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.
Author: Edward Scarillo
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It often is said that “it’s not the crime, but the cover-up” that is the most damaging to someone alleged to have committed misconduct. In a recent FINRA enforcement action, however, the cover-up was the crime. On July 3, 2019, FINRA barred Vincent J. Storms, a now-former Raymond James & Associates (RJA) compliance associate, for particularly egregious falsifications of RJA’s branch audit data that violated FINRA Rules 2010 and 4511.
At RJA, Mr. Storms was responsible for auditing branch offices and performing follow-up work resulting from the audits. As part of the audits, RJA sent an email to each registered representative requesting that they complete a questionnaire that gathered information such as whether the representative had any undisclosed outside business activities or undisclosed securities accounts at other broker-dealers, and whether the branch used third-party vendors to store data.
The issue of “best interest” continues to be a hot topic in the states and trade groups, though one state has fallen out of the running…at least for now.
The State of Massachusetts has two pending initiatives. The first is a regulation proposed by the state Securities Division requiring investment advisers to create a table of fees for their services. The comment period on the proposal ended in May, and we await further action. In a more recent development, the Division is considering a regulation that would apply a fiduciary standard on broker-dealers, investment advisers and their representatives. The proposal was released in mid-June, and the comment period ends on July 26. Under the proposal, enforcement would be vested in the Securities Division, and it would not create a private right of action.
On the heels of the SEC’s recent approval of the “Reg BI Package,” on June 26, 2019 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent enforcement of Reg BI. Specifically, Rep. Maxine Waters included a last minute amendment to an appropriations bill that would prevent any funds from being used to “implement, administer [or] enforce” Reg BI.
While the bill was comfortably passed in the House, its prospects to pass in the Senate seem unlikely. Senators will have the opportunity to introduce their own version, which will then need to be reconciled with the House’s. As always, we will continue to closely monitor any developments concerning Reg BI, and will publish any updates.
It was once said that “bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.” FINRA, apparently a proponent of this idea, recently completed an overhaul of its Department of Enforcement’s structure in an attempt to create a “unified enforcement function.” Specifically, Susan Schroeder, FINRA’s head of enforcement, will head a single enforcement team charged with making decisions on investigations and penalties.
Prior to this consolidation, enforcement was split into two units. One was tasked with handling disciplinary matters concerning trading, and a second unit handled cases referred from FINRA’s other divisions, such as the Office of Fraud Detection.
The ultimate goal of this consolidation is “to facilitate more consistent decision-making and outcomes,” as well as “to better target developing issues that can harm investors and market integrity, and ensure a uniform approach to charging and sanctions.” Additionally, independent commentators believe that FINRA’s new enforcement structure might make investigations shorter and increase transparency.
To savvy observers this consolidation will not come as a surprise. It is the result of FINRA 360, “FINRA’s ongoing comprehensive and improvement initiative” announced July 2017. Consolidation of enforcement functions was listed, among others, as a way to make FINRA a “more effective, efficient regulator.” Other FINRA 360 priorities include: Reporting on FINRA examination findings, reviewing engagement initiatives, and retrospective rule review.
It is unclear whether FINRA’s consolidation will achieve its goals. FINRA’s efforts, however, serve as a welcome sign to firms and commentators, as FINRA appears genuinely interested in improving its overall efficacy and efficiency.
On May 24, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Senior Safe Act, which is aimed at curbing elder financial abuse. The Senior Safe Act is the latest effort to protect senior investors, as both FINRA and the SEC included protecting senior investors among their 2018 priorities. This blog has previously covered, at length, the SEC and FINRA 2018 exam priorities. Elder protection was also one of the SEC’s 2017 priorities and has been a FINRA priority since 2016.
FINRA recently posted two regulatory notices aiming to further rein in so called “high risk brokers,” as well as the firms that choose to employ them. The first, Regulatory Notice 18-15, is aimed squarely at firms that employ brokers with a history of previous misconduct. It advises firms on (1) Identifying Individuals for Heightened Security and (2) Developing and Implementing a Heightened Supervision Plan for such individuals. The second, Regulatory Notice 18-16, seeks comment on a variety of FINRA rule amendments relating to “high-risk brokers and the firms that employ them.” We discuss the notices in further detail below.
Generally when broker-dealers are subject to court jurisdiction, that jurisdiction, based either on diversity or subject matter, places the dispute in federal courts. However, that has not necessarily been the case in class actions. The issue of state versus federal court jurisdiction was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on November 28, 2017. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Cyan, Inc. v. Beaver County Employees Retirement Fund regarding whether states had jurisdiction over “covered class actions” that allege violations of the Securities Act of 1933 (the “33 Act”). Specifically, the Court considered whether an amendment to the 33 Act—the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA)—precluded states from hearing the vast majority of 33 Act claims. The Court tangled with both sides over Congress’ intent in passing SLUSA and the text of SLUSA, which Justice Alito referred to as “gibberish.”
Continue reading “The U.S. Supreme Court Hears Argument on Whether State Courts Have Jurisdiction Over Large Securities Class Actions in Light of the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998”
On November 6, 2017, the Second Circuit clarified that plaintiffs do not need to provide an “event study” to demonstrate market efficiency at the class certification stage in putative class actions. Rather, courts will certify a putative class if plaintiffs can demonstrate sufficient indirect evidence of market efficiency. Waggoner v. Barclays PLC, No. 16-1912-cv (2d. Cir. Nov 6, 2017).