Articles

Empowering Community Banks: Driving Forward America’s $20 Billion Climate Initiative

Co-written by:
Rokas Beresniovas, Montgomery County Green Bank
Chris Cucci, Climate First Bank

The recent buzz surrounding America’s $20 billion climate push has sparked widespread interest. However, amidst the headlines, confusion lingers. Let’s dissect the facts. Contrary to some interpretations, this funding doesn’t herald the birth of a new “Green Bank.” Instead, it marks a substantial investment in the nation’s inaugural “Green Bank” Network.

A significant portion of these funds—70%—is earmarked for disadvantaged communities, with an additional 20% allocated for rural areas, leaving the remainder designated for tribal communities.

Just last week, eight community development banks and non-profits were honored with awards. Among them are esteemed organizations such as the Coalition for Green Capital, Power Forward Communities, and others. Collectively, these groups have pledged to leverage $7 in private investment for every $1 of government funding they receive.

Each recipient organization will receive portions of the funding, which they will distribute to sub-awardees, ensuring that the financial support reaches the grassroots level. These funds will be disseminated through local green banks, mission-based non-profits, and community development institutions (CDFIs).

While “Green Banks” represent a relatively new concept, they are not the sole players in climate finance. Numerous CDFIs, non-profit institutions, and emerging conventional banks in the U.S. are actively engaged in furthering this mission. Typically, Green Banks operate as mission-based non-profits, public-private partnerships, or state entities, all dedicated to advancing specific climate goals set by states or municipalities.

Undoubtedly, the $20 billion climate initiative will present both challenges and opportunities. A critical hurdle will be securing the necessary talent to deploy these funds effectively. Additionally, educating communities and collaborating with existing mission-based institutions will be imperative for successful deployment.

Conventional community banks, struggling with dwindling deposits and limited lending opportunities, are poised to benefit from this influx of capital. However, many are hindered by their conservative lending practices and lack of familiarity with climate finance.

In recent years, many community banks have struggled with a higher-than-desired level of commercial real estate loans on their balance sheet. In an effort to reduce the concentration of CRE loans in their asset mix, many are looking for alternatives. Financing green energy for residential and commercial uses can provide this solution. However, many of these smaller banks lack the experience to properly underwrite these types of loans. The organizations that have received grant funds from Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) have experience lending in these areas or working with lenders who have this experience. Along with connecting community bankers with resources to increase their knowledge around underwriting, these organizations can use GGRF funding to provide credit enhancements to encourage more green lending activity with local banks.

Commercial real estate investors represent another opportunity to leverage this new funding source. Rising interest rates and, in many markets across the U.S., an oversupply of commercial real estate has led to a slowdown in rent growth. Commercial real estate investors are seeking other means to deliver returns on their real estate investments. When rents can’t be increased and interest rates are high, the solution is finding ways to reduce property operating expenses. Green building upgrades include improvements to windows, insulation, doors, LED lighting, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and more. These improvements can reduce the energy consumption of the building, thus reducing the utility expenses needed to support the property. Combine this with rooftop solar and commercial real estate investors are able to enjoy a boost in net operating income by reducing these expenses. In addition to the increased net operating income, there are tax benefits, including depreciation and, in the case of solar, the federal investment tax credit (ITC), which can provide tax credits of 30% or more.

The term “Climate Finance” encompasses a broad spectrum of initiatives, ranging from renewables and energy efficiency to infrastructure resilience. Conventional banks must adapt by broadening their understanding and offerings to accommodate these emerging opportunities.

As funds trickle down to local green bank networks, conventional banks have a unique opportunity to collaborate and capitalize on this momentum. By aligning deposit policies with community banks and engaging in strategic partnerships, they can actively contribute to the climate finance movement.

In the coming years, the climate finance industry is poised for exponential growth. Conventional banks must seize the moment and integrate climate finance into their core operations to remain competitive in this trillion-dollar industry.

Let’s embark on this transformative journey together, building healthier, greener communities for generations to come. The time for action is now. Read more.

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Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Measures in Lithuania

Core Legislation and Responsibilities of Anti-Money Laundering Laws in Lithuania

Anti-money laundering legislation was established in the country of Lithuania, a member of the European Union, on June 19, 1997 through the Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Prevention Law [herein the “AML Law”]. The Financial Crimes Investigation Service (FCIS) under the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania is responsible for overseeing, monitoring and preventing money laundering and terrorist financing (AML/TF) in the country. FCIS is also the designated financial intelligence unit (FIU) of Lithuania (DOS, 2015).

The codification of the AML law came from guidance of the European Union, to which Lithuania was seeking accession at the time. As an EU country, transnational AML directives are intended to supersede local laws, although member countries can refuse to implement them presuming they accept negative reporting, fines, and potential sanctions from EU agencies. However, Lithuania is on the EU White List of Equivalent Jurisdiction, meaning that AML laws are expected to be similar throughout all EU member states (KYC, 2016).

Subsequent to the law’s original inception, 22 amendments have been added. The primary rationales for adding the amendments were EU compliance requirements that would better reflect current market conditions. The most recent implementation of an amendment occurred in January 2015. The changes made included the addition of CDD (Customer Due Diligence) obligations (covered in Section V) and record keeping and STR (Suspicious Transactions Reporting) systems (covered in sections III & IV) which MONEYVAL saw as shortcomings in the previous laws. FCIS also began implementation of new, more efficient procedures for electronic reporting measures.

