Wait Just a Minute: FINRA Loosens the Screws on Proposed Expungement Restrictions

Brokers seeking to expunge customer complaints from their records can sleep a bit easier. Richard Berry, head of FINRA’s Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR), stated last week that FINRA intends to tweak some restrictions that it had previously proposed on brokers’ abilities to seek expungement of customer complaints.

Notably, in late 2017 FINRA proposed a number of changes to the expungement process, including:

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State Fiduciary Duty Developments: Massachusetts Moves Ahead with Fiduciary Standard

The Massachusetts Securities Division has issued an amended version of its proposed fiduciary standard for financial advisors. The original proposal was released in mid-June.

The amendment adds definition to the standard by including a detailed list of requirements as described in Faegre Drinker’s updated state law chart. The absence of this type of description has been a major criticism of other attempts at adopting a fiduciary standard for financial advisors.

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Further Protection for Good Samaritan Brokers: States and FINRA Continue the Push to Protect Senior Investors by Protecting Brokers Who Do the Right Thing

Following the passage of last year’s federal Senior Safe Act, several states moved to beef up protections for senior investors by permitting brokers to act without liability.
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Reg BI Information Overload: The Countdown to June 2020 Continues with Planned Reg BI Stress Tests, Checklists and FAQS Courtesy of FINRA and the SEC

As the countdown to the June 30, 2020, date for compliance with Reg BI inches forward, FINRA and the SEC are providing a potpourri of support and information to help firms ensure compliance.

FINRA EFFORTS: FINRA’s northeast regional director announced in late October that FINRA will perform “preparedness reviews” of broker-dealers to determine firms’ readiness to comply with Reg BI. At its November Senior Investor Conference, FINRA President and CEO Robert Cook confirmed FINRA’s intention to perform these “stress tests.” . FINRA has emphasized that its intent is not to be punitive and fine firms for compliance violations. Rather, FINRA insists its primary goal is to assist firms in successfully implementing the nearly 1,000 pages of Reg BI’s regulations.

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403(b) and 457(b) Plans Going Under the Regulatory Microscope

It appears that the SEC has initiated a “sweep” examination to inquire into the sales practices applicable to retirement plans for teachers and state and local government employees. We understand that multiple SEC regional offices have issued document requests seeking information from the third-party administrators, the broker-dealers, and the registered investment advisers that work with 403(b) and 457(b) plans. Further, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) recently launched an investigation into the sales tactics and costs involved with 403(b) plans, which appears to focus on the annuity practices of the insurance industry.

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A Look Inside the SEC’s Final RIA Guidance and Its Discussion of “Best Interest”

In light of the significance of the final rules and commission interpretations issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission on June 5, 2019, Drinker Biddle & Reath’s Best Interest Compliance Team is publishing a series of articles on the subject. The first article, “The Final Reg BI Package: What to Know and What’s Next,”  described the final package of rules and interpretations. The second article covered “Form CRS .” The third article, summarized here, will provide a more detailed analysis of strategically selected provisions of the RIA Guidance.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Interpretation Regarding Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers (RIA Guidance) reaffirms, interprets, clarifies, and provides guidance regarding the fiduciary duty an investment adviser owes to its clients under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (Advisers Act) as it has been interpreted by common law and SEC guidance. The RIA Guidance also describes the underlying responsibilities that constitute an investment adviser’s fiduciary duties: the Duty of Care and the Duty of Loyalty.

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Seven States and D.C. Aggressively Challenge Reg BI

On September 9, 2019, the states of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon, and the District of Columbia (collectively, the States) filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the SEC challenging Reg BI. By way of background, the SEC finalized Regulation Best Interest: The Broker-Dealer Standard of Conduct (Reg BI or the Final Rule) on June 5, 2019. The SEC also issued a final rule regarding Form CRS and two final Commission Interpretations. The implementation date for Reg BI and Form CRS is June 30, 2020.

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Standard of Care for Rollover Advice

The standard of care for rollover recommendations has been top of mind for broker-dealers beginning with the issuance of the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) now vacated fiduciary rule, and more recently with the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), raising the question of  the extent to which the SEC standard of care for rollover recommendations differs from the DOL’s.

The standards appear to be essentially the same – a requirement to act in the customer’s best interest (keeping in mind that Reg BI will not be applicable until June 30, 2020, while the DOL rules are applicable now). However, there are two major differences:

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Financial Services Industry’s New Regulation Best Interest Standard of Care

On June 5, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved the Regulation Best Interest Final Package, the new disclosure requirements that accompany the financial services industry’s new Regulation Best Interest standard of care. In light of the significance of Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) for the financial services industry, Drinker Biddle & Reath’s Best Interest Compliance Team is publishing a series of articles on the SEC’s finalized “Reg BI Package” of rules and guidance.

One of the four parts of that package is Form CRS − a mandate that broker-dealers and investment advisers with retail investors (natural persons, trusts or entities representing natural persons) provide a two-page relationship summary disclosing information about their firm before a new client enters an investment adviser’s agreement or engages the services of a broker-dealer, or in the case of an existing client when there is any material change in the nature and scope of the relationship.

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Waive or Pay: FINRA Reaches Final Settlements in Its Mutual Fund Waiver Initiative

Justice Brandeis once famously said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Perhaps, but in FINRA’s purview, settlements might be better. Along these lines, FINRA recently announced that it has reached final settlements in its nearly four-year initiative to obtain restitution from member firms that allegedly failed to waive mutual fund sales charges. These firms also allegedly failed to properly supervise the sale of mutual funds that offer sales charge waivers. The settlements were substantial: 56 member firms agreed to pay $89 million in restitution for 110,000 charitable and retirement accounts.

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