Jamie Helman

Jamie L. Helman concentrates her practice on securities, broker-dealer arbitration, litigation, mediation, employment matters, and regulatory defense. She has experience first-chairing FINRA arbitrations, defended on-the-record testimony of broker-dealer employees before FINRA, and is presently involved in the representation of broker-dealers in several pending FINRA cases as well as regulatory matters.

View the full bio for Jamie Helman at the Faegre Drinker website.

Articles by Jamie Helman:


Hiring Social Media Influencers? How You Influence Matters

FINRA, as part of its targeted exam of member firms’ social media practices for gaining new customers, recently announced an $850,000 fine against M1 Finance LLC (“M1 Finance”) stemming from promotional social media posts made by influencers the firm hired to expand its customer base. Unfortunately for M1 Finance, FINRA determined that prior to hiring these influencers, it failed to implement effective supervisory procedures that complied with FINRA Rules and securities law to oversee the communications its influencers were posting online. Therefore, FINRA found this resulted in social media posts that violated multiple FINRA Rules for communicating fair and balanced investment information to retail customers. Firms should consider the lessons to be learned from M1 Finance’s experience.

Background

M1 Finance provides self-directed trading to retail investors through a mobile app on its website. For more than three years between January 2020 and April 2023, M1 Finance paid approximately 1,700 social media influencers more than $2.75 million to promote the firm by posting promotional information online to potential retail customers on various platforms resulting in more than 39,400 new accounts with the firm. M1 Finance paid the influencers a set fee for each new account opened with no limit on the total any influencer could earn from generating new accounts. In furtherance of this arrangement, M1 Finance directed the influencers to include in their social media posts a hyperlink to the firm’s website through which potential retail customers could open and fund a brokerage account with the firm. M1 Finance also provided graphics to include in posts and a “Welcome Guide” for influencers highlighting specific services the firm offered, like its margin lending program, and touting the lack of commissions or management fees associated with the firm’s products. The Welcome Guide even invited influencers to contact M1 Finance with their own promotional ideas.

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Crypto is Here to Stay in 2024, So Be Careful How You Talk About It

More than ever before, financial services regulators must increasingly adapt to technological advances. Perhaps no other technological advancement is more important right now than crypto currency. Crypto currency is defined as digital assets issued or transferred using blockchain technology. Earlier this month, the SEC, despite SEC chairman Gary Gensler’s well-known skepticism of crypto, granted Bitcoin, the world’s largest crypto currency, approval to be the first crypto asset listed as an exchange traded fund (ETF). This defining moment for crypto currency further cements the relatively new technology into the financial services and securities landscape.

Anticipating the changing tides, FINRA recently declared in its 2024 Annual Regulatory Oversight Report that it would add a brand-new Crypto Asset Development section – dedicated to providing guidance for member firms engaging in (or expecting to engage in) the crypto economy. This new section includes reports from FINRA’s November 2022 targeted exam reviewing the practices of certain member firms that communicate with retail customers concerning crypto assets and crypto asset-related services. The relevant time period of the exam was from July 1 through September 30, 2022. On January 24, 2024, FINRA published an update to the targeted exam, claiming that approximately 70 percent of the more than 500 retail customer communications it reviewed contained potential FINRA Rule 2210 violations (communication with the public), including the following:

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Investors Versus Machines: The SEC Cracks Down on AI, Robo-Advisors and Potential Conflicts of Interest

We are probably still years away from Wall Street being overrun by actual robots. Nonetheless, artificial intelligence (AI) tools are divisively integrating into all aspects of society—from the classroom to the courtroom. Many broker-dealers have also implemented AI-assisted analytics and technology. Indeed, over the last several years, many firms have made investing more easily accessible and user-friendly through “robo-advisors.” No one is questioning the “pros” of AI. But many are still concerned about the risks. The SEC is no different, nor are they any less divided. Here, the SEC has honed in on conflicts of interest that may arise through the use of AI.

On July 26, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed a regulation under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Investment Advisors Act of 1940 to combat what it sees as conflicts of interest arising from using predictive data analytics by broker-dealers and investment advisors. In strong language, the proposed rule seeks to “to eliminate, or neutralize the effect of, certain conflicts of interest associated with broker-dealers’ or investment advisers’ interactions with investors through these firms’ use of technologies that optimize for, predict, guide, forecast, or direct investment-related behaviors or outcomes.” The proposed regulation would require broker-dealers and investment advisors to take steps to address potential conflicts of interest from predictive analysis and similar technologies that interact with investors to prevent firms from placing their own interests ahead of the investors’ interests.

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You Made the List: SEC’s Spring Agenda Would Impact Broker-Dealers

The SEC’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs recently released the Spring 2023 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (the Agenda). The word salad of a title hints at the fact the SEC is considering a plethora of new rules. Indeed, many of the new rules, if finalized, would impact broker-dealers (BD) and investment advisers (IA).  Below are some of the notable proposed rules of which to take stock:

Registration Requirements: The SEC is “recommending that the Commission propose amendments to the exemption for internet advisers from the prohibition against registration under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.” These are colloquially referred to as robo-advisors.

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“Or Worse, Expelled.”

Hermione Granger (yes, from Harry Potter) is famously attributed with the following quote: “I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed. Or worse, expelled.” Unfortunately, cleverness failed to save Salomon Whitney Financial, LLC (SW Financial) recently when FINRA announced that it had followed through with its threats of increased enforcement efforts and expelled the firm and suspended its co-owner and CEO, Thomas Diamante.

FINRA announced on Friday, May 12, that it was expelling SW Financial, in part, because it had violated Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI). This is the first time FINRA has expelled a firm since Reg BI took effect in June 2020. The move by FINRA, however, tracks with its increased rhetoric that it will be cracking down on brokerage firms for Reg BI violations. As we have previously reported, the Division of Examinations of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the Division) has been busy implementing broker-dealer examinations to assess compliance with the regulation.

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SIFMA C&L March 2023 Annual Conference – A Focus on Crypto

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.

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You Might Want to Write Down Why You Recommended that Rollover

Since Regulation Best Interest’s (Reg BI) June 30, 2020 compliance date, the Division of Examinations of the Securities and Exchange Commissions (the Division) has been busy implementing examinations of broker-dealers to assess compliance with the regulation. The Division is planning to include Reg BI compliance into future examinations of broker-dealers. Therefore, the Division issued a Risk Alert on January 30, 2023 calling attention to deficiencies found during broker-dealer compliance examinations, as well as certain inadequate practices that might lead to deficiencies. Broker-dealers should pay attention to the issues identified by the SEC so that they do not expose themselves to regulatory trouble later down the line.

Some of the exposed weaknesses and deficiencies regarding the Reg BI Care Obligation1 involved inadequate written policies that directed financial professionals to document the basis for their recommendations but failed to state when doing so is required or which information is needed. Under Reg BI, financial professionals are required to make account recommendations that are in the best interest of the retail investor. Doing so is especially important when a financial professional is recommending a significant financial transaction to a retail investor, like an account rollover recommendation.

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New Year’s Priorities: FINRA Releases its 2023 Report on its Examination and Risk Monitoring Program

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.

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FINRA Is Conducting a Targeted Exam of “Crypto Assets”

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.

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16 “At One Blow” – The SEC Sanctions for Recordkeeping Failures

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.”

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