired”. But I wouldn’t plan your entire defence around that fundamental principle!

And from there the update went downhill. One of the promised new forms was illegibly blurry on the screen and the printer. The links promising me new forms led to old forms. Even the “help” email link on the old form led me to an “undeliverable email” alert in my in-box later in the day.

It’s probably my fault. Months ago I asked for updates and I suppose someone in Ottawa scurried around, sent a few emails, read the replies and pressed a button. But if they corrected/amended the forms they forgot to update the footnote date on several.

Here’s where it turns into an episode from the X Files. You remember – “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t a conspiracy!”

I emailed my concerns.

And got an immediate response.

From a lawyer.

A high rate-per-hour lawyer because he signed his title as “Legal Counsel”. Who insisted everything would be okay if I just calmed down, took a breath and refreshed my browser. I also got a pat on the head for innovation, a lesson in “older browsers” and the meaning of “cached”. The only remedy missing was to have my eyesight checked as a possible cause of the blurring.

This, of course, gave them time to scurry through the back door access and replace the widgets and rearrange bits and bytes amid the knobs and tubes of HAL, CREA’s computer.

Needless to say, by the time I re-visited the site, all was hunky dory and I was left wondering if I had imagined the whole thing, if the theory of jet contrails had any substance and just where else Jimmy Hoffa’s body might be found.

If someone would only show the value in the paper we collect but never submit. Is it a barrier so formidable that terrorists and drug dealers are kept at bay? Please let us know. The number of FINTRAC audits I’m aware of in our real estate community in B.C. wouldn’t require my thumb, among the fingers of one hand. The updates – or complete lack – show our leadership isn’t interested or too concerned, merely doing what we do in the field – cover our butt with paper and move on.

I don’t mind the ID requirements – although they are redundant – because I have to show ID every time I check into even the seediest of motels. (P.S. – haven’t done that for years!) It’s the charade of the required manual and training the brokerage has to maintain. Money Laundering 101 – are you kidding me? The full name is Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Training Course. Here’s an excerpt from CREA’s compliance centre on RealtorLink. For many of you, it will be your first and last glimpse:

“The training section provides a variety of materials relevant to the training requirements of a Compliance Regime. Information is presented in a number of concise and easy-to-follow formats, including a number of documents that are conducive to being printed off and kept as a quick reference in your briefcase or desk drawer. The [Act] requires Realtors . . . to undertake and maintain a training program that covers both existing and new content areas relevant to the understanding and control of money laundering and terrorist financing.”

Shoot me now!

In brokerages across Canada there are dusty manuals, perhaps with revisions dated August 2008, May 2009 and Summer 2013 supported by an email trail of instruction from the brokerage requiring all sales staff, as a part of their Independent Contractor Agreement, to be compliant with all appropriate federal, provincial and municipal legislation.

There – you’ve been warned.


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