Gather round, young children, and I’ll tell you a tale. A tale full of treachery and intrigue, mighty heroes and dastardly villains, sung to the tune of the USA PATRIOT Act’s Section 326. A harrowing account of your intrepid author’s attempts to perform a simple act, made not-so-simple by the never-ending meddling of the federal government.
Over the last several weeks, it has been my sworn and sacred duty to set up a small business banking account for our Glibertarian enterprise. Setting up a bank account should, in theory, be an easy enough exercise. One waltzes into a bank; puts hands on hips in the lobby and demands in a loud, commanding voice, “Ho, there! I require the services of a money lender! Make haste, for I have pressing affairs to attend to with the apothecary upon the satisfactory conclusion of our business!”; gives some information; and deposits some money. That is precisely how things worked the last time I had to open a bank account.
Of course, preliminary research had to be conducted. Only one of us is actually made of money (I’ll let you try to guess who!), so the majority of my time was spent on the internet and over the phone with different institutions trying to find an actually free small business checking account. The majority advertise themselves as free, but once you get into the weeds a bit during the enrollment process, it turns out they are free only so long as you meet a variety of requirements, none of which are likely to occur with our current business model.
And yet, I persisted. Finally landing upon a local bank that, so far as I could tell, had actual, honest-to-Zardoz free small business checking, I gallantly sacrificed my entire lunch break to go speak with these generous merchants of monetary services. I walked into the lobby which, being the middle of a weekday, was largely empty. A thick-set manager in an off-the-rack suit quickly hurried over to me, vigorously shook my hand, and assured me that his underling would be able to attend to our needs. When asking what our business was, I explained that we run a website giving political and pop culture commentary. Why how wonderful! Did you know that the manager was a journalism major? It’s so important for there to be as many voices as possible giving great, down-the-line political commentary, to fight the nefarious tide of fake news!
Bolstered by his enthusiasm and feeling mightily proud of myself for helping to selflessly bring the hard, unvarnished truth to a grateful readership (though given some of the comments made during his rambling glad-handing, I suspect he would not have been so generous with praise if he knew the direction in which our political commentary flows), I sat down comfortably with his associate to begin the process.
Now, as you may or may not know, the leadership of our merry band is scattered across these United States. I explained that not only myself, but a handful of other individuals in various states would need to be signatories on this account. I thought this could be accomplished through digital signatures, faxes, etc. It is here that the first act closes, and the central conflict begins.
The banker looked at me with a nervous smile. “Is there any chance of your associates being able to come in to one of our branches?”
“None at all,” I replied, “and frankly I think it quite racist of you to ask*.”
“I’ll need to speak to my manager. Please excuse me for a moment.”
*thundering denunciation* “YES, YOU SPEAK WITH YOUR MASTER, VULGAR HIRELING, AND TELL HIM THAT I WOULD SPEAK WITH HIM FORTHWITH!”
Some five minutes pass in hushed consultation. There are no other customers in the bank. I nonchalantly begin to inspect the windows and doors at the edge of my vision, to plan my escape, if it turns out that my growing suspicions are true, and I have wondered into a clan of vampires or ghouls using a regional bank as a front to draw in potential victims.
Meaty Manager avalanches back across the room, with an exasperated look upon his reddened ground chuck face.
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid we’ll not be able to meet your needs.”
“Excuse me?” I replied, momentarily dumbstruck.
“It’s the PATRIOT Act, you see…” and he then begins to tell me of a curse that the Great Tribe has laid upon he and all his kind.
In 2001 of the Western reckoning of years, as many of you may recall, our great nation was paid a friendly visit by some rather motivated Mohammedans who, through a series of peculiar mishaps, wound up killing thousands of innocent people. The immediate and predictable response to this, was for our Federal Government, Beloved by All, to pass an enormous omnibus bill full of things like indefinite detention and a host of new regulations on a wide variety of industries. If they hated us for our freedom, we had found a most ingenious method by which to defuse their wrath – simply get rid of the offending freedoms.