Article 3 of AML Law (IBA, 2014) identifies the financial and non-financial institutions responsible for the prevention of AML/TF. In Lithuania, the law applies to more than just financial institutions, and through amendments added in 2009 & 2010 it now includes under its purview the transactions of government institutions, banks, lawyers, notaries, and cultural agencies, including:

Table 1. AML/TF Required Institutions

Entity Inclusion Legislation

Customs Departments and those overseeing the importation/exportation of goodsOriginal law

Department of Cultural Heritage and those trading in movable cultural properties and/or antiquesAML Law guidelines issued on February 9, 2010

Gaming Control Authority and those supervising gaming companiesAML Law guidelines issued on February 28, 2009

Chamber of Notaries AML Law guidelines issued on June 23, 2009

Chamber of Auditors and those in regulatory rolesAML Law guidelines issued on June 10, 2009

Lithuanian Chamber of Bailiffs AML Law guidelines issued on June 10, 2009

Lithuanian Assay Office and those trading in precious stones and/or metalsAML Law guidelines issued on May 15, 2009

Lithuanian Bar Association and those who supervise lawyers and assistantsAML Law guidelines issued on July 2, 2009

Source: MONEYVAL, 2012, pp.26-27

Lithuanian Participation in International Bodies Overseeing AML

Lithuania is a small country of only 2 million people. It has a strong economy, but suffered considerably during an economic downturn beginning in 2008/9, which lead to an increase in organized crime (FCIS, 2015; Gutasukas, 2011). Therefore, there are still challenges in the implementation of its AML laws because it lacks logistical and legal mechanism in some areas of enforcement, especially in terms of terrorist financing (CoE, 2006). Much guidance and pressure of Lithuanian practices to combat money laundering comes from its membership in several organizations, especially the European Union agencies.

Currently, Lithuania is a member of MONEYVAL, a committee within the EU’s Council of Europe that oversees Anti-Money Laundering measures and ensures member state compliance with EU directives. MONEYVAL is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and, as such, oversees compliance in European countries that may not necessarily be members of FATF, such as Lithuania. One of the more significant FATF recommendations is for the countries to assess their national risk levels for money laundering and terrorist financing (2012). This recommendation was adopted by the EU as directive on May 20, 2015 making it applicable in Lithuania even though it is not a FATF member. As an EU member, Lithuania has to report to EU’s MONEYVAL committee on how it implements the FATF recommendations. As part of this requirement, Lithuania conducted a national risk assessment in 2015 by creating a working group of government agencies, as well as Deloitte Lietuva, a respected third-party auditing organization. According to the FCIS in Lithuania, such assessments will be conducted every 3 years with another one due next year (2018).

Lithuania is considered to be FATF AML compliant or largely compliant in 30 of the FATF 40+9 recommendations, with the “plus 9” have less applicability given that Lithuania is considered to be “low risk” in terms of potential money laundering associated with terrorist financing (FCIS, 2014). As of 2006, Lithuania reported no known cases of terrorist financing funneled through Lithuania. Lithuania predominantly relies on the UN and EU to investigate, identify, and freeze assets related to terrorist financing (CoE, 2006).

Some concerns highlighted in the IMF Report for Lithuania from 2014 found that, in accordance with the FATF 2012 report, there were “several deficiencies” with due diligence measures and transparency, especially within the financial intelligence unit and with regard to Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs; discussed in Section VI). As a response, the autonomy of the FCIS was enhanced (IMF Report, 2014).

Until 2015, the last European money laundering directive issued by the EU Parliament and the Council of Europe fully implemented in Lithuania through the AML Law was the third directive, with its last amendments as of December 2011. An additional fourth directive is expected to be implemented by summer 2017. On May 15, 2015 the European Parliament and Council of Europe issued directive number 2015/849 regarding money laundering and terrorist financing perpetrated through financial systems. The main goal of this directive was to eliminate ambiguities that existed in former regulations by providing even more stringent obligations for reporting and due diligence to combat terrorist financing.

This directive, commonly known as “IV AML/TF,” is slated to go into effect on June 26, 2017, which means that all EU member states were expected to have implemented it by that date.

The IV AML/TF is not fully implemented in Lithuania yet, as many financial institutions report that they are still trying to assess the cost of this implementation (Ambrasas, 2017). However, not implementing this directive on time could resolve in fines as well as reputational risks for financial institutions. Abstaining from implementation thus could present institutions with even greater costs. Fines for non-compliance to EU-based directives (MONEYVAL and FATF) in Lithuanian are assigned as a percentage of an institution’s overall operating revenue. The current fine for sanction violations is 10 percent of a company’s annual revenue, to be not less than 5 million Euros. Violations also threaten the loss of a company’s license to do business in Lithuania and across the EU.

