On January 8, 2021, without admitting or denying the findings, VALIC Financial Advisors, Inc., (VALIC) entered into a settlement with FINRA Enforcement, through an Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC) where the factual allegation was that between January 1, 2017, and October 31, 2018, the broker-dealer failed to “establish a reasonably designed system and written supervisory procedures for the surveillance of rates of [Variable Annuities] exchanges and for corrective action in the case of inappropriate exchanges, in violation of FINRA Rules 2330(d), 3110, and 2010.” VALIC agreed to a censure and a $350,000 fine. See VALIC Financial Advisors, Inc. AWC No. 2018060548501.
Author: Edward Scarillo
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Reg BI has passed its compliance date of June 30, 2020. The SEC and FINRA have commenced examinations to test brokerage firms’ good faith compliance with Reg BI and Form CRS disclosure satisfaction. Our article “Have No Fear, Reg BI Is Finally Here” provides a brief overview of Reg BI and deciphers its implications for brokers and broker-dealers. It also provides an overview of a recent Risk Alert drafted by the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE), and examines the SEC’s and FINRA’s review of Reg BI compliance.
On January 22, 2016, the members of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) released the Senior Model Act. It was developed and approved to serve as a model statute for states to adopt to target financial exploitation of seniors and to shield from liability brokers and brokerage firms who acted to assist those seniors. The Senior Model Act comports with a multitude of legislation and regulatory protection for seniors. Broadly stated, the Senior Model Act proposes language for legislation that would require “qualified individuals” such as broker-dealers and investment advisers, and those who work in a supervisory or legal capacity for them, to report any suspicions of financial elder abuse. The Senior Model Act proposes the protection of “eligible adults,” defined as those over the age of 65.
Brokers seeking to expunge customer complaints from their records can sleep a bit easier. Richard Berry, head of FINRA’s Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR), stated last week that FINRA intends to tweak some restrictions that it had previously proposed on brokers’ abilities to seek expungement of customer complaints.
Notably, in late 2017 FINRA proposed a number of changes to the expungement process, including:
Following the passage of last year’s federal Senior Safe Act, several states moved to beef up protections for senior investors by permitting brokers to act without liability.
Continue reading “Further Protection for Good Samaritan Brokers: States and FINRA Continue the Push to Protect Senior Investors by Protecting Brokers Who Do the Right Thing”
As the countdown to the June 30, 2020, date for compliance with Reg BI inches forward, FINRA and the SEC are providing a potpourri of support and information to help firms ensure compliance.
FINRA EFFORTS: FINRA’s northeast regional director announced in late October that FINRA will perform “preparedness reviews” of broker-dealers to determine firms’ readiness to comply with Reg BI. At its November Senior Investor Conference, FINRA President and CEO Robert Cook confirmed FINRA’s intention to perform these “stress tests.” . FINRA has emphasized that its intent is not to be punitive and fine firms for compliance violations. Rather, FINRA insists its primary goal is to assist firms in successfully implementing the nearly 1,000 pages of Reg BI’s regulations.
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.
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.