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  • SEC Approves FINRA’s Streamlined Securities Competency Exams for Industry Professionals and Consolidated Registration Rules

    Securities

    On October 5, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced SEC approval of its proposal to consolidate certain registration rules and streamline competency exams for professionals entering or re-entering the securities industry. Under Regulatory Notice 17-30, the NASD and NYSE incorporated registration rules are now consolidated as “FINRA rules” to provide member firms “consistency and uniformity.” The rules will allow member firms to permissively register all associated persons of a firm and establish waiver programs for registered employees who “move to a financial services industry affiliate of a member firm.” Further, as previously discussed in an InfoBytes post concerning the proposed rule, FINRA’s new streamlined examination structure is designed to eliminate duplicative testing and remove outdated categories. The changes include a general knowledge examination that all new representative-level applicants will be required to pass, in addition to a revised qualification examination appropriate to their job functions. Changes to FINRA’s continuing education requirements have also been made. The rule takes effect October 1, 2018.

    Securities FINRA SEC

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  • SEC Issues Regulatory Notice Approving Amendments to FINRA Arbitration Proceedings

    Securities

    Earlier this month, the SEC released Regulatory Notice 17-25 approving amendments to FINRA customer and industry arbitration procedures, which will impact Rules 1240212403, and 13403. The changes will require the Director of FINRA’s Office of Dispute Resolution to make lists of arbitrators available to all parties at the same time “within approximately 30 days after the last answer is due.” Party agreements to extend answer due dates will no longer have any bearing on when the arbitrator list is provided. The amendments will affect cases filed on or after September 18, 2017.

    Securities Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FINRA Arbitration

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  • FINRA to Host AML Seminars

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On August 2, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that it will host a series of anti-money laundering (AML) seminars for compliance professionals, led by managers of the FINRA AML Unit. The seminars on October 19 (Dallas, Texas), November 7 (Boca Raton, Florida), and November 13 (New York, NY) will discuss money laundering fundamentals and typologies, applicable rules and regulations, and guidelines for monitoring for suspicious activity.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FINRA Compliance Anti-Money Laundering

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  • FINRA Announces Head of Enforcement, Consolidates Enforcement Functions into Single Department

    Securities

    On July 26, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced the promotion of Susan Schroeder to Executive Vice President and Head of Enforcement. Previously, Ms. Schroeder served as FINRA Senior Vice President and Deputy Chief of Enforcement, and she began serving as acting Head of Enforcement around the start of this year. Schroeder will report directly to CEO Robert Cook. FINRA also announced plans to consolidate its existing enforcement teams—“one handling disciplinary actions related to trading-based matters found through Market Regulation’s surveillance and examination programs, and the other handling cases referred from other regulatory oversight divisions including Member Regulation, Corporate Financing, the Office of Fraud Detection and Market Intelligence, and Advertising Regulation”—into a single unit led by Schroeder. This reorganization was prompted by FINRA360, the organization’s comprehensive self-evaluation and improvement examination.

    Securities FINRA Enforcement

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  • FINRA Fines Financial Firms $2.4 Million for Improper Customer Records Storage

    Securities

    On July 5, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that several investment firms agreed to pay fines totaling $2.4 million for allegedly failing to maintain customer records in an electronic format that cannot be altered or destroyed. The firms all signed FINRA’s letters of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) containing allegations and proposed settlement terms for the alleged violations. See agreements here, here, and here.

    In the agreements, FINRA emphasizes that financial firms are storing more and more sensitive customer data. FINRA asserts that broker-dealer electronic records must be complete and accurate to assist FINRA and other regulators in examinations and to ensure that member firms can conduct audits. Increasingly aggressive hacking attempts also enhance the need for firms to keep these records in the required format. According to the allegations in the agreements, the firms violated Section 17(a) of the Exchange Act of 1934 (the "Exchange Act"), NASD Rule 3110 and FINRA Rule 4511 by not maintaining electronic brokerage records in non-erasable and nonrewritable format, known as “WORM” format. The electronic records contained information about millions of securities transactions, millions of customer account records, numerous financial records, and records regarding anti-money laundering compliance.

    FINRA also asserts that the firms: (i) failed to give 90-day advance notice to FINRA before storing records electronically; (ii) failed to set up audit systems for retaining records electronically; (iii) failed to obtain attestation letters from vendors agreeing to provide all firm records to regulators, if needed; and (iv) failed to set up and enforce written procedures to ensure electronically stored records were retained in compliance with FINRA and federal securities laws.

    In addition to monetary sanctions, the firms agreed to review and update policies and procedures to ensure compliance with FINRA and federal securities laws. Additionally, the firms must submit remediation plans to FINRA for approval.

    Securities Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FINRA Enforcement Settlement Investment Adviser

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  • FINRA Announces Fintech Outreach Initiative, Hosts Blockchain Symposium in July

    FinTech

    On June 13, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced a new outreach initiative to improve its understanding of fintech innovations and how they impact the securities industry. The Innovation Outreach Initiative will consist of the following components:

    • the launch of FINRA’s new webpage dedicated to fintech topics such as RegTech (covering compliance monitoring, fraud prevention, data management, and the identification and interpretation of regulations affecting the securities industry), artificial intelligence, and social media sentiment investing; and
    • the creation of a cross-departmental team led by the Office of Emerging Regulatory Issues developed to, among other things, foster discussion on fintech developments, develop publications on fintech topics, and increase collaboration with domestic and international regulators.

