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An Imperfect Storm(s): FINRA Bars Compliance Personnel for Falsifying Branch Audit Data

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.

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House Looks to Put the Brakes on Reg BI

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.

The First SEC Share Class Selection Disclosure Settlements: What We Learned & What’s Next?

Jim Lundy and Ben McCulloch authored an article entitled “The First SEC Share Class Selection Disclosure Settlements: What We Learned & What’s Next?” for the Investment Adviser Association’s IAA Newsletter Compliance Corner. In the article, Jim and Ben discuss the first wave of settlements under the SEC’s SCSD Initiative as well as lessons learned. They also explore the agency’s ongoing efforts regarding the remaining participants, consequences for firms who opted not to self-report, and the Division of Enforcement’s continued scrutiny of revenue sharing arrangements, disclosures, and conflicts.

Read the full article.

*Originally published in the IAA Newsletter, April 2019

SEC Announces Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative

Last week, the SEC announced a “Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative” being led by the Asset Management Unit of the Division of Enforcement. This initiative warrants close examination for investment advisers who regularly recommend different mutual fund share classes for their clients and by their affiliated broker-dealers. This effort continues the SEC’s focus on 12b-1 fees, and provides the SEC with a vehicle to efficiently bring enforcement actions against those firms who have failed to properly disclose conflicts related to those fees. FINRA has not yet issued any related, formal pronouncements. Until FINRA issues guidance, affiliated broker-dealers concerned with how to handle any 12b-1 fee issues that they may have will need to consider FINRA’s “extraordinary cooperation” guidance. Continue reading “SEC Announces Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative”

FINRA’S First Ever Public Release of Exam Findings: Top 6 Observations for Improving Compliance

As part of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) efforts to protect investors, FINRA regularly conducts examinations of its broker-dealer members. Despite requests to release the reports to assist other FINRA members in improving their compliance with securities rules and regulations, FINRA has traditionally kept the reports private. That all changed this month.

On December 6, FINRA released a Summary Report of several observations from recent examinations. FINRA selected key issues based on their “potential impact on investors and markets or the frequency with which they occur.” The Summary Report will help FINRA members address potential areas of concern and improve their compliance and supervisory programs prior to their own examinations.

The Summary Report provides observations in 11 exam areas, and the notable ones include:

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The Delay of the Fiduciary Exemptions: Now Is Not the Time to Relax (Part 2 of 2)

This is Part 2 of our post on important issues for broker-dealers during the extended transition period for the fiduciary exemptions. In Part 1, we discussed the need to develop written supervisory procedures under the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE) and the importance of engaging in – and being able to demonstrate – diligent and good faith efforts to comply with the exemptions.

Two other important issues are how to demonstrate compliance with the transition exemptions and the protections that are not afforded by the non-enforcement policy.

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The Delay of the Fiduciary Exemptions: Now Is Not the Time to Relax (Part 1 of 2)

Some broker-dealers may be tempted to view the DOL’s extension of the transition period for the fiduciary exemption to July 1, 2019, and the extension of the DOL and IRS non-enforcement policies, as an opportunity to relax and take a break from compliance issues for the next 18 months. Unfortunately, that could turn out to be a risky decision.

We are concerned that firms may not be paying sufficient attention to some of the most critical transition issues, including adoption of policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Impartial Conduct Standards and taking affirmative steps to ensure diligent, good faith compliance with the rules.

Continue reading “The Delay of the Fiduciary Exemptions: Now Is Not the Time to Relax (Part 1 of 2)”

The SEC’s 2017 Cybersecurity Alert and New Cyber Unit

In August 2017, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspection and Examinations (OCIE) issued a Risk Alert outlining observations from its “Cybersecurity 2 Initiative,” which was built upon its 2014 “Cybersecurity 1 Initiative.”  Notably, this alert offered a rare industry compliment, describing “an overall improvement” in cybersecurity practices and processes since the Cybersecurity 1 Initiative.  Below we summarize the OCIE staff’s observations, certain criticisms and their descriptions of robust policies, procedures and practices.
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