Author:

Avatar

View the full bio for at the Drinker Biddle website.

Posts by :


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.

Continue reading “Waive or Pay: FINRA Reaches Final Settlements in Its Mutual Fund Waiver Initiative”

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.

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

Alert: FINRA’s 529 Plan Share Class Initiative to Self-Report

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”

A Summary of FINRA’s 2018 Report on Examination Findings

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:

Continue reading “A Summary of FINRA’s 2018 Report on Examination Findings”

Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 3)

In Parts 1 and 2 of this post, we talked about the current and proposed rules applicable to rollover recommendations by broker-dealers and RIAs. Part 1 discussed the DOL and FINRA rules that apply now. In Part 2, we explained the SEC proposals. In this post, we talk about how to make a compliant rollover recommendation, regardless of which set of rules applies.

(“Rollover recommendation” refers to advice to a retirement plan participant to take a distribution of his or her account and roll it over to an IRA that is being advised by the broker-dealer or RIA.)

Continue reading “Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 3)”

Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 2)

In our first post on this topic, we discussed the existing rules that apply to rollover recommendations by broker-dealers and RIAs. This discussion included the ERISA guidance that remains after the 5th Circuit’s decision vacating the Fiduciary Rule, as well as FINRA’s Regulatory Notice 13-45. In this post, we focus on the SEC’s best interest proposals for broker-dealers and RIAs and where that may take firms in the future. In our next, and final, post in this series, we’ll talk about how to make a compliant rollover recommendation.

(As a reminder, by “rollover” recommendation, we mean a recommendation to a retirement plan participant to take a distribution of his or her account and roll it over to an IRA being advised by the broker-dealer or RIA.)
Continue reading “Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 2)”

FINRA Arbitrations — A Comprehensive Guide for 2018 and Beyond

Florham Park partner Tracey Salmon-Smith will participate in The Knowledge Group’s live webcast “FINRA Arbitrations: A Comprehensive Guide for 2018 and Beyond” on Friday, September 7, 2018. This is a must-attend event for attorneys practicing before FINRA and anyone interested in understanding the significant issues relating to FINRA Arbitrations.

In December 2017, the FINRA issued a proposal that will revamp and strengthen expungement rules. Proposed changes include adjustments to the timeframe of filing expungement requests and the mandated unanimous consent of a FINRA arbitration panel to grant expungement. Brokers, however, are opposing to the proposed changes.

During the webcast, Tracey and a panel of key thought leaders and practitioners will offer a discussion of the fundamentals and updates regarding these proposed changes as well as other developments concerning significant issues surrounding FINRA Arbitrations. This live webcast aims to help you to avoid common pitfalls and risk issues in the evolving climate of FINRA forum.

Click here to register for the webcast.

Bye-Bye Bureaucracy, Hello Enforcement: FINRA Shakes Up the Structure of its Department of Enforcement

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.

Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 1)

With recent developments in the regulatory landscape – the demise of the DOL Fiduciary Rule, the SEC’s proposed Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) and RIA fiduciary interpretation, and the existing FINRA guidance on rollovers – it’s important for firms to understand the rules for rollover recommendations. This article discusses the rules as they apply to both broker-dealers and RIAs. While there are similarities in the application, there are also material differences.   Continue reading “Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 1)”

FINRA Regulatory Notice Encourages Member Firms to Voluntarily Provide Information on Their Digital Asset Activities

FINRA recently issued a regulatory notice encouraging member firms to provide notification if either the firms or their associated persons or affiliates were engaging in, or planned to engage in, any activities related to digital assets such as cryptocurrencies and other virtual coins.

Citing the rapid market growth, the increasing interest from retail investors, and investor protection concerns, FINRA stated it has a keen interest in remaining abreast of the extent of member involvement in digital assets. Continue reading “FINRA Regulatory Notice Encourages Member Firms to Voluntarily Provide Information on Their Digital Asset Activities”