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On November 28, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) filed a proposed rule change with the SEC to amend paragraph (a)(3) of FINRA Rule 4512(a)(3)—“Customer Account Information”—which will permit the use of electronic signatures consistent with the E-SIGN Act. Specifically, under the proposed rule, firms will be allowed to obtain electronic signatures of personnel exercising discretionary trading authority over customer accounts maintained by a member. FINRA acknowledges that “[g]iven technological advances relating to electronic signatures, including with respect to authentication and security” it now believes that the requirement for manual signatures is obsolete. If approved by the SEC, the proposed rule change will be published in a regulatory notice no later than 60 days following approval, and will take effect within 30 days following publication.
On October 29, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC), fining a broker-dealer $2.75 million for identified deficiencies in its anti-money laundering (AML) program. According to FINRA, design flaws in the firm’s AML program allegedly resulted in the firm’s failure to properly investigate (i) certain third-party attempts to gain unauthorized access to its electronic systems, and (ii) other potential illegal activity, which should have led to the filing of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs). FINRA notes that this failure primarily stemmed from the firm's use of an inaccurate “fraud case chart,” which provided guidance to employees about investigating and reporting requirements related to suspicious activity where third parties use “electronic means to attempt to compromise a customer's email or brokerage account.” Consequently, FINRA alleges that the firm failed to file more than 400 SARs and did not investigate certain cyber-related events. Among other things, FINRA also asserts that the firm failed to file or amend forms U4 or U5, which are used to report certain customer complaints, due to an overly restrictive interpretation of a requirement that complaints contain a claim for compensatory damages exceeding $5,000.
The firm neither admitted nor denied the findings set forth in the AWC agreement, but agreed to address identified deficiencies in its programs.
On July 30, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued a Special Notice seeking comment on how it can support fintech innovation consistent with its mission of investor protection and market integrity. According to FINRA, the comment request builds on its Innovation Outreach Initiative, which launched last year to assist FINRA in understanding fintech innovations and how those innovations affect the securities industry (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The Special Notice seeks general comments on FINRA’s rules or processes that could be “modified to better support fintech innovation without adversely affecting investor protection or market integrity,” and comments pointing to specific areas of fintech innovation that may need a greater focus by the organization. In addition to those comments, the notice also raises three specific topics for comment that have previously been flagged as potential areas of engagement through the Innovation Outreach Initiative: (i) data aggregation services; (ii) supervision as it relates to artificial intelligence; and (iii) the development of a taxonomy-based machine-readable rulebook. Comments are due by October 12.
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.
On May 16, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the SEC reached settlements (here and here) with a Chinese-based broker-dealer following an inquiry and investigation into the firm’s anti-money laundering (AML) programs. According to FINRA, the broker-dealer allegedly failed to implement reasonable processes to ensure that its AML programs were able to detect and report potentially suspicious transactions, particularly those concerning penny stocks. In addition, FINRA claimed the broker-dealer’s AML program compliance testing was “inadequate and failed to uncover any of the deficiencies in the firm’s trade monitoring.” In a separate investigation conducted by the SEC in conjunction with FINRA’s inquiry, the broker-dealer reached a settlement over allegations that it failed to, among other things, file suspicious activity reports as required under the Bank Secrecy Act or comply in a timely fashion with SEC record requests. Under the terms of the settlements, the broker-dealer agreed to pay $5.3 million to FINRA for systemic anti-money laundering compliance failures and $860,000 to the SEC. In agreeing to the settlements, the broker-dealer neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of the findings.
The SEC’s investigation also resulted in settlements with a second broker-dealer and its AML officer for allegedly violating the Exchange Act and SEC financial recordkeeping and reporting requirements for not reporting the suspicious sales of billions of penny stock shares. The broker dealer agreed to pay a civil money penalty of $1,000,000 to the SEC, was censured, and was ordered to cease and desist from causing or committing any violations or future violations of the SEC’s suspicious activity reporting requirements. The AML officer was assessed a $15,000 civil money penalty and barred from association with any broker, dealer, investment advisor, municipal securities dealer, municipal advisor, transfer agency, or national recognized statistical rating organization for a period of three years, among other things.
