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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • Plaintiffs seek preliminary approval of $9 million class action settlement involving unsolicited texts


    On February 8, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington received an unopposed motion for preliminary approval of a class action settlement against a broker-dealer alleging that the defendant violated the Washington Commercial Electronic Mail Act (CEMA) and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by having consumers send “unsolicited advertising text messages” to other Washingtonians through a referral program. The proposed settlement would establish a $9 million settlement fund that would compensate an estimated one million affected class members, consisting of consumers who received a referral program text message during the relevant period, were Washington residents, and did not “clearly and affirmatively” consent to receive referral program text messages.

    Courts Class Action Settlement Broker-Dealer Washington

  • Broker-dealer settles AML allegations with FINRA

    Financial Crimes

    On February 12, FINRA settled allegations with a Florida-based broker-dealer for failing to implement reasonable procedures requiring escalation of potentially suspicious trading activity. Closely following the SEC and DFPI’s recent enforcement action (covered by InfoBytes here), the company, without admitting or denying the allegations, agreed to pay a $700,000 fine to settle claims regarding its failure to effectively implement anti-money laundering (AML) programs. FINRA claimed that the company did not adequately equip its analysts to review and address trading alerts related to suspicious activities by customers, which could total up to 100 alerts per trading day. Additionally, the company allegedly lacked proper written procedures in connection with the acceptance and resale of low-priced securities as required to comply with Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933 in violation of FINRA Rules. FINRA also noted that, despite being aware that improvements to the AML program were necessary as early as 2016, the company did not fully implement recommended improvements until March 2022. In issuing the fine, FINRA highlighted that the company was fined for similar AML violations back in 2011 and emphasized instances where the company’s analysts failed to escalate suspicious activity to the AML department in a timely manner, leading to regulatory inquiries and subpoenas regarding certain customers’ practices.

    Financial Crimes Broker-Dealer FINRA Anti-Money Laundering Enforcement

  • SEC to expand “dealer” definition after adoption of two rules


    On February 6, the SEC announced its adoption of rules expanding application of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the Exchange Act) to require market participants that “take on significant liquidity-providing roles” to register with the SEC as “dealers” under Sections 15(a) or 15C. In the introduction to the final rule, the SEC explained that “advancements in electronic trading across securities markets” have led to new market participants playing a larger role in market activity that was traditionally supplied by dealers. Additionally, as noted in the SEC’s Fact Sheet, the rules require such market participants to become members of a self-regulatory organization (SRO) and comply with federal laws. The SEC’s rule changes address the phrase “as part of a regular business” in sections 3(a)(5) and 3(a)(44) of the Exchange Act such that market participants that “take on significant liquidity-providing roles” are included in the statutory definition of “dealer” and “government securities dealer.” However, the final rules will exclude any person that has total assets of less than $50 million, or investment companies registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940, central banks, sovereign entities, and international financial institutions. The final rules will go into effect 60 days following Federal Register publication, and the compliance date will be one year after the effective date of the final rules.

    Securities Broker-Dealer Securities Exchange Act Securities Exchange Commission

  • FINRA report finds 70 percent of broker-dealer communications potentially violate crypto-asset rule.


    On January 23, FINRA published a report which found 70 percent of broker-dealer communications with retail customers showed potential violations of crypto-asset communications as part of a targeted exam. The potential violations fall under FINRA Rule 2210, which require that broker-dealer communications are fair, balanced, based in fact, and do not omit any material facts. With these rules in mind, FINRA reviewed more than 500 retail communications on crypto-assets made by broker-dealers consisting of podcasts, commercials, correspondences, and retail and institutional communications. FINRA’s exam uncovered numerous potential violations of Rule 2210, including the failure to clearly differentiate whether crypto-assets were offered by the member or by a third-party (especially on mobile apps); false statements that crypto-assets function like cash; comparisons of crypto-assets with other assets without providing a comparison of their features and risks; unclear and misleading explanations of how crypto-assets actually work; the failure to include key explanations of how crypto-assets are issued or held; misrepresenting the federal protections that apply to crypto-assets; and making misleading statements. Last, FINRA published a list of questions for broker-dealers to consider when reviewing and supervising their retail communications about crypto-assets. 

    Securities FINRA Securities Exchange Commission Broker-Dealer

  • OCC publishes bank guidance on shortening the standard settlement cycle following SEC final rule

    On January 17, the OCC issued its OCC Bulletin 2024-3 which highlighted the actions banks should take to prepare for the upcoming changes to the standard settlement cycle. These new changes are designed to “reduce the credit, market, and liquidity risks” in securities transactions. According to the OCC Bulletin, these banking rules follow the SEC’s final rule that shortened the standard settlement cycle from the second business day after the trade (T+2) to the first business day after the trade (T+1). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the settlement cycle was last shortened from (T+3) days to (T+2) days in 2018. The OCC encouraged banks to prepare for the T+1 change since it will affect many banking activities; accordingly, the OCC listed many factors that a bank’s management should consider when identifying systems and changes to enhance.

