Financial institutions use concentration accounts to process internal customer transactions as quickly as possible—usually within the same day. Think of them as large pools of money banks use to settle various transactions that occur throughout the day.
Concentration accounts are good for banks because they allow them to settle internal transactions the same day. However, they’ve received a lot of flack over the years because these large pools of money make it difficult to spot suspicious activities. Find out how concentration accounts work and what banks are doing to minimize the risk of money laundering.
Definition and Examples of a Concentration Account
Concentration accounts are internal bank accounts used by financial institutions to process and settle same-day transactions for customers. They’re often used to expedite transactions for private banking, trust and custody accounts, fund transfers, and international constituents.
Alternate names: special-use account, omnibus account, suspense account, settlement account, intraday account, sweep account, collection account
For example, let’s say you run a corporation that has a zero balance account (ZBA) set up for each department in your company (e.g., the marketing department has its own ZBA, the IT department has another, HR has another, and so on). Because the purpose of ZBAs is to maintain a balance of $0, if any of them have cash in them at the end of the day, these funds may get swept into a larger concentration account for holding.
How a Concentration Account Works
Banks pride themselves on speed and efficiency. The prime purpose of a concentration account is to help them disburse funds as quickly as possible.
Here are three examples of how a bank may use a concentration account to swiftly settle transactions.
Suppose that instead of needing to maintain a zero balance every day, you need to maintain a minimum balance in your account to avoid penalties and fees. If your bank has a sweeping feature where it will automatically move money from one account if your balance gets too low into another account, it may use a concentration account to quickly process this sweep.
Let’s say you have a checking account and individual retirement account (IRA) with the same bank. You want to transfer money from your checking account to your IRA. Instead of making you wait a few days for the transaction to process, your bank may fund the transfer immediately using its concentration account.
Suppose a national bank has regional branches located throughout the country. Instead of having each branch store its funds locally, its headquarters may use a concentration account to “pool” or collect any money held at a branch location that exceeds a certain threshold.
Pros and Cons of Concentration Accounts
Allows banks to quickly process internal transactions
Can elicit money-laundering activities
- Allows banks to quickly process internal transactions: Concentration accounts allow banks to settle any transactions that occur within the banks on the same day, giving you faster access to your money.
- Can elicit money laundering activities: Due to pooling of funds, concentration accounts could be used for unlawful activities such as money laundering. As of 2001, the USA Patriot Act has put policies and procedures in place for banks to mitigate such activities.
Concentration Accounts and Regulations
One major concern with concentration accounts is that they may be used for money laundering—the act of sneaking money earned through illegal means into the financial system so it looks legitimate.
To help prevent illegal activities on concentration accounts, Congress passed rules governing such accounts in the USA Patriot Act in 2001. It requires banks to put internal controls in place to monitor and report suspicious activity on concentration accounts. Some of these internal controls include:
- Having a bank-wide system in place that identifies which departments and individuals are authorized to use each concentration account
- Prohibiting customers from directly accessing funds in a bank’s concentration account (or even knowing details of said accounts)
- Maintaining accurate records of transactions and customer identification information
- Having accounts routinely reconciled by a third-party person not associated with the transaction
- Establishing a timely process for resolving discrepancies
- Concentration accounts are internal administrative accounts financial institutions use to promptly process and settle customer transactions—usually within the same day.
- Concentration accounts are primarily used to process transactions for private banking, trust and custody accounts, fund transfers, and international constituents.
- The USA Patriot Act of 2001 lays down rules for concentration accounts to prevent unlawful activities such as money laundering.