On May 16, 2022, FINRA published an Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (“AWC”) in which FA, Robert Bennett Zamani, accepted a 14-month suspension and a $27,500 fine for violations of FINRA Rule 3270 (Outside Business Activities), Rule 2210 (Communications with the Public), Rule 4511 (Books and Records) and, as always, Rule 2010 (Standards of Commercial Honor). The investigation of Zamani was triggered by a Form U5 filed by his former firm, Morgan Stanley.
The Rule 4511 violation was based on Zamani’s alleged use of business-related text messages that were not retained by Morgan Stanley, effectively causing Morgan Stanley to violate its obligation to maintain such communications under Rule 4511. This is an easily avoidable rule violation that many FAs fall prey to.
More interesting, however, are Zamani’s alleged violations of 3270 and 2210. Zamani formed a company in 2015 before becoming associated with Morgan Stanley. Without ever disclosing the company to Morgan Stanley, between January 2017 and April 2020, Zamani, through this company, offered subscription-based investment content. On its website, which was established and operated by Zamani, the company touted itself as a subscription-based platform providing investment content for aspiring day traders to “learn from professionally licensed stock traders the skills needed to become a profitable trader.” The company maintained a blog on its website, containing investment-related content, and maintained a publicly-available YouTube channel, with investment-related videos and distributed periodic newsletters to subscribers. Remarkably, during that 3-year stretch, Zamani earned $360,000 from his subscriber-based investment advice company.
FINRA Rule 2210 requires “an appropriately qualified registered principal of the member to approve each retail communication . . . .” Retail communication is defined broadly as “any written (including electronic) communication that is distributed or made available to more than 25 retail investors within any 30 calendar-day period.” A retail investor is anyone other than an institutional investor “regardless of whether the person as an account with a member.”
An important exception to this review process is that it does not apply to a communication “that does not make a financial or investment recommendation or otherwise promote a product or service of the member.” Interestingly, the AWC accuses Zamani of “disseminating investment-related communications” which is significantly different from the language in the rule, which requires the recommendation of an investment or promotion of a product.
FINRA Rule 2210 not only calls for a review of communications with the public but also sets forth Content Standards and Zamani was accused of violating several of these standards. The AWC accused Zamani of disseminating communications that (a) were not fair and balanced because, among other things, he failed to explain any risk associated with investing, (b) made “promissory statements” regarding returns, (c) made projections of investment performance, (d) contained testimonials without the required disclosures, (e) contained securities recommendations without the required disclosures, (f) contained performance data without the required disclosures, and (g) failed to disclose Zamani’s association with Morgan Stanley. Each of these Content Standards are specifically addressed under Rule 2210.
As you might imagine, Zamani apparently never disclosed this activity to Morgan Stanley or asked Morgan Stanley to review and approve any of the communications he released through YouTube, his website or his newsletters. Undoubtedly, Morgan Stanley would not have permitted any of it and a profit of $360,000 over three years is likely more money than Zamani was making at Morgan Stanley.
Zamani’s alleged conduct violated FINRA Rules 3270 and 2210. This was not a close case but FA’s should be knowledgeable about the constraints of Rule 2210. It is one of FINRA’s more complicated and detailed rules and FA’s would be well advised to seek legal or compliance advice before sending any investment-related communication to more than 25 people.
Herskovits PLLC has a nationwide practice defending investigations by FINRA, the SEC and state securities regulators. Call us for a consultation at (212) 897-5410.