Yes, (somehow) it is that time of year again. FINRA recently released its 2023 Report on its Examination and Risk Monitoring Program (the “Report”). As is typical (and this blog has well-covered), it contains a mix of old and new priorities.
Priorities Previously Included: Reg BI and Form CRS, Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT), Cybersecurity, Mobile Applications, Best Execution
New Priorities: An entire new category labeled Financial Crimes, Manipulative Trading, Fixed Income – Fair Pricing, Fractional Shares: Reporting and Order Handling, Regulation SHO
In general, FINRA breaks down the Report into five Categories: (1) Financial Crimes; (2) Firm Operations; (3) Communications and Sales; (4); Market Integrity; and (5) Financial Management. Within these categories, FINRA highlighted certain discrete topics. We discuss FINRA’s highlighted topics at greater length below.
Continue reading “New Year’s Priorities: FINRA Releases its 2023 Report on its Examination and Risk Monitoring Program”
Riding the coattails of recent news, FINRA announced on November 14th that it is conducting a targeted exam of firm practices regarding retail communications concerning “Crypto Asset” products and services.
For the purposes of this exam, FINRA defines “Crypto Asset” as an “asset that is issued or transferred using distributed ledger or blockchain technology, including, but not limited to, so-called ‘virtual currencies,’ ‘coins,’ and ‘tokens.’” FINRA expressly states that a Crypto Asset “may or may not meet the definition of a ‘security’ under the federal securities laws,” although it does exclude securities registered under the Securities Act and transferred through the system of a registered clearing agency.
Continue reading “FINRA Is Conducting a Targeted Exam of “Crypto Assets””
On September 27, 2022, the SEC announced that it had sanctioned 15 Broker-Dealers and one affiliated RIA for widespread recordkeeping violations of Section 17(a)(1) of the Exchange Act and Rule 17a-4(b)(4) thereunder resulting from the firms’ failure to maintain and preserve electronic communications. The SEC uncovered the misconduct after commencing a September 2021 sweep – a risk-based initiative to investigate the use of off-channel and unpreserved communications at broker-dealers. These firms agreed to the facts set forth in the SEC’s Order Imposing Remedial Sanctions and a Cease-and-Desist and agreed to pay total penalties of $1.1 BILLION and to implement improvements to their compliance policies and procedures.
The SEC Press Release advised that:
“Finance, ultimately, depends on trust. By failing to honor their recordkeeping and books-and-records obligations, the market participants we have charged today have failed to maintain that trust.”… As technology changes, it’s even more important that registrants appropriately conduct their communications about business matters within only official channels, and they must maintain and preserve those communications.”
Continue reading “16 “At One Blow” – The SEC Sanctions for Recordkeeping Failures”
We have made it a point previously in this blog to track developments of the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), even speculating more aggressive enforcement actions could be coming due to certain Reg BI deficiency letters sent to firms late last year. Since Reg BI went into effect in June 2020, however, many have waited with bated breath to see what enforcement of the regulation would look like in practice. While the SEC has pursued some cases regarding firms missing deadlines and omitting certain information in disclosure documents, it had taken no further action until June. On June 15, 2022 the SEC finally took its first substantive Reg BI action by filing a civil regulatory complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Western International Securities, Inc. and five of its brokers for allegedly selling a risky debt security, known as corporate L Bonds, to its retail customers. The Complaint invokes Section 15l-1(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 — Regulation Best Interest — and seeks to enjoin the Defendants from the acts, practices and courses of business described in the Complaint.
Continue reading “And Now for the SEC’s First Substantive Reg BI Action”
In connection with the 2022 SIFMA C&L Seminar, the Best Interest Compliance Team submitted a white paper entitled “Having a Senior Moment: Recent Legislation and Rules to Protect Seniors from Financial Exploitation,” that was made available to conference attendees on a mobile app.
As its title suggests, our paper covers recent laws and regulations passed to protect senior investors. We specifically cover: (1) the Senior Safe Act, a law passed to provide immunity to financial institutions/advisors who disclose financial exploitations; (2) FINRA Rule 2165, which allows FINRA members to place temporary holds on the disbursement of funds or securities; (3) an SEC No Action Letter relating to FINRA Rule 2165; (4) FINRA Rule 4512, which requires member firms to make reasonable efforts to obtain a trusted contact person on customers’ accounts; (5) FINRA Rule 3241 which attempts to minimize conflicts where a registered person is named as a beneficiary or executor to their customer’s estate; and (6) “Report and Hold Statutes” that have been passed in a number of states and that require/encourage broker-dealers to report any suspicions of financial abuse. As part of our white paper, we also prepared a 50-state survey of the states that have passed Report and Hold Statutes.
Continue reading “Having a Senior Moment”
F. Scott Fitzgerald said “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.” FINRA may be all of these in 2022, as FINRA CEO Robert Cook announced FINRA’s laundry list of priorities during a SIFMA Q&A last week. Below are some of the highlights from his Q&A.
Exam Time: Annual Exam and Risk Monitoring Findings
While Mr. Cook advised the “ink isn’t dry” on the 2022 priorities, he suggested broker-dealers can expect more of the same, with some new additions. New topics for examination will include: trusted contact person, disclosure of order routing, and intra-day trading.
Continue reading “Brace for Impact: It’s Going to be (Another) Busy Year for FINRA”
Benjamin Franklin once said “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” While that is always prudent advice, the Department of Labor (DOL) believes it’s best to grant an extension to investment advisors and broker-dealers to comply with the full terms of the Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 (PTE 2020-02), beyond the current December 21, 2021, deadline. A previous blog post covered the scope of the PTE and provided guidance on compliance.
Continue reading “SLOW Your Roll: DOL Temporarily Halts Enforcement of Compliance with PTE and ERISA Fiduciary Obligations for Rollover Advice”
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:
Continue reading “Wait Just a Minute: FINRA Loosens the Screws on Proposed Expungement Restrictions”
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.
Continue reading “Reg BI Information Overload: The Countdown to June 2020 Continues with Planned Reg BI Stress Tests, Checklists and FAQS Courtesy of FINRA and the SEC”
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”