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After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, banks have increasingly severed ties with customers that could — however remote the risk — land them in the category of organizations that help finance terrorism or launder money, according to a November 2015 report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Global Development. Last year, an example was made of the French bank BNP Paribas, which paid an $8.9 billion penalty for doing business with Sudan, Iran, and Cuba.
BNP’s breach was egregious, but it functions as a stern warning of the type of penalties at stake if banks misjudge a transaction. With about 30 agencies involved in regulation, Vijaya Ramachandran, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and lead author of the report, says, “banks get mixed and sometimes contradictory signals, and they respond by deciding to not do business.” That is especially likely when the risk is high and there is little profit to be gained — exactly the case that ordinary Sudanese citizens present. “The financial exclusion of such clients creates yet another obstacle for poverty alleviation and economic growth, especially in poor countries,” the report concludes.