Articles Posted in FINRA Regulation

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On December 20, 2019, FINRA announced a settlement with John Carneglia.  According to the AWC, Carneglia violated FINRA Rule 3210 for failing to notify his member firm of a brokerage account and violated FINRA Rule 3270 for failing to timely disclose an outside business activity.

Underlying Facts

Carenglia was registered with BNP Paribas from June 2006 through July 2017.  According to FINRA, Carneglia didn’t inform BNP of his wife’s brokerage account and likewise failed to inform the firm that maintained his wife’s account of his association with BNP.  Further, FINRA alleges that Carneglia was a member of an LLC that owned an income-generating rental property (ski-resort condominium), yet failed to timely notify BNP of that outside business activity.

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On December 16, 2019, FINRA released the AWC in Matter No. 2018060843801 (In re Molteni) [click here to read the AWC].  At first blush, the AWC seems to concern a garden variety violation in which the FA failed to amend his Form U4 to disclose two federal tax liens.  This doesn’t seem to be the violation of the century, right?  Even FINRA’s Sanction Guidelines suggest a regulatory slap on the wrist of a modest fine and 10 day suspension.

So here is where things get interesting.  FINRA more or less sanctioned Molteni in accordance with the Sanction Guidelines.  They hit him with a $5,000 fine and a 3 month suspension.  However, FINRA also found that he “willfully” failed to disclose the federal tax liens.  In the world of FINRA regulation, the word “willful” carries an awful lot of weight.

What does it mean to act “willfully”?

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FINRA wants a member firm to enforce its written supervisory procedures.  And FINRA wants a member firm to recommend securities that fit within the customer’s investment objectives.  And certainly FINRA wants a member firm to avoid falsification of business records.  So what happens when a member firm doesn’t quite live up to FINRA’s expectations?  Let’s play the over / under game and try to guess the size of the FINRA sanction when a member engages in the following misconduct:

  • Failure to enforce WSPs governing the sale of high-risk mutual funds subject to significant volatility
  • Failure to reallocate portfolios to reduce risk or otherwise update investment objectives to correspond with the assumption of additional risk

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FINRA is on the look-out for violations of Rule 3280, which prohibits an FA from participating in a private securities transactions without giving written notice to the broker-dealer and receiving written approval.  A “private securities transaction” is any securities transaction outside the scope of the FA’s employment with the broker-dealer.  Private securities transactions remain a regulatory focus for FINRA.  As noted by FINRAs CEO, Robert Cook, in the 2019 Risk Monitoring and Examination Priorities Letter:  “we are particularly concerned about fundraising activities for entities that the associated persons control or in which they have an interest…”

Case In Point

In the Matter of Michael Jason Collins, FINRA Matter No. 2017056104801 (see the AWC itself)

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When a registered representative leaves a broker-dealer, there are many different service and compliance issues that emerge. There are also competing interests between the firm and the representative, each of whom want to keep the customer’s business. At the same time, the customer wants to maintain steady and uninterrupted service. FINRA Regulatory Notice 19-10 sets forth obligations that members must follow when a registered representative departs a firm. Herskovits PLLC can assist firms and registered representatives that need assistance in understanding or implementing FINRA’s directives.

It is common in the industry for registered representatives to move between firms. FINRA expects that the firms and representatives continue to prioritize the customers’ interests when a registered representative leaves the firm. First and foremost, the firm must inform the customer how their account will continue to be serviced after the representatives moves from the firm. Then, the firm must provide its customers with full and complete answers when the firm is asked about the representative who is leaving.

Firms must ensure that the customers know that they have the option to keep their account at the firm and have the account serviced by a new representative. They must also provide the contact of the departing representative to the customer if the representative has given their consent to their contact information being distributed. In other words, customers must be able to make their own choice about what to do with their account.

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FINRA has announced it will increase its scrutiny of the cryptocurrency market. As several regulatory bodies endeavor to establish their jurisdiction over the crypto space, FINRA will now boost its oversight of registered firms’ participation in its burgeoning market.

In a new regulatory notice, the self-regulatory organization asked its 3,700 member firms to notify it if they trade in cryptocurrency, accept cryptocurrency from clients, manage crypto funds, participate in the sale of digital tokens, or even offer advice relating to cryptocurrency.

FINRA will also monitor virtual currency mining and any other related use of blockchain technology.

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As Merrill Lynch brokers appear to lag behind their competitors at Morgan Stanley, some FAs at the firm are probably not looking forward to seeing their paychecks this summer season.

Based on Merrill’s new compensation program, FAs who do not hit specific targets are going to endure punishment in the shape of a pay cut, compliments of the firm’s parent company, Bank of America.

There is much controversy about the management’s plans, mainly because it rewards practices like cross-selling. The fact that they are going to apply the new compensation program retroactively is not sitting well with brokers either. Actually, the FAs have referred to this particular element as a “clawback” tactic.

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FINRA has fined Aegis Capital Corp. $550,000 for failing to implement required anti-money laundering (AML) and supervisory programs designed to prevent fraudulent activity.

The violations specifically affected low-priced securities transactions involving DVP (delivery versus payment) accounts. According to the outcome of FINRA’s investigation, the supervisory system Aegis used “was not reasonably designed to satisfy its obligation to monitor and investigate trading.”

There are certain aspects of DVP accounts that make them vulnerable to money laundering schemes if they are not appropriately supervised.

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In conversation with Chip Jones, FINRA’s Senior Vice President of Member Relations and Education, Mike Rufino, Executive Vice President and Head of FINRA Member Regulation—Sales Practice expanded on Robert Cook’s 2018 Priorities Letter, which was released during the first days of the year.

Rufino explained how FINRA plans to examine brokers to determine whether they should be included in the High-Risk Registered Representatives Program, and made some key recommendations to firms for identifying high-risk brokers within their ranks.

In his 2018 Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter, FINRA CEO Robert Cook signaled “identifying high-risk firms and individual brokers and mitigating the potential risks that they can pose to investors,” as a “top priority” for the self-regulatory organization in the New Year.

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Based on research conducted by the National Center on Elder Abuse, 16% of elder abuse was caused by financial exploitation, which ranked third followed right after self-neglect and neglect by others. This percentage had increased from 12.3% since 2001; however, elder abuse is vastly under reported. According to one study, only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported. In many cases, cognitive impairment and the need for help with activities of daily living make elderly victims particularly vulnerable to financial abuse.

With baby boomers turning into senior citizens, financial exploitation of seniors has become an increasingly serious issue for securities industry regulators.

No financial product is per se unsuitable for senior investors; however, a senior’s investment time span and other factors may impact whether certain products or strategies are suitable.

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