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By: Jennifer Weatherup
As the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has caused unprecedented disruptions, including a precipitous decline in the stock market, it is increasingly important for broker-dealers to prepare plans which will allow them to fulfill their responsibilities to customers and continue operations under difficult circumstances. More specifically, broker-dealers should ensure that their business continuity plans allow their businesses to persist in the event of a pandemic such as the Coronavirus. To this end, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority requires its members to plan ahead in order to meet customer needs in the event of an emergency. Specifically, FINRA mandates that all broker-dealers “ must create and maintain a written business continuity plan identifying procedures relating to an emergency or significant business disruption… reasonably designed to enable the member to meet its existing obligations to customers [and] address the member’s existing relationships with other broker-dealers and counter-parties.” (FINRA Rule 4370(a).) FINRA further requires that members update their continuity plans in the event of material changes to their operation, and conduct an annual review to identify whether the plan must be modified. (FINRA Rule 4370(b).)
In response to the Coronavirus crisis, FINRA released Regulatory Notice 20-08, “Pandemic-Related Business Continuity Planning, Guidance and Regulatory Relief” on March 9, 2020. This Notice reiterates broker-dealers’ responsibilities under Rule 4370, and recommends that members include pandemic preparedness in their business continuity plans, and evaluate whether their current plans “are sufficiently flexible to address a wide range of possible effects in the event of a pandemic in the United States [including] staff absenteeism, use of remote offices or telework arrangements, travel or transportation limitations and technology interruptions or slowdowns.” Notably, FINRA recommends that member firms’ business continuity plans include plans to employ remote offices or telework arrangements during a pandemic. In order to ensure that the use of remote work arrangements does not undermine firms’ abilities to satisfy their other professional duties, FINRA also recommends that firms which permit remote work arrangements consider strategies for exercising sufficient supervision over employees who are working remotely, and test the extensive use of telework arrangements by employees before remote work arrangements are broadly implemented at a member firm. FINRA identified other potential issues which could arise in the event of a pandemic, and which should be addressed in a business continuity plan, including the following: increased risk of cybersecurity breaches, emergency office relocations, increased customer call volumes, and challenges in making timely regulatory filings.
As the Coronavirus pandemic has already affected operations, member firms should make it a priority to carefully review their business continuity plans to ensure that they adequately address the potential effects of the Coronavirus; without adequate plans in place, member firms may not only find themselves unable to satisfy obligations to customers, but may face regulatory scrutiny once this crisis is behind us.
The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues every day for the next week. We will discuss the impact of Coronavirus for companies in general, but also for business in insurance, healthcare, California specific issues, cybersecurity, and tort. Click here to register.
FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.
You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].
**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you. We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**