What Is the OFAC Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List?


The Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN) is a record of individuals, groups, and entities considered to pose a significant risk to the security and economy of the United States. It’s essentially a blacklist maintained and regularly updated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 


The purpose of the SDN list is to identify and categorize those believed to be involved in activities such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and other threats to the U.S.


Being on the SDN list has substantial consequences. U.S. citizens and businesses are prohibited from dealing with listed individuals and entities. This includes not only direct transactions but indirect ones where a listed party has a significant interest. Penalties for violating these sanctions can be legally and financially severe.




Who is on the SDN List?

The SDN list is comprehensive and diverse, covering a wide array of individuals, organizations, and entities believed to pose a threat. The list includes those from countries that are targeted as part of OFAC’s sanctions programs, as well as those from elsewhere who are deemed harmful.


Individuals on the list are involved in activities such as money laundering, international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Entities range from small businesses to multinational corporations, non-profit organizations, and even government and military organizations. They are typically involved in illegal activities or are owned or controlled by individuals listed on the OFAC SDN list.


The current list, as of the writing of this article, can be found here.




Who Must Comply With the SDN List?

The SDN list is a component of U.S. law, and as such, all U.S. individuals and businesses are obliged to comply with it. That includes U.S. citizens residing abroad and all U.S. incorporated entities and their foreign branches. It also includes permanent resident aliens in the U.S.


Financial businesses such as banks, credit unions, and money services businesses (MSBs) are at particular risk of sanctions penalties, given their role in facilitating transactions. 


Other businesses, like insurance companies, securities brokers, and dealers, also fall under this obligation. Even non-financial businesses, such as import-export companies and online marketplaces, must adhere to sanctions rules due to the potential for facilitating transactions with SDN-listed parties.




SDN List Due Diligence Obligations

U.S. companies must take proactive steps to ensure they’re not engaging in prohibited transactions with individuals or entities on the SDN list as part of their due diligence processes. This is a legal obligation and a cornerstone of a robust anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance program.


Here are some common techniques used to ensure compliance:


  • Know Your Customer (KYC) Processes: KYC processes play a critical role in complying with the SDN list. Businesses should implement processes to understand the true identity of customers, their business activities, and their financial behavior. By knowing their customers, companies can better identify any potential exposure to SDN-listed individuals or entities.
  • Transaction Monitoring and Sanctions Screening: Companies should regularly screen transactions against the current SDN list. This includes not only direct transactions but also those involving third parties or intermediaries in which an SDN-listed party may have a significant interest.
  • Employee Training: Regular training should be provided to employees so they understand the importance of SDN list compliance and how to spot potential red flags.
  • Risk-Based Approach: Companies should adopt a risk-based approach to due diligence, focusing more resources on higher-risk areas. This may include certain types of transactions, customers, or geographic locations.
  • Maintaining Records: Keeping accurate and comprehensive records of all screenings and due diligence activities is crucial.
  • Updating Policies: Compliance policies should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes in the SDN list and in response to any identified deficiencies in the company’s compliance program.



How Often Is the SDN List Updated?

The SDN list is a living document, subject to constant updates by the OFAC as circumstances change and new information becomes available. The frequency of updates can vary, but it’s not uncommon for changes to be made on a weekly basis.


Updates can include the addition of new individuals, groups, or entities, modifications to existing entries, or the removal of names that no longer meet the inclusion criteria. Changes are made based on a variety of factors, such as new intelligence, policy changes, or shifts in security priorities.


Understanding the dynamic nature of the SDN list is essential for maintaining compliance. Regularly screening customers and transactions against the most up-to-date version of the list is a key part of the due diligence process.




Reducing the Compliance Burden With Alessa

Technology plays a crucial role in supporting SDN list compliance and sanctions compliance more broadly. While OFAC provides tools for checking who is on the list, they are cumbersome and time-consuming to use manually. For additional information, view our overview of all OFAC sanctions lists.


In contrast, Alessa’s integrated Watchlist and Sanctions Screening solution can automatically carry out real-time, periodic, and event-based screening of a wide range of global and U.S. sanctions lists. Additionally, our Workflow and Case Management modules simplify sanctions investigations, enabling our users to quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively manage sanctions compliance processes. Our various modules can operate as stand-alone solutions or can be integrated into our holistic AML compliance solution to provide a complete view and understanding of risk in your organization. 


Contact a sanctions compliance expert to learn more or organize a free demonstration.

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