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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • CFTC announces $30 million whistleblower award


    On July 12, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced an approximately $30 million award to a whistleblower who volunteered information that led to an enforcement action. This is the fifth and largest award—previously the highest was around $10 million— given by the CFTC’s whistleblower program, created by the Dodd-Frank Act. Director of the CFTC’s Whistleblower Office, Christopher Ehrman, stated, “The award today is a demonstration of the program’s commitment to reward those who provide quality information to the CFTC.” Under the CFTC’s program, whistleblowers are eligible to receive between 10 and 30 percent of the monetary sanctions collected from the resulting enforcement action.

    The announcement does not provide details of the information provided or the related enforcement action.

    Securities Whistleblower Dodd-Frank CFTC

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  • SEC and broker-dealer settle charges for allegedly failing to report suspicious transactions

    Financial Crimes

    On July 9, the SEC announced it had reached a settlement with a broker-dealer for allegedly failing to file suspicious activity reports (SARs), as required by the Bank Secrecy Act. According to the SEC’s complaint, the broker-dealer allegedly “knew, suspected, or had reason to suspect” that at least 47 advisors previously terminated by the broker-dealer had engaged in suspicious transactions. However, the broker-dealer filed SARs related to only 10 of the advisors—3 of which were filed after the SEC brought an enforcement action against the advisors. Suspicious transactions by the advisors involved (i) engaging in suspicious transfers of funds; (ii) engaging in “cherry-picking” patterns; (iii) charging excessive advisory fees; (iv) improperly accessing customer accounts to make trades; and (v) using the broker-dealer’s custodial platform despite registration lapses. The SEC asserted that the broker-dealer’s failure to file SARs for suspicious transactions violated the Securities Exchange Act. While neither admitting nor denying the allegations, the broker-dealer has agreed to the entry of a permanent injunction and will pay a $2.8 million civil penalty.

    Financial Crimes SARs SEC Securities Bank Secrecy Act

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  • SEC requests comments on proposed amendments to whistleblower program

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On June 28, the SEC voted to propose for public comment several rule amendments that seek to clarify certain existing rules and make technical amendments to its whistleblower program under Section 21F of the Securities Exchange Act. Among other things, the proposed changes would (i) allow awards based on money collected under deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements entered into by the DOJ or a state attorney general in a criminal case, or settlement agreements entered into by the SEC outside of a judicial or administrative proceeding that address securities law violations; (ii) eliminate the potential double recovery under the definition of “related action”; (iii) authorize the SEC to adjust an award’s percentage as appropriate to advance the goals of rewarding and incentivizing whistleblowers; (iv) establish a uniform definition of “whistleblower” in response to the Supreme Court's decision in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers (as previously covered in a Buckley Sandler Special Alert); and (v) clarify anti-retaliation protection requirements. The SEC also has included interpretative guidance on the terms “unreasonable delay” and “independent analysis.” Comments will be accepted for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance SEC Securities Whistleblower

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  • NYDFS fines global banking firm $205 million for alleged FX violations


    On June 20, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) announced a $205 million settlement with a global banking firm to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in unsafe and unsound practices in its foreign exchange (FX) trading business. According to the consent order, the bank did not implement and maintain sufficient controls to identify and prevent unsafe and unsound activities conducted by certain FX traders. Among other things, the order states that FX traders (i) used electronic chatrooms to coordinate trading activity with competitors to improperly affect FX prices; (ii) engaged in a practice known as “jamming the fix,” which entails accumulating a large trading position and subsequently making aggressive trades with the intention of moving the fix price in a desired direction; (iii) disclosed confidential customer information to competitors through electronic chatrooms; and (iv) mislead customers by hiding markups on trades. In addition to the fine, the bank is required to improve its internal controls and programs to comply with applicable New York State and federal laws and regulations, submit a written plan to improve its compliance risk management program, and provide an enhanced written internal audit program.

    Securities NYDFS Enforcement Bank Compliance Foreign Exchange Trading

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  • Bitcoin and ether not considered securities by SEC


    On June 14, the Director of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance, William Hinman, stated that the SEC does not consider the cryptocurrencies bitcoin and ether to be securities. In his remarks at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit, Hinman emphasized a number of factors that are considered when assessing whether a cryptocurrency or ICO should be considered a security. These factors include, primarily, whether a third party drives the expectation of a return—the central test used by the Supreme Court in SEC v. W.J. Howey Co.. According to Hinman, bitcoin’s and ether’s networks are decentralized without a central third party controlling the enterprise and, thus, applying the disclosure rules of federal securities laws to these cryptocurrencies would add little value to the market. Hinman did note that whether something is considered a security is not static and emphasized that if a cryptocurrency were to be placed into a fund and interests were sold, the fund would be considered a security.

