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On May 21, 2020, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that effective September 14, 2020, its Membership Application Program (MAP) rules will be amended to further incentivize the timely payment of arbitration awards. The amendment to MAP will seek to do so by preventing an individual from switching firms and prevent firms from transferring assets to avoid the payment of arbitration awards. Specifically, the amendments will: (1) require members to seek a materiality consultation for changes in ownership, control, or business operations; (2) create a rebuttable presumption to deny an application for membership if the applicant is the subject of an existing claim; (3) require that a member demonstrate the ability to satisfy unpaid or pending arbitration awards; and (4) require that an applicant notify FINRA of any arbitration claim involving the applicant.
Unpaid arbitration awards have plagued FINRA’s dispute resolution division for years. In 2018 FINRA conducted a study showing that between 2012 and 2016 more than a quarter of all arbitration awards went unpaid.
FINRA’s new MAP rules will adversely impact any financial advisor with a pending arbitration matter seeking to change firms. The rules fail to address the idiosyncrasies of the FINRA arbitration process, which allows any investor to file an arbitration matter without the vetting of their claims. With limited ability to dismiss arbitrations without going to a full hearing, an advisor could be a part of a pending arbitration for years.
The Public Investors Advocate Bar Association (PIABA) has long advocated for an industry funded pool of money to remedy the unpaid award problem and now argue that the new MAP rules do not go far enough. Samuel Edwards, partner at Shepard Smith Edwards & Kantas and president of PIABA said in an interview said that the amended rules should instead “flat-out kick [members who attempt to skirt arbitration awards] out.”
FINRA rules already require that firms and brokers who do not pay their arbitration awards be barred from the industry.
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