In Case You Missed It: Broker Dealer Law Blog – Spring 2023

The Broker-Dealer Regulation & Litigation Digest is a periodic compilation of the most read blog posts published on the Broker-Dealer Law Blog during the last few months. Catch up on the latest insights on litigation, regulatory, compliance and fiduciary issues impacting broker-dealers and other financial services companies.

Tax Credits for Starting Up Small Employer Plans: What You Need to Know

By Fred Reish and Joan M. Neri
Starting with tax years beginning after December 31, 2022, a small employer can take advantage of significant tax credits under SECURE Act 2.0 (the Act) for establishing a new retirement plan. Under the Act, the tax credits are available for plan administrative and contribution costs. The full tax credit is available to employers with 50 or fewer employees and there is a partial credit available to employers with 51 to 100 employees. There are several additional conditions for eligibility as well.

“Or Worse, Expelled”

By Sandra D. Grannum, Jamie L. Helman and Justin M. Ginter
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.

Recent State Fiduciary and Best Interest Developments

By Joan M. Neri
The number of states adopting rules that follow the Suitability in Annuity Transactions Model Regulation issued by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) continues to grow. Colorado, Massachusetts, Alaska and Tennessee are recent additions to the following State Fiduciary and Best Interest Development chart, bringing the total to 31 as of this date.

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.

Continue reading “You Made the List: SEC’s Spring Agenda Would Impact Broker-Dealers”

Recent State Fiduciary and Best Interest Developments

The number of states adopting rules that follow the Suitability in Annuity Transactions Model Regulation issued by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) continues to grow. Colorado, Massachusetts, Alaska and Tennessee are recent additions to the following State Fiduciary and Best Interest Development chart, bringing the total to 31 as of this date.

Continue reading “Recent State Fiduciary and Best Interest Developments”

“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.

Continue reading ““Or Worse, Expelled.””

In Case You Missed It: Broker-Dealer Regulation & Litigation Digest – Winter 2023

The Broker-Dealer Regulation & Litigation Digest is a periodic compilation of the most read blog posts published on the Broker-Dealer Law Blog during the last few months. Here you can catch up on what you missed or re-read these popular posts.

The DOL’s New Fiduciary Rule: What We Can Expect

By Fred Reish and Joan M. Neri
The current Department of Labor fiduciary rule says that a broker-dealer and its registered representatives (advisors) are fiduciaries to a plan under ERISA if a functional five-part test is satisfied. This same five-part test applies to determining whether an advisor is a fiduciary to an IRA under the Internal Revenue Code.

You Might Want to Write Down Why You Recommended That Rollover

By Sandra D. Grannum, Jamie L. Helman and Emmanuel Brown
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.

Managing IRAs: Charging Different Fees for Different Investments

By Fred Reish and Joan M. Neri
Registered investment advisers, including dual registrant broker-dealers, who provide discretionary investment management services to individual retirement accounts (IRAs), are fiduciaries under the Internal Revenue Code (the Code). While the Code does not have a fiduciary standard of care, it does have a duty of loyalty in the sense that most conflicts of interest are prohibited.

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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Florida Court Decision’s Impact on Rollover Advice

Key Takeaways:

The Department of Labor (the DOL) expanded its interpretation of fiduciary advice in its guidance issued in connection with Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2020-02. As a result, many more broker-dealers and registered representatives (advisors) became fiduciaries under ERISA and/or the Code for their recommendations to retirement investors, including rollover recommendations. Since fiduciary recommendations that result in transaction-based compensation are generally prohibited transactions, they will need the protection provided by complying with the conditions in PTE 2020-02.

A federal district court in Florida (American Securities Association (ASA) v. U.S. Department of Labor, Case No. 8:22-cv-330 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 13, 2023)) set aside the DOL’s expanded interpretation of fiduciary investment advice for rollover recommendations. At the time of writing this article, we do not know whether the DOL will appeal that decision.

However, the court did not change the regulatory definition of fiduciary advice and its application to advice to retirement plans or IRAs. Even if the expanded interpretation for rollover recommendations does not apply, where broker-dealers and their advisors provide ongoing advice to retirement investors they can still be fiduciaries for recommendations to IRA owners, plan fiduciaries and participants (and, in addition, under the DOL’s previous guidance can, in limited circumstances, still be fiduciaries for rollover recommendations). As a result, broker-dealers and their advisors will still need the relief provided by PTE 2020-02, including the best interest process it requires.

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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.

Continue reading “You Might Want to Write Down Why You Recommended that Rollover”

The DOL’s New Fiduciary Rule: What We Can Expect

Key Takeaways:

The current DOL fiduciary rule says that a broker-dealer and its registered representatives (advisors) are fiduciaries to a plan under ERISA if a functional 5-part test is satisfied. This same 5-part test applies to determining whether an advisor is a fiduciary to an IRA under the Internal Revenue Code (the Code).

The DOL expanded its interpretation of fiduciary advice in the Preamble to PTE 2020-02 by re-interpreting one of the elements of that 5-part test. As a result, many more broker-dealers and their advisors are fiduciaries under ERISA and/or the Code for their recommendations to retirement investors, including rollover recommendations. While a recent decision by a Federal District Court in Florida set aside the DOL’s position on fiduciary status due to rollover recommendations, it did not change the 5-part test and its application to advice to retirement plans or IRAs. (We will discuss the impact of that holding on rollover recommendations in a future article.)

The DOL’s regulatory agenda indicates that in the near future, the DOL will be proposing a new fiduciary definition and proposing amendments to existing prohibited transaction exemptions (PTEs) to align with the proposed regulation. While we don’t know what the new regulation will say, we anticipate that, at the least, it will include the DOL’s expanded interpretation of fiduciary advice for rollovers (and might go beyond that). We also anticipate that many of the conditions in PTE 2020-02 will be included in the proposals for other exemptions, for example, in PTE 84-24.

Background

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