On May 3, FINRA issued a Regulatory Notice 18-19 amending Rule 3310—Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Compliance Program rule—to reflect the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s final rule concerning customer due diligence requirements for covered financial institutions (CDD rule), which becomes applicable on May 11. According to Regulatory Notice 18-19, member firms should ensure that their AML programs are updated to include, among other things, appropriate risk-based procedures for conducting ongoing customer due diligence including (i) “understanding the nature and purpose of customer relationships for the purpose of developing a customer risk profile,” and (ii) “conducting ongoing monitoring to identify and report suspicious transactions and, on a risk basis, to maintain and update customer information.” The announcement also makes reference to FINRA’s Regulatory Notice 17-40, issued last November, which provides additional guidance for member firms complying with the CDD rule. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.). The notice further states that the “provisions are not new and merely codify existing expectations for firms.”
On May 2, FINRA issued a notice revising its Sanction Guidelines to reflect recent changes to General Principle No. 2, which instructs adjudicators “to consider customer-initiated arbitrations that result in adverse arbitration awards or settlements” in addition to the more traditional disciplinary history when assessing sanctions. FINRA Regulatory Notice 18-17 states that if an adjudicator determines that a “pattern of causing harm” to investors or market integrity exits, or a respondent demonstrates a disregard to regulatory requirements, then more stringent sanctions should be considered. New FAQs related to the revisions are available here.
Revisions to the Sanctions Guidelines will apply to all complaints filed in FINRA’s disciplinary system beginning June 1.
On April 4, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) released a revised template to assist FINRA-registered small firms in developing and implementing risk-based anti-money laundering (AML) programs as required by the Bank Secrecy Act and FINRA Rule 3310. Changes to the template reflect FinCEN’s final rule concerning customer due diligence requirements for covered financial institutions (CDD rule), which goes into effect May 11. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the CDD rule here.) The CDD rule requires covered financial institutions, including FINRA-registered firms, to identify the beneficial owners of legal entity customers who open new accounts.
On January 8, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) published its Annual Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter (2018 Letter), which focused on several broad issues within the securities industry, including improving the examination program to “implement a risk-based framework designed to better align examination resources to the risk profile of  member firms.” As previously covered in InfoBytes, last July FINRA360 (a comprehensive self-evaluation and organizational improvement initiative) prompted the organization to announce plans currently underway to enhance operations by consolidating its existing enforcement teams into a single unit. In the 2018 Letter, FINRA announced ongoing efforts to work with member firms to understand the risks and benefits of fintech innovation such as blockchain technology, as well as the impact initial coin offerings (ICOs) and digital currencies have on broker-dealers.
Additional areas of regulatory and examination focus for FINRA in 2018 will include: (i) fraudulent activities and suspicious activity report filing requirements; (ii) business continuity planning; (iii) protection and verification of customer assets, including whether firms have implemented adequate controls and supervision methods along with measuring the effectiveness of cybersecurity programs; (iv) anti-money laundering monitoring and surveillance resources and policies and procedures; and (v) the role firms and other registered representatives play when effecting transactions in cryptocurrencies and ICOs—specifically with regard to the supervisory, compliance and operational infrastructure firms implement to “ensure compliance with relevant federal securities laws and regulations and FINRA rules.”
On December 27, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that it fined a New York-based brokerage firm $2.8 million based on allegations that the firm violated the SEC’s Customer Protection Rule and due to other related supervisory failures. According to the Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC), from March 2008 to June 2016, the firm did not have reasonable processes in place to ensure that its control systems were operating properly. As a result of these design flaws, the firm failed to properly segregate customers’ foreign and domestic securities in appropriate control locations, leading to deficits in securities valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.” The firm neither admitted nor denied the findings set forth in the AWC agreement.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Trends in regulatory enforcement" at the American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Meeting
- Jessica L. Pollet to discuss "Your career is impacting your life..." at the Ark Group Women Legal Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Successors in interest updates" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo