The 2023 Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s (SIFMA) Compliance & Legal Annual Seminar, as usual, was well attended by compliance and legal professionals, including FINRA executives and SEC directors. The three-day event held, where outside San Diego skies were overcast and grey, also coincided with the run on SVB, and gloomy forecasts for Signature Bank and First Republic. Inside, industry leaders, and regulators discussed legal trends on the horizon. Not surprisingly there was a focus on crypto at this year’s conference. While Reg BI, ESG, off-channel communications, cybersecurity and the foreboding banking issues (among others) were also hot topics being discussed by industry insiders, here we focus on crypto. Below are some key takeaways.
Expect More SEC Enforcement Actions with a Focus on Crypto
SEC Director Gurbir Grewal noted the Commission’s general intent to focus on enforcement actions and swiftly bringing those actions to resolution as a way to rebuild public trust in the markets, financial institutions and the Agencies. He also urged firms to self-report and stressed the need for robust compliance programs, especially as new rules and regulations continue to be issued. He took time to speak about crypto investments and noted that traditional firms generally “do not and cannot” participate in this space due to the lack of compliance and clear rules around these investments. He also noted that the SEC is doubling the size of its Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit in order to focus on crypto’s harm to investors; indeed the SEC has already brought more than 100 enforcement actions related to crypto. A fact which is reflected on the “SEC Crypto Assets and Cyber Enforcement Actions” website.
Following Suit, FINRA Also Will Have a Crypto Focus
FINRA likewise announced it is looking at crypto activities as it relates to traditional broker-dealer activities. This is no surprise given last year’s announcement of a targeted exam concerning crypto assets. FINRA is also monitoring the related issue of “FinFluencers” and how broker-dealers are using them to promote investments.
Securities Litigation Also Focusing on Crypto
Following on the crypto theme, those in the know noted that 2022 saw a 50 percent increase in crypto related enforcement actions over 2021. The industry also watched the SEC bring its first enforcement action alleging insider trading with respect to crypto. SEC v. Wahi, No. 22-cv-1009 (W.D. Wash.) Aside from crypto, there was also an uptick in SPAC litigation in 2022. Indeed, reportedly 35 percent of securities cases in 2022 related to either COVID, crypto, or SPACs.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that 2023 is sure to see a lot of regulatory activity in the industry. If you have not reviewed your Written Supervisory Procedures and your training relating to crypto, the time to do so is now.
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