In this behemoth of a law lies section 326, dealing with the establishment of what is known as a Customer Identification Program. Now before establishing accounts, banks are required to, and held liable for, making strong efforts to establish the identify of their customers. The exact methods by which they do this are left up to the individual institutions. According to the text of the act itself, it sounds easy enough to perform using only legal documents. However, Meaty Manager explained to me that practically all banks, particularly those who are only regional players and who cannot afford to buy off entire branches of government, generally are held to much tighter restrictions by their compliance departments, lest they find themselves on the wrong end of a federal inquiry. And so, without having the opportunity to actually see each of the individuals face to face and have a chat with them, they simply could not pass muster using their bank’s particular CIP rules. There was no way, you see, for them to have faith that we were not drug dealers or terrorists (he mentioned those two professions explicitly, showing an interesting creep from Fighting Terrorism to Eh, the Tool is Already There, Might As Well Use It to Fight Drugs).
Gathering what dignity remained to me, I indignantly declared to him that such was foolishness in the age of internet business, and that surely a great catastrophe (in the form of lack of growth) would befall his institution if it continued in this folly. Meaty Manager could only smile and give me a Gallic shrug, as if to suggest that, if such were the vicissitudes of fate, then he would suffer what he must.
On my way out the door, Meaty Manager did offer one piece of parting advice. He suggested to consult with a bank whose reach extends across all the lands, so that there would be outposts near any person that we decided needed official access. Perhaps then, could their identities be properly ascertained to the King’s satisfaction.
Thoroughly demoralized at this point, your dogged author decided to follow the suited mound’s advice and talk to a big bank. And so, this past Saturday morn, I found myself in the lobby of a Major National Bank. After waiting for some time, I was finally introduced to Paul**, the small business banking representative. I explained to him right away the issue I had had previously, and he agreed it was an obstacle.
There followed two hours, and I am not kidding or engaging in hyperbole there, in which I was interrogated by Paul and his Manager (I was by now convinced that every man who works in a bank has the exact same physical build). I explained more than once what our business did. I showed them the site. I explained about the concept of the Internet, and how it came to be that many different people, only a few of whom have ever met in person, can reside in different states and still all have interest in a shared venture. I was asked more than once some questions that sounded suspiciously like they were going to lead to “gotcha!” moments had I answered differently, some about drugs and some about terrorism. It was, frankly, ludicrous.
I asked why I was being treated this way. Same story, different day: PATRIOT Act, section 326. We don’t Know you. How can we Know your compatriots when they aren’t even here? Was I aware how deeply suspicious this entire thing was? Why, did I know that some young dissidents have used otherwise seemingly innocuous websites to sell the Devil’s own concoctions? What nerve had I, to come in here proclaiming my own innocence, when all of my actions so clearly speak to the contrary!
I shall not bore you with further details; suffice to say that due to some stern negotiations and my resolve to not leave without a deal in hand, one hour after the bank closed, I left with a newly established account, and a series of addendums that I could mail to my compatriots that which, upon completion in front of a notary, would then suffice to establish identity for banking purposes. You see, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s FAQ on the CIP allows for a bank to rely on the good offices of a third party for purposes of establishing identity. However, the bank is held responsible if the third party’s methods are found to be insufficient or unsound. As such, few banks are willing to take such a risk. However, when it comes to dislodging an agitated libertarian from your place of business after the automatically timed overhead lights have already extinguished, it appears they were willing to make an exception.
TL;DR version: apparently starting a small business with partners in different states is now considered to essentially be drug-running or terrorism related unless and until proven otherwise. This helps to preserve our freedom after 9/11. Be grateful the King is there to see all, and to protect us from the evils that lurk in the dark.
All information used to write this article that was not gleaned from my personal experience was obtained here and here, if you want to ruin your Sunday afternoon reading through it. Having already done so, I wouldn’t recommend it.
*conversations may not have occurred precisely as recounted
**names have been changed to protect the barely competent