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Creating an OFAC Sanctions Compliance Program

March 21, 2024 Uncategorized

Creating an OFAC Sanctions Compliance Program

Creating an OFAC Sanctions Compliance Program

Setting up an effective OFAC sanctions compliance program can seem like a daunting task for many businesses. OFAC (The Office of Foreign Assets Control) oversees U.S. economic and trade sanctions, so having a program that ensures compliance is crucial. This article will break down the key elements of creating a successful OFAC compliance program in a simple, conversational way.

What is OFAC?

First, a quick overview of what OFAC is and does. OFAC is part of the U.S. Department of Treasury and administers sanctions programs against foreign countries, entities, and individuals. These sanctions can include trade embargoes, asset freezes, and other economic penalties. The goal is to support U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives.

OFAC has the authority to impose civil penalties against companies that violate U.S. sanctions laws. So having an effective compliance program is important to avoid potentially serious consequences like fines or damaged business relationships.

Getting Started

When initially creating your OFAC compliance program, focus on these key steps:

  • Get buy-in from leadership – Make sure management is on board and will allocate necessary resources.
  • Assess your risk – Evaluate your exposure based on clients, business locations, etc.
  • Review OFAC requirements – Understand the laws and your obligations.
  • Document policies and procedures – Outline your program structure and processes.
  • Train employees – Educate staff on OFAC compliance through training.

OFAC does not require a standardized compliance program. Rather, it expects companies to develop customized programs based on their risk profile and operations. So assessing your unique risk is an important first step.

5 Key Components

While each OFAC compliance program will be tailored, OFAC has outlined 5 essential components your program should include:

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
Just had my Divorce case settled 2 months ago after having a horrible experience with another firm. I couldn’t be happier with Claire Banks and Elizabeth Garvey with their outstanding professionalism in doing so with Spodek Law Group. Any time I needed questions answered they were always prompt in doing so with all my uncertainties after 30 yrs of marriage.I feel from the bottom of my heart you will NOT be disappointed with either one. Thanks a million.
Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
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Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
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Loveth Okpedo
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Bee L
Bee L
Amazing experience with Spodek! Very professional lawyers who take your case seriously. They treated me with respect, were always available, and answered any and all questions. They were able to help me very successfully and removed a huge stress. Highly recommend.
divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
  1. Management Commitment – Get buy-in from senior management and ensure adequate resources are dedicated to compliance.
  2. Risk Assessment – Assess your exposure to sanctions risk based on clients, partners, transactions, etc. Update as needed.
  3. Internal Controls – Implement processes to identify, escalate, and report on sanctions issues. For example, customer screening procedures.
  4. Testing & Auditing – Regularly test your program through audits. Evaluate if processes are working as intended.
  5. Training – Educate staff through training on OFAC compliance, tailored to their job duties.

Having detailed policies and procedures for each component will help demonstrate the effectiveness of your program to OFAC if needed.

Risk Assessment

Conducting a risk assessment is a key step when designing your compliance program. The goal is to identify potential areas of sanctions exposure based on your business activities, customers, geographic locations, and partners. This will allow you to allocate compliance resources accordingly.

When conducting your risk assessment, consider factors like:

  • – Locations where you do business
  • – Nature of your customers and business partners
  • – Your products and services
  • – Volume and types of transactions

Be sure to document your risk assessment methodology and findings. You should also plan to update your risk assessment periodically as your business changes.

Screening Customers

A primary internal control for OFAC compliance is screening customers and business partners against OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) and other sanctions lists. This allows you to identify any prohibited parties and prevent transactions with them.

Screening should happen at onboarding and be conducted on an ongoing basis to catch any changes. There are a few approaches to screening:

  • – Manual checking of names against OFAC’s free SDN search tool
  • – Exporting OFAC lists into your internal systems
  • – Using third-party software that checks names against the full OFAC database

Make sure to document your screening procedures and any matches that require investigation. False positives will happen, so have a process for researching and resolving them.

Training Employees

In order to have an effective compliance program, your employees need to understand OFAC requirements and their role. Training should be provided to all staff, with more comprehensive training for those in higher risk roles like customer onboarding.

Training topics can include:

  • – Summary of OFAC and economic sanctions
  • – Your OFAC compliance program policies and procedures
  • – How to identify sanctions red flags
  • – Protocols for escalating issues
  • – Consequences of non-compliance

Plan to provide training at onboarding and periodic refresher courses. Track completion to make sure all employees are trained. Tailor training to each role’s responsibilities.


Maintaining documentation is critical to demonstrate your OFAC compliance efforts. Ensure you keep records of:

  • – OFAC risk assessments
  • – Written compliance policies and procedures
  • – Training materials and completion records
  • – Screening reports
  • – Investigations of potential issues
  • – Any disciplinary actions related to violations

Having detailed records will help you respond effectively if OFAC requests information during an investigation.

Testing & Auditing

In addition to documentation, you need to regularly test your OFAC compliance program through audits. This allows you to assess whether your policies and procedures are working as intended.

Example audit activities include:

  • – Reviewing a sample of transactions for screening
  • – Examining training completion reports
  • – Assessing if escalation protocols were followed
  • – Validating if screening technology is operating accurately

Conduct audits at least annually and have them completed by a qualified internal or third party resource. Implement corrective actions based on the results.

What About Technology?

Automated solutions like sanctions screening software can greatly improve efficiency and accuracy of an OFAC compliance program. But the right technology depends on your risk level, resources, and program maturity.

Options to consider include:

  • Screening Software – Checks customer names against OFAC lists[1]
  • ID Verification – Validates customer identity data[2]
  • Transaction Monitoring – Flags abnormal activity[3]
  • Case Management – Tracks investigations[4]

Evaluate technology based on capabilities, deployment options, and cost. Leverage solutions to strengthen your compliance efforts without over-investing.

Staying Up to Date

OFAC rules and sanctioned parties lists change frequently. So an important compliance program component is having procedures to stay current. Ways to maintain awareness include:

  • Email Updates – Subscribe to OFAC email updates[5]
  • Sanctions Changes – Review OFAC recent actions regularly[6]
  • Advisories – Read OFAC compliance newsletters
  • Annual Training – Refresh employees on the latest requirements

By making ongoing sanctions updates part of your program, you’ll avoid surprises and penalties down the road.

The Importance of Culture

Policies and technology are crucial. But at the end of the day, an effective OFAC compliance program is really driven by culture. Employees have to understand the importance of compliance and their role in it.

Ways to promote a culture of compliance include:

  • – Gaining buy-in from senior leadership
  • – Consistent messaging about the value of compliance
  • – Incentives for identifying issues
  • – Celebrating “wins” when issues are avoided

With managers and staff aligned, your OFAC program will become an integrated part of operations rather than just a check-the-box exercise.

The Bottom Line

Maintaining an effective OFAC sanctions compliance program requires diligence and commitment. But taking a methodical approach focused on risk, controls, and culture can help ensure compliance. While penalties are never desirable, they pale in comparison to the reputational damage and lost business caused by sanctions violations.

By investing the time to understand OFAC requirements and implement key program components, your organization can avoid serious compliance gaps. The result will be smoother operations, reduced risk, and the ability to assure partners you take compliance seriously.

At the end of the day, a mature OFAC program demonstrates your commitment to ethics and builds trust. And that’s something from which any business can benefit.


[1] FircoSoft OFAC Name Screening

[2] LexisNexis ID Verification

[3] NICE Actimize Transaction Monitoring

[4] CaseWare Monitor

[5] OFAC Recent Actions

[6] OFAC Sanctions Changes

OFAC Advisories

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