While Lithuania’s relationship with the EU proves most influential in shaping Lithuania’s legislation and enforcement regarding AML, it is also a member of the Egmont Group, which is body of 152 Financial Intelligence Units (FIU’s), and an observer to the EAG (Eurasia Group). Most recently, Lithuania became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention. Lithuania is also reviewed by other external agencies for their AML compliance. In 2016, the US Department of State Money Laundering Assessment (INCSR, 2016), Lithuania was deemed a ‘Monitored’ Jurisdiction, which means it is considered by the INCSR report to be a country on the list of those worldwide viewed by the Department of State as a “Major Money Laundering Countries” (DOS, 2012). However, its status as a monitored country is much less severe than those on the list of “Primary Concern” and “Concern.” The report states that Lithuania, which is not a major financial capital, has “adequate legal safeguards against money laundering” although its geographic location makes it primary location for the movement of goods and capital illegally. Importantly, the Department of State found no evidence of government participation in corruption related to money laundering (DOS, 2012).

Principal Offenses for Laundering Money in Lithuania

There are generally three types of money laundering in Lithuania: cash transfers to fake accounts; transfers to fictitious companies; transfers of funds either into or out of Lithuania resultant of a crime (often offshore accounts), and the acquisition of assets and stakes in companies either real or fictitious. Money laundering is codified in Part 1 of Article 216 of the Criminal Code as a criminal offense involving the possession of and/or intent to conceal the source of ill-gotten gains, with knowledge of their criminality, as a means to legalize or legitimate them (Burnes & Munro, 2017). Most money laundering in Lithuania involves sources from international organizations, criminal enterprises, or individuals, which is particularly problematic in Lithuania given that it is the easternmost border of the European Union from which assets and cash are transferred in or out to other non-EU countries (Gutauskas, 2011). The offense of money laundering does not only include money or cash, but also property (CoE, 2006).

Enforcement of AML legislation, including the seizure of assets and international cooperation, is increasing in Lithuania. According to latest annual report published by Lithuania’s monitoring body, the FCIS, there has been an increase in the annual number of Suspicious Transactions Reports (STR) in Lithuania due to the provision of more resources allocated to AML/TF laws, including compliance and training. In 2016 there were 541 Suspicious Transactions Reports (STR) compared with 393 in 2013 (FCIS). About half of the STRs, the required reporting mechanisms, came from the banking sector with the most common type of laundering was the establishment of fictitious businesses, smuggling, and tax evasion.

According to case study profiles of specific crimes committed in 2014, FCIS reported that most instances of money laundering in Lithuania were part of tax evasion “schemes” (also known as VAT fraud) primarily carried out in connection to organized crime’s association with the petroleum industry, human trafficking, smuggling of drugs and alcohol and other goods (Burnes & Munro, 2017; FCIS, 2015). Proximity to Russia, a major world supplier of oil, and Belarus, a closed totalitarian system, is one of the main reasons for schemes involving tax evasion and the smuggling or underreporting of goods over the border (DOS, 2012). In 2006, 88 known organized crime groups were believed to be involved in some type of money laundering activity in Lithuania (CoE, 2006). VAT fraud or embezzlement is of particular concern to the FCIS because the Lithuanian government receives most of its revenues through VAT (Eurasian Group, 2013), In addition to the trade of oil, fraudulent accounting affects the metals and timber industries—the largest export industries in Lithuania. Within such tax schemes are the creation of fictitious companies through which money is funneled and the falsification of documents to avoid taxation (CoE, 2006; FCIS, 2015)

With the increases in monitoring/reporting of potentially fraudulent transitions comes an increase in the amount of assets seized. Confiscation of property illegally acquired is covered by Article 72 of the AML law, including property directly or indirectly acquired through the commission of a crime (CoE, 2006). According to the FCIS report (2016), a total of 10.2 million EUR were seized in 2016, up from 9 million EUR the year before. The report also shows that in 2015 there were 57 prosecutions and 12 convictions related to money laundering in Lithuania, showing enforcement through the use of the legal system. There is no data for 2016 as of yet.

Lithuania has also increased their willingness to coordinate with other governments and agencies to monitor cross-national AML transactions. FCIS received 163 inquiries from other financial crimes watchdog groups in other countries (FCIS). More information about the success of Lithuanian enforcement and legislation should emerge in 2018 when the national working group assessment team (discussed in section I) undertakes its next three-year review.

Approaches to Money Laundering in the Context of “Predicate Crimes”

Money laundering is covered under several articles of the Criminal code, including 216 of the Penal Code and article 250 PC for the offense of terrorist financing. Lithuania applies an “all crimes” approach to criminalization of money laundering. As such, all criminal offenses that result in the generation of assets (cash or property) are considered “predicates” to the crime of laundering money. These include cases such as trafficking, racketeering, fraud, piracy, smuggling, extortion, and the like. Indirect and well as direct proceeds of the crime are covered, and in certain cases, the perpetrators of crimes related to money laundering can be tried under Lithuanian law even if they are not Lithuanian citizens. Prosecution of crimes inter alia are also covered by Lithuanian law when individuals arrange to commit a crime. Furthermore, a crime is prosecutable even if the predicates originated in states other than Lithuania. (CoE, 2006, p. 37-8). The consequences for money laundering are fines, arrest, and/or imprisonment for up to 4 years (Burnes & Munroe, 2017), with VAT fraud subject to up to 8 years in Lithuania (Eurasian Group, 2013).

The Regulatory Sector and the Obligation to Report “Suspicion”

The AML/TF law in Lithuania holds many kinds of entities responsible for reporting suspicious activities ranging from financial services institutions to insurance companies to postal providers. The reason including such as wide swath of kinds of agencies is in line with their “all crimes” approach that holds the purveyors of the crime accountable, not just those who hold the outcomes of the crime (such as the laundered money). All required entities and individuals are expected to report any suspicious activities by filing STR’s and submitted them to the FCIS for investigation (Ambrasas, T., 2017). Failure to do so will result in fines (most commonly) or imprisonment for up to a year (Burnes & Munro, 2017).

