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Reg BI Is Here. What’s the SEC Doing Now?

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.

Read the article.

Comparing the Standard of Conduct: Broker-Dealers vs. Investment Advisers

The SEC’s standard of conduct for broker-dealers under Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) became effective on June 30, 2020. While registered investment advisers (RIAs) always have been subject to a best interest standard of conduct (i.e., the overarching standard that encompasses both the duty of care and the duty of loyalty), the SEC’s clarification of that standard in its Interpretation Regarding Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers (the RIA Interpretation) has  been in effect since July 12, 2019. There are similarities in these two standards, but there are significant differences as well. Here is how the two standards compare:

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The Second Circuit Upholds Reg BI

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.

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The Second Circuit Hears the Reg BI Challenge Oral Argument

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.

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SEC Examination Guidelines and FAQs on Form CRS

The SEC has issued guidance addressing the Form CRS. The first is a Risk Alert from the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) indicating that OCIE will be looking for good faith compliance when it conducts examinations after the June 30, 2020 Form CRS compliance date. The second includes additional FAQs providing clarification on delivery and filing requirements along with several other topical areas. We discuss the examination guidance and the FAQs in more detail in an alert on our website for those looking for more in-depth analysis. Also, note that the CRS Risk Alert was issued concurrently with a similar Alert on Reg BI examinations in general, which is the subject of a separate post on this site.

As SEC Chairman Clayton previously indicated, the compliance date of Form CRS will not be extended, but the “initial” examinations will focus on whether firms made “a good faith effort to implement Form CRS.” While emphasizing that the Risk Alert is not intended to serve as an explanation of Form CRS requirements, OCIE explains that its initial examinations may include assessment of compliance with the following areas:

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The Word Is Out on SEC Examinations for Reg BI Compliance – the OCIE Risk Alert

On April 7, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) issued a Risk Alert providing guidance for the SEC’s post–June 30, 2020, examinations of firms’ compliance with Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI). This guidance is covered more fully in our Client Alert of April 13, 2020.

In an effort to present transparency in its prospective examination for Reg BI compliance, OCIE’s Risk Alert includes a three-page Appendix that provides an example of an OCIE Reg BI examination document and information request list. OCIE encourages firms to use the documents listed in the Appendix to assess their implementation plans for Reg BI. Firms should study this exemplar request list closely.

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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

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.

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403(b) and 457(b) Plans Going Under the Regulatory Microscope

It appears that the SEC has initiated a “sweep” examination to inquire into the sales practices applicable to retirement plans for teachers and state and local government employees. We understand that multiple SEC regional offices have issued document requests seeking information from the third-party administrators, the broker-dealers, and the registered investment advisers that work with 403(b) and 457(b) plans. Further, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) recently launched an investigation into the sales tactics and costs involved with 403(b) plans, which appears to focus on the annuity practices of the insurance industry.

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A Look Inside the SEC’s Final RIA Guidance and Its Discussion of “Best Interest”

In light of the significance of the final rules and commission interpretations issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission on June 5, 2019, Drinker Biddle & Reath’s Best Interest Compliance Team is publishing a series of articles on the subject. The first article, “The Final Reg BI Package: What to Know and What’s Next,”  described the final package of rules and interpretations. The second article covered “Form CRS .” The third article, summarized here, will provide a more detailed analysis of strategically selected provisions of the RIA Guidance.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Interpretation Regarding Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers (RIA Guidance) reaffirms, interprets, clarifies, and provides guidance regarding the fiduciary duty an investment adviser owes to its clients under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (Advisers Act) as it has been interpreted by common law and SEC guidance. The RIA Guidance also describes the underlying responsibilities that constitute an investment adviser’s fiduciary duties: the Duty of Care and the Duty of Loyalty.

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Financial Services Industry’s New Regulation Best Interest Standard of Care

On June 5, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved the Regulation Best Interest Final Package, the new disclosure requirements that accompany the financial services industry’s new Regulation Best Interest standard of care. In light of the significance of Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) for the financial services industry, Drinker Biddle & Reath’s Best Interest Compliance Team is publishing a series of articles on the SEC’s finalized “Reg BI Package” of rules and guidance.

One of the four parts of that package is Form CRS − a mandate that broker-dealers and investment advisers with retail investors (natural persons, trusts or entities representing natural persons) provide a two-page relationship summary disclosing information about their firm before a new client enters an investment adviser’s agreement or engages the services of a broker-dealer, or in the case of an existing client when there is any material change in the nature and scope of the relationship.

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