On January 28, 2019, FINRA released its Regulatory Notice 19-04 announcing its 529 plan self-reporting initiative. This initiative is part of FINRA efforts to have broker-dealers promptly remedy potential supervisory and suitability violations related to recommendations of share classes for 529 plans. Continue reading “Alert: FINRA’s 529 Plan Share Class Initiative to Self-Report”
Author: Jamie Helman
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Last week, FINRA issued its 2018 “Report on FINRA Examination Findings.” This report tracks FINRA’s 2018 Priorities letter, which this blog has previously covered. Putting its member firms on notice, FINRA advised that it issued the report as another resource for firms to “strengthen their compliance programs and supervisory controls.” Not surprisingly, the first highlighted observation is “Suitability for Retail Customers.” Specifically, FINRA reported that:
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.
“There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times.” (Robert F. Kennedy – June 6, 1966, Speech at University of Cape Town)
May 7, 2018, has come and gone and we have not yet seen a mandate from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Chamber of Commerce of United States of Am. v. United States Dep’t of Labor, 885 F.3d 360 (5th Cir. 2018) litigation, which is the final step necessary to effectuate that court’s order vacating the DOL Fiduciary Duty Rule. Presumably that mandate is imminent; however, we do not know for sure. We do know, however, that the DOL will not be filing a motion for rehearing to the Fifth Circuit on its decision, as that deadline has passed. We assume there will not be a DOL writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court seeking to challenge the Fifth Circuit Court’s opinion, but we do not actually know that either. Continue reading “FINRA Moves to Amend the Suitability Standard in Lockstep with the SEC’s Efforts”
The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) released its 2018 National Exam Program Examination Priorities on February 7, 2018 (“2018 Priorities Letter”). While issued later than in years past and almost a month to the day after the publication of the priorities letter from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), OCIE deserves credit for the increased transparency and guidance provided in the 2018 Priorities Letter. By way of perspective, OCIE’s sixth publication of its examination priorities more than doubled the amount of information provided in last year’s edition. This improved transparency is consistent with the public statements of OCIE’s Director. Despite the greater detail, there appears to be one glaring omission: OCIE does not discuss how the anticipated rulemaking by the Commission regarding the development of a fiduciary standard may impact its priorities. However, upon further consideration and recalling that OCIE’s primary mission is to conduct examinations to assess compliance with the current securities laws, we realize it would have been premature for OCIE to discuss views on some yet-to-be formulated SEC fiduciary standard. That said, OCIE is clearly prioritizing the protection of retail investors even more than in years past, which is consistent with the SEC Chairman’s public statements about prioritizing the protection of “Main Street” investors. While the SEC Chairman has made these issues a “Main” priority, the SEC’s heightened focus regarding retail and retirement investors has been strengthening significantly since the Retirement-Targeted Industry Reviews and Examinations (ReTIRE) Initiative announced a few years ago and through the SEC’s announcement this past autumn of the Retail Strategy Task Force. Thus, OCIE leads into the 2018 Priorities Letter in the second and third sentences by opening with: “…we will continue to prioritize our commitment to protect retail investors, including seniors and those saving for retirement. We will especially be looking closely at products and services offered to retail investors, as well as the disclosures they receive about those investments.” This focus is similar to the focuses emphasized by FINRA in its recent priorities letter. Continue reading “SEC’s 2018 Exam Priorities – Worth the Wait”
FINRA released its 2018 Annual Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter (Priorities Letter) on January 8, 2018. While FINRA advises that it can change its priorities in response to circumstances, the purpose of the Priorities Letter is to permit broker-dealers to plan their compliance, supervisory and risk management programs and to prepare for FINRA examinations. Therefore, this Priorities Letter is significant both in what it says and in what it has chosen not to say including failing to discuss FINRA’s views regarding a “fiduciary standard.”
Continue reading “FINRA 2018 Annual Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter Makes No Mention of a Fiduciary Duty for Brokers”
The SEC announced its plans to move “from the sideline” on fiduciary regulations on June 1, 2017. That day, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton issued a statement referencing U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s call for SEC participation and stated that he “look[ed] forward to robust, substantive input that will advance and inform the SEC’s assessment of possible future actions.” This represented the SEC’s first serious foray back into this area since a rule finalized in April 2005 entitled “Certain Broker-Dealers Deemed Not To Be Investment Advisers” that added Rule 202(a)(11)-1 to the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. That rule was short-lived and was vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2007.
Continue reading “The SEC’s Back In the Fiduciary Regulation “Game””
The playing field for the financial services industry in general, and broker-dealers and brokers in particular, has changed during this past year. On June 9, 2017, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) fiduciary advice standard, which is applied to all financial professionals advising retirement (plan and IRA) accounts, became applicable. As a result, the standard of care required of broker-dealers providing advice to IRA investors has changed, at least in many cases. This Article describes the effect on litigation against broker-dealers providing advice to IRA investors that would result if firms are required to enter into “Best Interest Contracts” with IRA investors, as the DOL’s Best Interest Contract Exemption currently requires.
Continue reading “The DOL’s Best Interest Contract Requirement: Effect on Litigation Against Broker-Dealers”