In Lithuania, financial and non-financial entities charged with prevention of such activities are broadly conceived. The law mandates legal accountability for Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions (DNFBP) in addition to financial institutions, as Table 2 shows.

Table 2. Entities Obligated to Report

Financial service institutionsGambling service providersAuditorsPostal service providersInsurance companies (life insurance activities & broker firms included)Investment companiesEmployees of tax agenciesIndividuals and dealers who sell non-movable objects as well as precious metals, movable cultural items, antiques and other items that are valued over 15,000 EUR and paid in cashAccountant firmsCompanies that provide business incorporating servicesNotaries and people having notary licenses

Source: CoE, 2006

More specifically, the Client Due Diligence (CDD) amendment added to Lithuania’s AML law in 2015 (See Section I) is required for all entities held accountable for AML/TF laws to provide more stringent accounting. The requirements outlined in this amendment provide even more intentional measures to identify and verify customers or the beneficial owners of goods or transactions. Additionally, the law requires entities to verify that transactions match the intended business purpose stated by the customers and the source of funds is established. Also, AML/TF-covered entities are now expected to perform an ongoing monitoring of their client’s business relationships to prohibit potential laundering.

Furthermore, Lithuanian AML Law specifies that Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD) should be performed in additional situations as well when a foreign Politically Exposed Person (PEP) is involved, a prior shortcoming noted in the IMF report (2014) discussed in section II, or when there is a great probability or risk of money laundering and/or terrorist financing. Such relationships are expected should be continuously monitored with “enhanced” procedures that require further investigations into the client or termination of the relationship when money laundering is suspected. Organizations subject to EDD are permitted to rely on due diligence by a third party as long as the provider is properly registered and follows the same or similar requirements as the engaging organization is required to follow. Important to potential areas of improvement in due diligence legislation is the fact that EDD pertains to foreign PEPs, but not domestic ones. (DOS) However, the fourth ML/TF directive does include PEP’s that are domestic or within the EU.

Lithuania further has a “Known Your Customer” (KYC) rule of identifying and establishing client identities. Furthermore, organizations are prohibited from “tipping off” anyone under investigation once a complaint has been filed with FCIS (Burnes & Munro, 2017).

Mens Rea & Money Laundering

There are several definitions of money laundering in Lithuania, which complicate enforcement (Burnes & Munroe, 2017). According to Lithuanian laws, one can be convicted of a crime if actus reus (physical commission of a crime) and mens rea(willful intention or knowledge of wrongdoing) are proven. The law in Lithuania was amended in 2004 to include “knowledge” of the crime as a punishable offense, with conversion, concealment, and acquisition of property or money all punishable by law. As such, to be prosecuted, the person must knowingly be party to the crime committed in the acquisition of goods or money, but does not necessarily have to be engaged personally in the act of concealment of the crime to be held accountable for it (Burnes & Munro, 2017).

Persecution of money laundering is largely influenced by the seriousness with which the EU approaches its legislation across all member states. The EU’s fourth directive considers money laundering to be a criminal crime and classifies it amongst the category “Serious Crimes.” EU directives apply mens rea so a lower count can be suitable for persecution in court. Their directives hold the leadership of organizations accountable, inclusive of anyone who has AML understanding and knowledge or who has enough understanding on this subject.

In 2011, Lithuanian Parliament amended the code XIP-1678(2) (Secretariat, 2011) to increase the fines for money laundering and terrorist financing. The purpose of the amendment was to be more effective and proportionate in administering punishment that would discourage the crime. Fines increased for failing to properly identify the person or beneficiary of a transaction and for failing to report suspicious activity. This was based on recommendations that critiqued divisions of power between those who oversaw the intention to commit money laundering (the FCIS) and those who investigated the perpetration of crimes (the police) (CoE, 2006).

Summary of the Situation in Lithuania

While Lithuania is part of the EU and is subject to the oversight of its membership organizations and outside parties, it still has numerous challenges in the implementation of its anti-money laundering and terrorist financing laws. Lithuanian legislation is responsive to organizational recommendations, including a broad understandings of accountability with regards to covered entities, but enforcement remains an area for improvement, especially as the potential for money laundering remains high given its geographic location. There are many instances in which Lithuania could better address the concerns of the past evaluations, including having a more concise definition of money laundering and implementing enforcement mechanisms that hold parties accountable for following enhanced and customer due diligence requirements.

Recently, EU regulators noted that institutions in Lithuania are still failing to implement the minimum requirements necessary to identify their customers, as they still use old technologies and paper forms for information gathering. Furthermore, Deloitte’s reports found that financial institutions don’t have adequate software to identify the “red flags” of ML/TF transactions (Ambrasas, 2017). Also, most EU countries criminalized ML/TF as a “serious crime”, but they do not necessarily share a definition on what actions constitute the perpetuation of the offense. The result of this is EU-wide inconsistencies in the persecution of money laundering. Moreover, organized crime is common in Lithuania, and often they seek to operate in countries with the weakest AML/TF regulations.

