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Posts Tagged ‘Brokers’

FINRA Increases Penalties For Brokers’ Bad Behavior

Posted on: May 8th, 2018

By:  Ted Peters

In further response to mounting pressure for securities regulators to exert greater control over problem brokers, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) released Regulatory Notice 18-17 on May 2, 2018.  FINRA has long maintained a “rulebook” of sorts to guide adjudicators in disciplinary proceedings when addressing the propriety and scope of sanctions that might issue.  Akin to sentencing guidelines, the Sanction Guidelines “provide both general principles that apply to the overall process of determining sanctions for every case and specific recommendations of a range of sanctions for particular rule violations.”

The stated goal of the guidelines  is “to assist FINRA’s adjudicators in determining the appropriate sanctions in disciplinary proceedings and to provide consistency in the imposition of sanctions.”  Such sanctions can include fines, suspensions or industry bars.

This most recent Notice trumpets FINRA’s revisions to the guidelines to instruct adjudicators “to consider customer-initiated arbitrations that result in adverse arbitration awards or settlements when assessing sanctions.”  More specifically, FINRA adjudicators are now expressly instructed to consider imposing more serious sanctions when there is a discernible “pattern” considering a respondent’s disciplinary history, and history or arbitration awards.

“By enabling adjudicators to consider arbitration settlements and adverse arbitration awards, in addition to the traditionally considered final disciplinary actions, the Sanction Guidelines will allow adjudicators to take such settlements and awards into account in appropriate cases when determining whether a pattern of harm to investors or market integrity, or disregard of regulatory requirements exists.”

The Sanction Guidelines apply only to enforcement actions, not FINRA arbitrations.  The revisions go into effect on June 1, 2018.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].

DOJ Fails to Challenge 5th Circuit Ruling Striking Fiduciary Rule

Posted on: May 3rd, 2018

By: Theodore C. Peters

On March 15, 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal stuck down the “fiduciary rule” proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL), which required brokers to act in the best interests of their clients in retirement accounts.  Subsequently, there was much speculation as to whether the Department of Justice (DOJ), acting on behalf of the DOL, would appeal that decision.  The April 30, 2018 deadline for the DOJ to appeal came and went, but …. nothing.  The Fifth Circuit’s ruling, therefore, is slotted to take effect on May 7, 2018.

In late April, AARP and several state attorneys general (including California, New York and Oregon) joined forces in seeking the court’s permission to intervene as defendants in the case, and also sought an en banc hearing before the entire 17-judge circuit. AARP contends that the court’s decision striking down the DOL rule puts Americans’ retirement security at substantial risk, resulting in an “issue of exceptional importance.”  The plaintiffs in the case, opponents of the DOL rule, formally opposed the motions to intervene on April 30.  Counsel for the plaintiffs charged that the “last-minute motions do not come close to justifying their unprecedented bid to intervene…”

On May 2, the Fifth Circuit denied the intervenors’ motions.  The court’s decision looks to be the final nail in the coffin holding the DOL’s fiduciary rule.  Despite this ruling, however, the DOL still has one more card it could play – it can file a petition by June 13 to have the Supreme Court hear the case. Even if the DOL stands quietly by and does nothing, the Supreme Court could conceivably take the case up on its own.

Ultimately, this legal brouhaha focuses attention on the SEC, which is currently taking public comment on newly proposed standards of conduct for brokers and advisors.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].

FINRA to Pick Up the Check on Unpaid Arbitration Awards?

Posted on: March 8th, 2018

By: Theodore C. Peters

As recently reported, unpaid FINRA arbitration awards is a growing problem.  As FINRA has acknowledged, roughly one quarter of FINRA arbitration awards issued in 2016 went unpaid.  If lawmakers have their way, FINRA itself may ultimately be stuck with the check, and be required to pay such awards.

On March 6, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, introduced legislation that would require FINRA to compensate investors for unpaid arbitration awards.  The Compensation for Cheated Investors Act would direct FINRA to establish a “relief fund” pool that could be used to provide investors with the full value of unpaid arbitration awards against brokerage firms or brokers regulated by FINRA.  The fund would derive “first from penalties paid by brokers and then from sources determined by FINRA.”  In the event FINRA fails to take steps to establish such a fund, the bill proposed by Sen. Warren would nevertheless require FINRA to compensate investors from its general budget.  The bill also provides that FINRA may require investors to subrogate their claims against brokers, and that FINRA may pursue additional remedies against the brokers.

Also of note, FINRA would not be permitted to limit the amount that an investor may receive from the relief fund, nor would FINRA be allowed to prohibit any investor from submitting a claim to the fund.  FINRA would also be required to annually disclose, among other things, the total number of arbitration awards issued in favor of investors against brokerage firms or brokers under its watch, the number and amount of unpaid awards, and the names of the brokerage firms/brokers at issue.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].

Unpaid FINRA Awards May Result in Tighter Membership Rules Governing Brokers and Member Firms

Posted on: February 16th, 2018

By: Theodore C. Peters

On February 8, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) released a discussion paper: FINRA Perspectives on Customer Recovery, which openly addressed the reality that roughly one quarter of FINRA arbitration awards issued in 2016 were unpaid.  According to the paper, of the total of 2,457 arbitration cases in 2016, 1,747 were settled, 212 were withdrawn, 389 were closed by award, and 109 were closed “by other means.”  In releasing the paper, FINRA stated that it “hopes to encourage a continued dialogue about addressing the challenges of customer recovery across the industry.”  FINRA also indicated in the paper that it plans to organize discussions with other regulators and policy makers, “to further address the issue of customer recovery, identify additional data or analysis that may help inform effective decision-making in this area, and consider potential courses of action.”

On the same day, FINRA published Regulatory Notice 18-06, addressing its Membership Application Program (“MAP”).  The Notice does not alter FINRA’s current MAP protocols, but it clearly indicates FINRA’s intent to tighten rules governing membership including, among other things, the transfer of a registered persons from one broker-dealer to another when they have unpaid arbitration claims.  “FINRA is proposing to amend the MAP rules to allow FINRA to take a stronger approach to addressing the issue of pending arbitration claims, as well as arbitration awards and settlement agreements related to arbitration that have not been paid in full in accordance with their terms.”

In their current form, MAP rules permit consideration of a pending arbitration against an associated person as a factor in assessing whether the applicant meets the standards for admission.  However, “a pending arbitration does not create a presumption of denial.”  The amendments proposed by FINRA would give its Department of Member Regulation “rule-based authority to preemptively deny an NMA [new member application] if the applicant or its associated persons are subject to pending arbitration claims.”  This presumption would not apply to continuing membership applications. Further, the proposed amendments would allow the applicant to overcome this presumption if he demonstrated his “ability to satisfy the pending arbitration claims.”

In addition, the proposal would disallow certain business expansions where one or more of the associated persons involved have a “covered pending arbitration claim.”  Such claims are defined as “those whose amount (either individually or in the aggregate) exceed the member’s excess net capital.”

Finally, the amendments proposed by FINRA would disallow “any direct or indirect acquisitions or transfers of a member’s assets or any asset, business or line of operation where the transferring member or one or more of its associated persons has a covered pending arbitration claim, unpaid arbitration award or unpaid settlement related to an arbitration” under certain conditions.

The Notice seeks comment on the proposed amendments.  Comments are due by April 9, 2018.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].