Committee Blog: Banking in the Cannabis World

By: Shawn Kruger, Avivatech
Contributing Authors: Paul Dunford, Green Check Verified | Todd Glider, MobiusPay Inc. | Kameron Richards, Kameron Richards Esq.
Produced by: NCIA’s Banking & Financial Services Committee

The Landscape

With recreational marijuana legalized in 23 states, Washington D.C. and Guam, the public continues to broadly favor legalization for medical and recreational purposes. Why then, is it still a challenge for the cannabis industry to access financial services? The short answer: cannabis banking is risky for financial institutions (FIs), and bankers are committed to avoiding unnecessary risk. Historically, FIs have worked to keep funds associated with illegal activity out of their banks and credit unions, so FIs are sensitive to conflicting state and federal cannabis laws. For example, many FIs are regulated by federal agencies, but marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance.

Navigating the Challenges

However, there are many banks and credit unions that have taken this risk for a variety of reasons, including creating new sources of income, a desire to serve the unbanked in their communities, and supporting the social equity initiatives in the cannabis industry. These FIs are usually discreet about their cannabis banking programs, and it’s often hard to identify them through your typical approach: prowling websites, Google searches or even trade shows (although this has improved over the past 12 to 18 months). 

Fortunately, the best approach is also a well-trusted option: word of mouth. Contact lawyers, accountants and bookkeepers in your area. If they represent or work with other local marijuana related businesses (MRBs), they may know who they are banking with or know someone who does. You should also consider contacting the FIs directly, even if you don’t know if they are working with MRBs. You might be surprised to find that they do, and if they don’t, they might redirect you to another FI in the area. Finally, organizations like the PBC Conference team, provide resources to aid your search, including a Cannabis Banking Directory published annually.

Focus your search on credit unions, community banks, and regional banks. We are entering a new phase of cannabis banking with some FIs offering more than just a place to park your cash. A growing number now offer loans, payroll services, business insurance, etc., so take time to see what’s available, compare multiple FIs’ programs, and find the best match for your cannabis-related business’ (CRB) needs. 

Be Prepared

Every action taken by an FI, regardless of their location or asset size, is closely scrutinized by state and federal banking regulators, and law enforcement agencies. They want to make sure that banks and credit unions are only working with legitimate and legal state CRBs. Therefore, you can expect an FI to require a combination of the following:

Driver’s license or other acceptable state-issued identification for all account holders
Information on all beneficial owners of the company, not just those who own a percentage of the company above a certain percentage threshold (such as 20%)
Tax returns for the previous year for both the company and the beneficial owners
Financial information such as profit and loss accounts and capitalization tables
A copy of any required state licenses
Operational data such as projected annual sales and number of patients/customers
Corporate formation documents such as articles of incorporation and business plans
Sales transaction data (store reports or invoices) for the past thirty days

Behind the scenes of cannabis banking, FIs must do a lot to ensure that they are onboarding only legitimate CRBs; from collecting and analyzing market transactions to conducting reporting. This means that FIs often have additional staff to fulfill their compliance duties and they invest in software to automate some of their monitoring. FIs invest heavily in banking cannabis and account fees help offset those expenses. This means you can expect to pay account setup fees and monthly account maintenance fees to help cover these costs. Prices have come down in recent years. The days of paying $5,000 per month for an easy deposit account are long gone, but the fees will remain high as long as a lot of oversight and reporting falls on FIs.

Embrace the Journey

FIs are far savvier about detecting MRB activity among their existing customer/member accounts. At this point, it’s not a question of “if” your FI will find out you’re an MRB, but when. Few things are more disruptive to a business than getting a letter from your FI informing you that your account will be closed in thirty days. Don’t put yourself in that position.  Additionally, you may be missing out on vital financial and business services by staying “under the radar” and not having a transparent relationship with a bank or credit union.  Start looking for a cannabis-friendly bank or credit union today!

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