On May 6, 2022, FINRA released a “Discussion Paper – Expungement of Customer Dispute Information” (the “Discussion Paper”) to address what FINRA clearly sees as problems with the current system for expunging customer complains. Let’s be clear from the outset, FINRA is openly hostile to the expungement of customer complaint information. FINRA is particularly hostile to what they describe as “straight-in” expungement arbitrations where the financial advisor seeks expungement by naming their firm as the respondent (typically after a customer arbitration has settled).
As many practitioners know, FINRA passed an amendment, effective September 14, 2020, establishing a minimum filing fee for expungement arbitrations. The Discussion Paper touts the success of this amendment in reducing the number of straight-in expungement actions by 37% between 2019 and 2020. Thus, FINRA makes it clear that its goal is reduction of expungement claims rather than making sure the claims have merit.
The tone of the Discussion Paper starts off somewhat defensive as FINRA makes sure to let the public know how few expungements are actually awarded every year. Between January 2016 and December 2021, approximately 8 percent of financial advisors registered with FINRA had a customer dispute disclosure on their record and only 1 in 10 had customer dispute information expunged during that time period. If expungement of customer dispute information is so rare, it is hard to understand why FINRA has as they put it, “engaged in longstanding efforts with NASAA and state securities regulators to explore a redesign of the current expungement process.” I recently blogged about the Alabama Securities Commission’s (“ASC”) intervention into an expungement award confirmation proceeding and the ASC’s very dim view of the “straight-in” expungement process. In light of the intervention and then the subsequent release of this Discussion Paper, it seems likely that more state regulators than just Alabama are unhappy with the current expungement system.