Nevertheless, prosecuting individuals and organizations for their failures to implement AML/TF laws in sectors such as insurance and banking is growing across the EU. This raises a question about how ready Lithuania is for the future of AML/TF implementation and enforcement. Can Lithuanian institutions better coordinate with other countries, as most money laundering in Lithuania has origins outside its borders, and will it invest in the infrastructure to carry out the needed oversight? No doubt, Lithuanian AML/TF laws have undergone significant revisions to go after offenders, especially those in organized crime, but they still face great challenges ahead.

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Resources:

Ambrasas, T. (2017), The fight against money laundering threat is gaining momentum [kova su pinig? plovimo gr?sme ?gauna pagreit?]. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/lt/lt/pages/legal/articles/kova-su-pinigu-plovimo-gresme-igauna-pagreiti.html

Burnes, W.H. & Munro, R.J. (2017). Money Laundering, Asset Forfeiture and Recovery and Compliance: A Global Guide. NY, NY: Matthew Bender & Company. Retrieved from LexisNexis.

Council of Europe Secretariat General of Legal Affairs (CoE) (2006). Third Round Detailed Assessment Report on Lithuania: Anti-Money Laundering Forum and the Combatting of Terrorist Financing. Retrieved from http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/moneyval/Evaluations/round3/MONEYVAL(2006)12Rep-LTU3_en.pdf

Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism (Eurasian Group) (2013). Tax Crimes and Money Laundering Typology Report. Retrieved from http://www.eurasiangroup.org/files/Typologii%20EAG/Nalogovye_prestupleniya_Eng.pdf

Financial Crimes Investigation Service under the Ministry (FCIS) of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania (2015). Lithuanian National Risk Assessment of Money Laundering [Lietuvos Respublikos Nacionalinis pinig? plovimo ir terorist? finansavimo rizikos vertinimas]. Retrieved from http://www.fntt.lt/data/public/uploads/2016/10/d2_nrv2015.pdf

Gutasukas, A. (2011). Economic Crisis and Organized Crime in Lithuania, Jurisprudence, 18(1), pp. 303–326.

International Bar Association (IBA) (2014, April 4) Anti-Money Laundering Forum, Retrived from https://www.anti-moneylaundering.org/europe/lithuania.aspx

Know your Country (2016, July) Risk & Compliance Reporthttp://www.knowyourcountry.com/files/lithuaniaamlaug14_7_.pdf

MONEYVAL (2012, December 4) Report on 4th assesment visit in Lithuaniahttps://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/moneyval/Evaluations/round4/LIT4_MER_MONEYVAL(2012)29_en.pdf

Secretary General of the Lithuanian Parliament (2011). Administrative Code 172(14) of the Law [Administracini? teis?s pažeidim? kodekso 172(14) straipsnio pakeitimo ?statymo]. Retrieved from https://e-seimas.lrs.lt/portal/legalAct/lt/TAP/TAIS.394849

US Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (DOS) (2012, March 12). 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR): Major Money Laundering Countries. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2012/vol2/184112.htm

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No, you cannot deposit, or exchange Indian rupee in the United States

(AB Wire)

One of the clearest options for overseas Indians is to travel back to India to exchange the notes in person.

A sign in in front of the SBI-California office in Washington, DC.
A sign in in front of the SBI (California) office in Washington, DC.

In the past week, ever since the Government of India announced that they will be phasing out the 500 and 1,000 ($7.35; $14.70 ) Indian rupee denominations to combat corruption and the “black money” economy, my inbox and phone have been off the hook.

I work for a bank based out of India operating in the US and people who relied on the black money currency want to deposit it before it becomes worthless. In the morning, I usually find up to 100 messages from the night before and during the day, sometimes all four lines are ringing simultaneously. And then there are walk-ins. Yesterday, one person came in with a grocery bag overflowing with rupees. Today, I got yelled at in person, which I guess was at least a change from getting yelled at on email.

The 22 billion banned currency notes represent 85% of the cash in circulation in India, which is an overwhelmingly cash-based economy. This change represents a challenging overhaul, but it is intended to move away from untaxed, below board exchanges to benefit the modernization of the country in the long run. Experts say, this decision will make or break Modi’s tenure as Prime Minister.

Despite many rumors about which banks do or do not accept or exchange rupees in the United States, the fact is, they are not legal banking tender in the United States of America. Not even our bank, even with the word “India” in the bank’s name, takes deposits in Indian money. We are regulated by the U.S. authority and do business in U.S. currency just like any other bank here.

So where does the confusion arise? Some banks offer something called foreign currency accounts, but they are often for high premiums, only for competitive foreign currencies, and require vetting processes for high level investors in the international market.

Additionally, The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) says that Indians could deposit the bills in non-resident ordinary rupee accounts, a type of bank account where people living abroad park income earned in India.  However, even if you do have a non-resident ordinary rupee account that account is still located in India and not in the U.S. Therefore, you still have to travel to India in order to make that cash deposit.

An email the writer received from an angry customer.
An email the writer received from an angry customer.

One of the clearest options for overseas Indians is to travel back to India to exchange the notes in person. Indians will be able to exchange their old notes for new ones at the country’s banks until December 30. Overall, the difficult reality is that U.S. banks do not operate on these notes, and there is little the banks can do. I hope this clears up the confusion that people might have.

Read more.

