Massachusetts’ Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Galvin, is taking on Robinhood for violating Massachusetts’ new fiduciary duty rule for broker-dealers. In December 2020, Galvin filed a 24-page regulatory complaint, seeking to ban the popular trading app for violating the State’s strict fiduciary duty rule that requires broker-dealers to act in the best interest of their clients. Galvin raised three different violations against Robinhood that allegedly fell short of the new strict fiduciary standard. This new rule, passed in February 2020, was created in response to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), which Massachusetts believed did not go far enough. Reg BI bars brokers from putting their own financial interest above those of their clients, but fails to define what it means to act “in the customers’ best interest” or mandate that brokers recommend a single best product. While Reg BI requires the disclosure and mitigation of conflicts of interest, Massachusetts felt this requirement was also lacking. Galvin stated that Reg BI is “basically a souped-up version of the suitability standard,” and felt a new State rule was necessary to protect the growing crowd of young investors in the State. During this past year, due to COVID-19 and other meme-based investment activities on the application, Robinhood accumulated over 3 million new users in the first four months of 2020. Galvin’s concerns revolve around the 500,000 customers in Massachusetts, with accounts totaling over $1.6 billion.
Author: James Lundy
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Ben Franklin once said “by failing to prepare, you prepare to fail.” Based on the SEC’s latest risk alert concerning broker-dealers’ anti-money laundering (AML) compliance (or lack thereof), some firms would be well served to heed Mr. Franklin’s advice.
The SEC specifically seeks to examine broker-dealers’ compliance with the various regulations and laws governing firms’ AML obligations. The risk alert highlights the SEC’s observations relating to firms’ deficiencies concerning (a) AML policies and procedures and internal controls; and (b) suspicious activity reporting (SAR). The SEC’s emphasis on AML should come as no surprise, as the SEC has previously included it as an exam priority. FINRA has additionally provided broker dealers with extensive AML guidance.
The SEC’s Division of Examination’s (formerly OCIE) annual announcement of its exam priorities is always noteworthy. It provides helpful insight into this division’s thinking and can serve as a roadmap for regulated entities to focus their compliance and supervision planning. The announcement of these priorities is even more important following a change in the presidential administration and the changes at the Commission that inevitably follow. Not surprisingly, the recently announced Division of Examination priorities for 2021 (summarized below) align with the Biden Administration’s policy priorities and key trends in the financial landscape.
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.
Closing out 2020, the SEC’s Division of Examinations (OCIE) issued a Statement on Recent and Upcoming Regulation Best Interest Examinations. There the Division of Examinations announced its intention “to begin its next phase [of Reg BI examinations] by conducting more focused examinations … beginning in January 2021.”
In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released guidance on several platforms in a 30-day period in 2020 regarding certain views on the important role and potential liability risks of chief compliance officers (CCOs). The SEC’s focus on the role of compliance is not new but sometimes the SEC’s support for compliance has not appeared to extend beyond the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE). In this article, we analyze the guidance provided by each source.
Continue reading “The SEC’s CCO Guidance Month”
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) hosted a virtual roundtable in late October to discuss the Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) and Form CRS. With a few months of observations from examinations since the June 30, 2020, compliance date, SEC and FINRA officials provided insights and tips for broker-dealer compliance with the new rules. The roundtable kicked off with brief remarks from SEC Chair Jay Clayton followed by a discussion among SEC staff from the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE); and the Divisions of Trading and Markets and Investment Management. FINRA staff also participated.
On October 8, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a joint statement by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and the SEC’s directors of the Division of Investment Management and the Division of Trading and Markets “Regarding New FAQs for Form CRS” (CRS FAQ Joint Statement). The CRS FAQ Joint Statement offers guidance to both broker-dealers and registered investment advisers (collectively, firms). The focus of this guidance addressed Form CRS disclosures regarding firm or financial professional disciplinary histories. Along with the CRS FAQ Joint Statement, the SEC modified and released its “Frequently Asked Questions on Form CRS” (Form CRS FAQs).
On June 26, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its ruling on the challenge to the legality of the Regulation Best Interest final rule (Reg BI), promulgated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. As reported on June 2, 2020, the Second Circuit entertained oral argument. It issued its ruling late in the day on June 26, just prior to Reg BI’s June 30, 2020, implementation date two business days later.
The Second Circuit’s ruling had three holdings: (1) the individual investment adviser petitioner had standing to bring the petition to review, but the state petitioners did not; (2) section 913(f) of the Dodd-Frank Act authorized the SEC to promulgate Reg BI; and (3) Reg BI is not arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). We focus the analysis herein on the latter two holdings.
A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit entertained arguments on June 2, 2020, in a lawsuit seeking to vacate and set aside the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI). By way of background and in brief summary, Reg BI requires that broker-dealers make recommendations that are in the “best interest” of the retail customer, disclose conflicts of interest, and specify the services customers are receiving and the associated costs. As previously covered in this blog, the plaintiffs initially challenged Reg BI in September 2019. Despite this pending legal challenge and brokerage firms’ strained resources due to the pandemic and quarantining, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said on April 2, 2020, in a public statement that the June 30, 2020, compliance deadline for Reg BI would remain.