    Securities Virtual Currency Blockchain SEC Cryptocurrency

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  • SEC settles RMBS supervision and improper markup allegations with brokerage firm


    On June 12, the SEC issued an order against a brokerage firm to settle allegations that it violated antifraud provisions of federal securities laws when it failed to properly supervise traders who persuaded customers with false or misleading statements to overpay for residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). According to the SEC, the firm misled customers about how much the firm paid for the securities and illegally profited from the improper markups that were, in some cases, allegedly more than twice as much as what the customers should have paid. The order claims that the firm did not charge a traditional commission on the transactions, but rather derived profits “from the difference between the price at which [the firm] sold securities and the price at which it had purchased them.” Additionally, while the firm had policies and procedures to monitor and prevent excessive markups on RMBS transactions, they were “not reasonably designed and implemented.” While neither admitting nor denying the SEC’s charges, the firm agreed to be censured for failing reasonably to supervise its traders, to pay a fine of approximately $5.2 million, and to pay more than $10.5 million in disgorgement and interest to affected customers.

    Securities SEC RMBS Settlement Enforcement

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  • FDIC, OCC issue final rulemaking to shorten securities transaction settlement cycle


    On June 1, the FDIC and OCC issued a final rule shortening to two business days (T+2) the standard settlement cycle for securities purchased or sold by OCC- and FDIC-supervised institutions, national banks, and federal savings associations. The agencies stated that the final rule will shorten the settlement cycle from three business days after the date of the contract to T+2—the number of business days in the standard settlement cycle as implemented by the SEC—“unless otherwise agreed to by the parties at the time of the transaction.” (See OCC press release and FDIC FIL-30-2018.) The final rule will align the settlement cycle requirements of the OCC, FDIC, and Federal Reserve Board, and will become effective 30 days following publication in the Federal Register.

    Securities FDIC OCC SEC

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  • Ginnie Mae announces new VA refinance loan eligibility requirements

    Federal Issues

    On May 30, Ginnie Mae issued All Participants Memorandum APM 18-04 announcing changes to pooling eligibility requirements for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loans. The changes are in response to the “Loan Seasoning for Ginnie Mae Mortgage-Backed Securities” provision of the regulatory relief bill, Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, S.2155/ P.L. 115-174. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) APM 18-04 requires that, in order to be eligible for Ginnie Mae securities, the date of the VA refinance loan must be on or after the later of (i) 210 days after the date of the first payment made on the loan being refinanced; and (ii) the date of the sixth monthly payment made on the loan being refinanced. The new eligibility criteria is effective with mortgage-backed securities guaranteed on or after June 1.

    Ginnie Mae also announced June 1 that it has temporarily restricted VA single family-guaranteed loans pooled by three mortgage lenders. Upon conclusion of the temporary restriction, each of the three lenders must demonstrate that (i) prepayment speeds are more consistent with equivalent lenders, and (ii) improved performance is sustainable.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, the VA recently released policy guidance in response to the regulatory relief bill, which includes a similar loan seasoning requirement as Ginnie Mae.

    Federal Issues Department of Veterans Affairs Refinance MBS S. 2155 Ginnie Mae Securities

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  • FINRA issues enhancements to disclosure review process for public records


    On May 18, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued a notice covering enhancements to its disclosure review process. According to the notice, the enhancements will allow firms, for purposes of compliance with public record search requirements, to rely on FINRA’s verification process. Specifically, beginning on July 9, FINRA will conduct a public records search for bankruptcies, judgements, and liens within fifteen calendar days of receiving a firm’s Uniform Application for Securities Industry Registration or Transfer (Form U4). FINRA will provide any information to the firm that is different from what was provided on the Form U4. FINRA expects these enhancements to (i) reduce the cost associated with public records searches for firms; (ii) result in timelier reporting of disclosure information; and (iii) significantly reduce late disclosure fees.

    Securities FINRA Public Records

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  • SEC obtains court order halting allegedly fraudulent initial coin offering


    On May 29, the SEC announced it obtained a court order halting an alleged fraud involving an initial coin offering (ICO) that raised as much as $21 million from investors in the U.S. and overseas. In addition, the court approved an emergency asset freeze and appointed a receiver for the firm allegedly responsible for the scheme, the SEC said in its press release. According to the SEC’s complaint filed May 22 in California federal court, the firm’s president and one of two firms he controls allegedly violated the antifraud and registration provisions of the federal securities laws, by, among other things, (i) making misleading statements to investors about the nature of business relationships with the Federal Reserve and nearly 30 well-known companies, and (ii) including “fabricated, misleading, and/or unauthorized” testimonials from corporate customers on the firm’s website designed to “establish a presence and seeming expertise.” A second firm controlled by the defendant has also been charged with violating antifraud provisions. Among other things, the SEC seeks permanent injunctions, the return of profits associated with the fraudulent activity, plus interest and penalties, and a ban prohibiting the president from participating in ICOs in the future.

    Securities Initial Coin Offerings SEC Fraud Fintech

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