No, you cannot deposit, or exchange Indian rupee in the United States Read More »

Herlife Magazine International Model Competition

We are so proud to introduce you to the next exceptional judge for our Herlife Magazine International Model Competition on August 7, Rokas Beresniovas, Vice President at the State Bank of India (California) in Washington, DC!

Giving back to the community is extremely important to Rokas. In 2007, he joined the Georgetown Business Association (GBA) and was elected VP in 2011 and President in 2012. Currently, Rokas is a board member of Pebbles of Hope, Kids4Peace International, Joy of Motion Dance Center, and an honorary board member for The Embassy Series. In the past, Rokas served on the Board of Directors for the CSAAC Foundation, the GMC and Global Tassels!

Recently, Rokas was awarded the 2016 SmartCEO Washington DC Executive Management Award and was a finalist for the 2015 SmartCEO Washington DC Money Manager Award. He also won a Global Tassels Community Innovator Award (2015) and The Eurasia Center Golden BRICS Award (2014)! Rokas is also the founder of the Lithuanian nonprofit organization Global Lithuanian Leaders (GLL) and was recognized by the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2015 for outstanding leadership in youth mentoring!

We are so honored to have such an exemplary member of the community serve as a judge for our TOP MODEL Competition, to help us select the best girls to represent the U.S. and HERLIFE for our international modeling initiative in Italy this September!

BUT, WE NEED YOUR HELP! As an attendee, your support and vote COUNTS! Buy your tickets to attend the big event, and your vote will be weighed in to the judge’s decision! Help your favorite girls make it to the top, purchase your tickets TODAY!

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June is Immigrant Heritage Month. This is my story.

My world was totally upended when I was 10 and communism fell. I was born in what was then the Lithuanian Socialist Republic of the USSR, and my familiar world ended with tanks and bloodshed during a cold winter in 1991. My parents didn’t know what to expect, and it was the first time I remember realizing that the world was a big, uncertain place. From that point on, I watched as black marketeers and mafia took advantage of the economic uncertainty and social instability in my country. I pledged that when I was old enough I would travel somewhere where real opportunity was possible for anyone.

Armed only with legends about America and $200 in my pocket, I landed in New York in the late 1990s. I worked three jobs doing menial labor hauling, cleaning, and doing construction just to feed myself. Many people dismissed me because of my accent, my poor English, and my cultural differences, but a rare few saw themselves in me and made it a point to help me. Some actually went out of their way to train me on jobs, provide me a place to stay, and help me learn how to navigate the system so I could earn a little piece of the opportunity they had been born with. I will never forgot those first lessons about kindness and compassion; they taught me the most important lessons about what it means to be American.

When I met my wife, an American, I remember that she was so passionate about the value of democracy. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I used to challenge her optimism and belief in the political system, but I watched as she wrote letters to her representatives, voted, kept up with politics, and even worked in jobs that taught youth about civic activism. Over time, I came to understand the responsibility I had as an American citizen with an immigrant background. I realized that I had something to say and an accountability to the system I lived in to say it.

June is Immigrant Heritage Month. This is my story. Read More »

My American Journey

June is Immigrant Heritage Month, and columnist Rokas Beresniovas, a Lithuanian American, reflects on his American Odyssey.

By Rokas Beresniovas

Rokas BeresniovasMy world was totally upended when I was 10 and communism fell. I was born in what was then the Lithuanian Socialist Republic of the USSR, and my familiar world ended with tanks and bloodshed during a cold winter in 1991.

My parents didn’t know what to expect, and it was the first time I remember realizing that the world was a big, uncertain place. From that point on, I watched as black marketeers and mafia took advantage of the economic uncertainty and social instability in my country. I pledged that when I was old enough I would travel somewhere where real opportunity was possible for anyone.

Armed only with legends about America and $200 in my pocket, I landed in New York in the late 1990s. I worked three jobs doing menial labor hauling, cleaning, and doing construction just to feed myself. Many people dismissed me because of my accent, my poor English, and my cultural differences, but a rare few saw themselves in me and made it a point to help me.

Some actually went out of their way to train me on jobs, provide me a place to stay, and help me learn how to navigate the system so I could earn a little piece of the opportunity they had been born with. I will never forgot those first lessons about kindness and compassion; they taught me the most important lessons about what it means to be American.

When I met my wife, an American, I remember that she was so passionate about the value of democracy. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I used to challenge her optimism and belief in the political system, but I watched as she wrote letters to her representatives, voted, kept up with politics, and even worked in jobs that taught youth about civic activism.

Over time, I came to understand the responsibility I had as an American citizen with an immigrant background. I realized that I had something to say and an accountability to the system I lived in to say it. Read more.

My American Journey Read More »

My name is Rokas and this is my story.

FWD.US

Immigrant Heritage Month
My world was totally upended when I was 10 and communism fell. I was born in what was then the Lithuanian Socialist Republic of the USSR, and my familiar world ended with tanks and bloodshed during a cold winter in 1991. My parents didn’t know what to expect, and it was the first time I remember realizing that the world was a big, uncertain place.