    Additionally, FINRA announced it will host a Blockchain Symposium in New York City on July 13 to create an opportunity for regulators and industry leaders to join together and discuss opportunities and challenges related to the use of Distributed Ledger Technology, also known as blockchain.

    Fintech Securities FINRA SEC Blockchain

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  • FINRA Releases New Guidance on Rules Concerning Digital Communications

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On April 25, FINRA issued new guidance on the application of its rules governing communications with the public concerning social media networking sites and online business communications. In 2010 and 2011, FINRA released Regulatory Notices 10-06 and 11-39 to provide initial guidance on these specific rules, and in 2013, “adopted amendments to Rule 2010 that codif[ied] guidance provided in the Notices with respect to the supervision of interactive social media posts by member firms.” In December 2014, FINRA issued its Respective Rule Review Report, which was designed to “assess whether the communications rules are meeting their intended investor protection objectives . . . and to take steps to maintain or improve the effectiveness of the rules.” FINRA Regulatory Notice 17-18 is the response to the report’s request for additional guidance and provides examples of how FINRA applies its rules to the following topics: text messaging, personal communications, hyperlinks and content sharing, native advertising, online testimonials and endorsements, correction of third-party content, and BrokerCheck. FINRA further notes that Regulatory Notice 17-18 is intended to deliver further guidance and does not alter principles previously provided in prior notices.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FINRA Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Securities

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  • FINRA Releases Revisions to Its Sanction Guidelines

    Financial Crimes

    On April 10, FINRA issued a notice revising its Sanction Guidelines to reflect recent developments in its disciplinary process, revisions to certain rules, and amendments to the levels of sanctions imposed during proceedings. FINRA Regulatory Notice 17-13 states that the revisions: (i) establish a new factor that requires “the exercise of undue influence over a customer be considered for all violations”; (ii) introduces new guidelines concerning systemic supervisory failures, short interest reporting, and borrowing and lending arrangements with customers; (iii) provides guidance on a new factor related to the mitigating effect of sanctions imposed by other regulators or firms; (iv) describes amendments made to twelve sections that revise sanctions for more serious rule violations; and (v) harmonizes “the Sanction Guidelines to the relevant precedent, prior amendments to the Sanction Guidelines and FINRA’s rulebook consolidation process.” FINRA further states that the purpose of the Sanction Guidelines is not to “prescribe fixed sanctions for particular violations . . . [but to] provide direction for Adjudicators in imposing sanctions consistently and fairly. The guidelines recommend ranges for sanctions and suggest factors that Adjudicators may consider in determining, for each case, where within the range the sanctions should fall or whether sanctions should be above or below the recommended range.” The revised guidelines are effective immediately.

    Financial Crimes FINRA Sanctions

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  • FINRA Bars Broker Charged in NY Pension Fund Scandal

    Securities

    On March 28, FINRA filed a disciplinary action in the form of a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (Letter of Acceptance) against one of the brokers charged in December of last year for participating in a "pay-for-play" bribery scheme involving the $184 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF). The Letter of Acceptance bars the broker from the industry and prohibits association with “any FINRA member in any capacity.” From 2014 through 2016, the broker, along with two other individuals, engaged in a scheme to defraud the pension fund, its members and beneficiaries, by paying bribes to a portfolio manager totaling more than $100,000 in the form of entertainment, travel expenses, narcotics, luxury gifts, and other items in “exchange for fixed-income business from the NYSCRF.” The broker was charged with allegedly conspiring to commit securities fraud, conspiring to obstruct justice in a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, as well as wire fraud charges. Currently the SDNY criminal case and SEC civil action are pending against the broker.

    Securities FINRA Bribery

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  • Proposed FINRA Rule Would Streamline Securities Competency Exams for Industry Professionals

    Securities

    On March 8, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) filed a proposed rule with the SEC to streamline its competency exams for professionals entering or re-entering the securities industry. Currently, only individuals associated with FINRA-regulated firms are eligible to take the qualification exam. The proposed rule would allow individuals with no prior securities industry experience to take FINRA’s Securities Industry Essentials exam, an “important first step to entering the industry,” which would serve to “provide enhanced flexibility and efficiency in [the] qualifications programs, while maintaining important standards and investor protections.” While these individuals would also be required to pass a more specialized knowledge exam—and must be associated with, and sponsored by, a firm—the proposed change would potentially expand the pool of qualified candidates for positions. Further, under this proposal, individuals who transfer to a financial services affiliate of a FINRA-regulated firm may qualify for a waiver that allows their credentials to be reinstated without re-taking their qualification exams, should they return to the industry within a seven-year period and meet the requirements of the waiver program. Currently, a registered individual who transfers for two or more years must re-take an exam to be re-qualified. The proposed rule is under review with the SEC.

    Securities FINRA SEC

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