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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 7, 2006

Money transmitters should be regulated

Institutions that handle the money of others, such as banks, are among the most regulated businesses in the state.

But when Hawai'i consumers send their hard-earned money to help relatives in their home countries, such as the Philippines, they often don't use banks. They're likely to turn to neighborhood money transmitters, often "mom and pop" remittance agents, some of whom handle thousands, even millions of dollars a year in transactions.

And it's all totally unregulated.

Senate Bill 2143 attempts to address this void. The bill is a practical piece of legislation that goes a long way toward protecting consumer interests by licensing and regulating those in the money-transmission business.

Other states already have such laws. But in Hawai'i, it doesn't take much to hang your shingle as a money transmitter. For consumers here, the only protection that exists is their own sense of trust.

The bill's critics say that evidence of fraud is anecdotal and overstated. But that's no reason to continue to let money transmitters carry on with no safeguards for consumers.

The bill is designed to provide the public with an added layer of confidence: It subjects money transmitters to an application and licensing process, which includes a criminal background check; it sets limits on how long transmitters can hold money before delivery; and it allows smaller firms to operate by meeting minimal asset requirements.

It also requires regular inspection for signs of money laundering. Use of transmitters to launder profits from illegal activities is a legitimate concern.

While the bill doesn't limit what money transmitters can charge, fees typically are set by what the market will bear.

More importantly, this bill gives consumers recourse against fraud. It is much-needed protection for those who rely on these services to send money to their homelands.