From that point on, I watched as black marketeers and mafia took advantage of the economic uncertainty and social instability in my country. I pledged that when I was old enough I would travel somewhere where real opportunity was possible for anyone. Armed only with legends about America and $200 in my pocket, I landed in New York in the late 1990s. I worked three jobs doing menial labor hauling, cleaning, and doing construction just to feed myself. Many people dismissed me because of my accent, my poor English, and my cultural differences, but a rare few saw themselves in me and made it a point to help me. Some actually went out of their way to train me on jobs, provide me a place to stay, and help me learn how to navigate the system so I could earn a little piece of the opportunity they had been born with. I will never forgot those first lessons about kindness and compassion; they taught me the most important lessons about what it means to be American. When I met my wife, an American, I remember that she was so passionate about the value of democracy. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I used to challenge her optimism and belief in the political system, but I watched as she wrote letters to her representatives, voted, kept up with politics, and even worked in jobs that taught youth about civic activism. Over time, I came to understand the responsibility I had as an American citizen with an immigrant background. I realized that I had something to say and an accountability to the system I lived in to say it. Read more.

Rokas says:Please share my story with Congress.

 

My name is Rokas and this is my story. Read More »

Who is a leader? How do you define one?

How do you define a leader?

The term “leader” tends to get overused in my opinion. People tend to use it to describe point people on a management team or those who manage to work their way up the ranks of a business or political hierarchy. In fact, leaders can lead from the bottom up, as well as from a variety of positions on a team or in a company. Being a leader is about listening, motivating, and trying to make your work move a project or idea forward without regard to your own personal benefits. Leadership is focusing on what your team knows and not on advancing what you know so that you feel personally validated. Leadership is about recognizing the efforts of others and empowering them to stretch themselves and accomplish more than they thought possible. Leaders inspire and instill confidence. Leadership is listening, learning and then leading. Good leaders are lifetime learners, and they listen twice as much as they talk. I am quite partial to the quote, “Seek first to understand and then be understood.”

What do you want to achieve as a leader?

I want to be fulfilled by the work I do for and with others. I seek to share my story and inspire others to reach their full potential, as well as to help the community I live in and serve.

Who is or would be a good minority role model?

I hear many people say that they became successful because they worked hard. Most of the people I know work very hard, but that alone doesn’t always mean they are successful. I became successful because people helped me in areas that I was not yet effective in and because I had great mentors who helped to guide me and challenged me to grow. Many times, people gave me the benefit of the doubt that I had potential, and that inspired me to work even harder. The mentors that I had are my role models, and so now I try to pay that support forward by mentoring others as well.

What is some advice you would tell your past self?

I would tell my past self not to be afraid to ask for help, as well as to ask someone to be my mentor. I would also tell my past self to have more courage to attend events and meet as many people as I could. The more people you meet the more you learn. I wish I had taken the time to learn how others faced challenges and made a difference earlier on. It’s like the quote says, “Sometimes all it takes is 20 seconds of insane courage; one moment of embarrassing bravery.”

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How Not To Waste Someone Else’s Time

As I watched the woman exit the overly air conditioned lobby, I smiled politely, but on the inside I was thinking, “Man, what a waste of time.” We’ve all been there: meetings that were anything but productive with contacts we’ll probably never call again. However, rather than write off such meetings, I have tried to pay attention to some of the things I found least productive in them to ensure that I don’t go out and do them to other people.

This topic has been on my mind because I recently met with the director of outreach at an organization where I volunteer. I actually suggested the meeting because the woman with whom I met was new to the position, and I wanted to keep assisting with fundraising events. However, I knew in the first couple of minutes that the meeting was going to be a waste of my time—and it was. The end result was that I not only felt disrespected in the time and expertise I was (incidentally) giving away for free, I felt less generous about wanting to help the entire organization because they had provided a point of contact who seemed unfamiliar with the culture of business in which you dress to impress, represent the business rather than yourself, and listen before talking—three rules I try to always follow myself.

Dress like you think the other person is important

Name one time that you’ve ever heard someone say, “Wow, that guy showed up wearing a business suit. It was so disrespectful.” You’ve probably never heard someone say that because it rarely happens. The reason why it doesn’t happen is because there remains a tacit understanding in western business culture is that the suit is still king (or queen) when you want to make a strong impression. You can rage against the machine and tout the virtues of a less traditional business culture all you want, but don’t do it when you’re meeting someone for the first time. It may sound simple, but it still amazes me the number of times that people have shown up at meetings in their commuter train sandals or hipster boat shoes with no socks. Overall, it’s fairly straightforward: If someone is worth your time for a meeting then they’re worth your time dressing to let them know that.

Remember the capacity you represent to the outside world

“So, let me go ahead and tell you a little about myself,” was the first sentence the director of outreach started off with during our meeting. I wanted to be polite, but it struck me as odd. This kind of rundown is fine on a first date, but I am not dating you nor undertaking a formal job interview. Leading off by telling me about the last three jobs you had before this one is neither useful nor interesting to me. Unless the role you now fill has changed the way your organization relates to fundraising, I do not want to hear how your career changed after your divorce. In terms of such experiences, I always try to remember that I am representing a particular function or capacity within the company—not myself. When I meet new people, they want to know what my position means for them, not what my personal life looked like prior to their meeting me. Don’t mistake being friendly with being personal.

Ask

The world is made up of give-and-take. You’re going to have to give something in order to get something and vice versa. That’s not news to anyone, but for some reason, the skill of giving/getting remains elusive for some. Furthermore, there are many in the business world who often lead with explaining what they want rather than ask what you envision giving. Undoubtedly, the degree to which the ask/tell conversation transpires depends on your business and the nature of the meeting (hostile takeovers don’t want to know what you’re interested in giving them because generally you want to give them nothing), but for most meetings I try to lead by asking about their needs, and then I follow up with my own business interests. It’s almost counter-intuitive, so it takes a lot of practice, but people are more responsive when they feel that they’ve already been heard.

Overall, I summarize the three basic steps for not wasting someone else’s time as Dress—Represent—Ask. There’s nothing earth shattering about these three things really. In fact, they are remarkably straightforward in their simplicity, but you’d be surprised how often they seem to be forgotten in practice.

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How to Exit a Less than Productive Conversation

Leaving work the other day, I was on the phone with my wife, and I was debating whether or not to stop by an event on my way home. We both agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to show up and at least say “hello,” but then she said, “The only thing is, you could end up getting stuck and have to stay the whole time.” I said, somewhat absentmindedly, “Yah. I am not too worried about that. I can get myself out of just about any situation.” She laughed and said, “Yah, I know. I wish you’d tell the rest of us how you always manage to do that!”

After 10 years of attending events, I have found that getting out of unproductive conversations gracefully is just as important a skill getting into advantageous ones intentionally. Yet, for some reason, there’s more advice available on how to strategically plan associations than on how to exit ones that are less than useful. To be honest, the skill of a smooth exit is just something I learned because most of my past roles required me to meet people, but it took years of conscious effort to become good at it.

Of course, there’s no magic bullet for meeting people. Sometimes we all have to participate in conversations that are boring, and sometimes we all get stuck in situations where there’s nothing to do but hope for something newsworthy to happen on Twitter to pass the time. But sometimes it’s easier to leave a conversation than you think—and you don’t have to lie about going to the bar or the bathroom to do it.

This topic has been on my mind since I wrote my last post: How to Tell if Someone is worth your Time in 5 Minutes or Less. In a nutshell, the post recounted how I had the distinct misfortune of thinking less than strategically about my seat selection at a recent event, and therefore I was stuck at the same unproductive table for almost three hours. The people were nice, but the day didn’t exactly rate highly on my Yay!-o-meter. To be sure, seat-selection remorse definitely happens to the best of us, but there are some aspects of meetings and events that you always have control over.

Business is Business

The first thing is that business is business. This might sound simple, but at meetings and events it’s easy to get caught up in the pull of the human element and feel compelled to stay chatting longer than might be professionally beneficial. Admittedly, some people might be sensitive to your decision to move seats, switch tables, or swap groups, but sometimes it’s necessary. Luckily, there are ways to do it elegantly so that your day keeps flowing along without too many awkward pauses—but you have to be willing to commit to the idea that business is business; it’s not personal.

Connect Others

In my prior post, you may recall how I drew the karmic short straw at an event, and I ended up sitting next to a Chatty Cathy. A few minutes of this conversation were fine, but the in-depth history of Chatty Cathy’s family was less than thrilling by the time we’d reached World War I. With no disrespect intended, I knew that I needed to extricate myself from the conversation, but I didn’t want to be rude. (The goal is always to exit a conversation without being rude about it). I have found that the easiest way do this is to be the connection maker for others. I used this approach to link ole’ Chattypants with a new person who had just joined our table. It works easiest if you can think of an interesting anecdote or similarity that might connect the two people, but even if you don’t have that, you can still introduce them to each other. Once they begin to chat, you can then excuse yourself and leave. Not only you will be able to find a different conversation, you will be respected as someone who helps conversations move forward.

Frame Your Exit as Being Beneficial to that Person

Making introductions between people is a great exit strategy, but sometimes we all find ourselves in conversations where no one else is around. More often than not, this will be the case, and so this is where the first piece of advice really comes into play: Business is business. Your job is to make the most useful connections possible, so if nobody else is around, just pony up the truth and tell the person that you need to move on. This approach usually works best if you can do it in such a way that you frame your exit as being out of respect for the person, and possibly even to their benefit. I like to say, “I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, but there are a lot of people here and I’ve been monopolizing your time. Thank you. Hopefully we’ll cross paths again soon.” You’ve thus acknowledged that their time is valuable and your exit respects that.

Don’t Tell Little White Lies

Sometimes people will rely on excuses to exit a conversation, such as the need to refresh a drink or head to the WC. It gets you out of there, for sure, but then how do you explain why you never came back? Therefore, I am a firm believer that it only makes you look bad if you use “little white lies” as an excuse to exit a conversation. Avoid pretending that your phone is ringing; this is insincere. Also, never say that you have to go to the bathroom, as nobody needs to know that much information about you. Overall, lies are lies no matter what their color or size, and while they might make it easier for you in the 5 seconds that you are telling them, people see through them 99% of the time, and then you have succeeded in making someone feel badly. That’s not the aim in exiting any conversation. People will generally respect you more when you are straightforward and say, “It was nice to meet you. I need to try and meet some other folks while I’m here. I’ll find you on LinkedIn.” You’ve been honest, left the door open to re-connect, and you’ve succeeded in exiting the conversation respectfully.

Overall, the aim is to respect the other person by being clear, polite, and honest. People always say “lead with your best foot forward,” but I think it’s equally important to leave with your best foot as well.

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