    This Bulletin replaces and rescinds OCC Bulletin 2017-22 and OCC Bulletin 2018-05, both related to the shortening of the settlement cycle. The rules will go into effect on May 28, 2024, and the OCC expects banks to be prepared by then.

    Bank Regulatory OCC SEC Broker-Dealer Settlement

  • FINRA report covers new topics including cryptoassets


    On January 9, FINRA released a report on regulatory oversight titled “2024 FINRA Annual Regulatory Oversight Report.” The report integrates FINRA’s regulatory operations programs as a source of information for firms to strengthen their compliance standards. The report outlines new topics, including Crypto Asset Developments, OTC Quotations in Fixed Income Securities, Advertised Volume, and the Market Access Rule.

    With respect to Crypto Asset Developments, the report focuses on surveillance themes and effective practices including best practices for due diligence. On the topic of OTC Quotations in Fixed Income Securities, the report highlights amendments to the rules governing publication of quotations by broker-dealers in a quotation medium. Further, with respect to Advertised Volume, FINRA highlights Rule 5210, which prohibits member firms from publishing transactions that are not believed to be a bona fide purchase or sale of a security.

    The report notes that the SEC’s Market Access Rule prohibits firms that provide market access from “jeopardiz[ing] their own financial condition.” Findings include insufficient controls and failure to consider additional data. Effective practices include pre-trade fixed-income financial controls and soft blocks, among others. The report also covers several other topics including Cybersecurity, AML Fraud and Sanctions, Reg BI and Form CRS, and Consolidated Audit Trail.

    Securities FINRA Cryptocurrency Broker-Dealer

  • SEC charges broker-dealer with failure to file suspicious activity reports


    On August 29, the SEC announced that it had brought charges against a Chicago-based broker-dealer. The SEC alleged that between August 2012 and September 2020 the broker-dealer failed to file over 400 hundred legally required suspicious financial transaction reports related to over-the-counter securities transactions executed in the broker-dealer’s alternative trading system (ATS). According to the SEC’s order, it was found that the broker-dealer did not establish an anti-money laundering surveillance program until September 2020, despite having thousands of high-risk microcap and penny stock securities transactions executed daily on its ATS.

    Daniel R. Gregus, Director of the SEC’s Chicago Regional Office, stated, “All SEC-registered broker-dealers have the responsibility to comply with the requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act, including the obligation to file SARs.”

    Without admitting or denying that it violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 17a-8, the broker-dealer agreed to a censure and a cease-and-desist order, along with a $1.5 million penalty.


    Securities Federal Issues SEC Broker-Dealer Enforcement Recordkeeping SARs Cease and Desist

  • SEC charges broker-dealer with SAR violations


    On May 20, the SEC announced charges against the broker-dealer affiliate of a national bank for allegedly failing to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) in a timely manner in violation of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 17a-8. According to the SEC’s order, the broker-dealer’s internal anti-money laundering (AML) transaction monitoring and alert system allegedly failed to reconcile the different country codes used to monitor foreign wire transfers due to an alleged failure to test a new version of the system. The broker-dealer also allegedly did not timely file SARs related to suspicious transactions in its customers’ brokerage accounts involving the wire transfers to or from foreign countries that it determined to be at a high or moderate risk for money laundering, terrorist financing, or other illegal money movements. Additionally, in April 2017, the broker-dealer allegedly failed to timely file additional SARs due to a failure to appropriately process wire transfer data into its AML transaction monitoring system in certain other situations. In addition to the $7 million penalty, the institution, without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, agreed to a censure and a cease-and-desist order.

    Securities SEC Enforcement Securities Exchange Act Anti-Money Laundering SARs Financial Crimes Broker-Dealer Of Interest to Non-US Persons

  • Massachusetts securities division settles with broker dealer


    On September 15, the Massachusetts Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Securities Division (Division) entered into two consent orders with a broker-dealer firm for alleged failure of supervisory and compliance procedures in violation of the Massachusetts Uniform Securities Act. According to one consent order, the firm failed to, among other things: (i) ensure that its agents with Massachusetts customers were registered in Massachusetts; (ii) have adequate policies and procedures in place regarding state-based requirements for supervisors; and (iii) supervise its agents in Massachusetts. The terms of the order require the company, among other things, to cease and desist from future violations of Massachusetts General Laws and Regulations, register its employees, enhance policy and procedures, and pay a $750,000 fine. The second consent order alleged that the firm failed to, among other things: (i) have reasonable policies in place to detect and monitor a broker-dealer agent’s social media accounts; (ii) “reasonably monitor internal communications between and among its registered persons”; and (iii) adequately discipline an employee after gaining knowledge of his personal use of social media in violation of state laws. The order requires the firm to permanently cease and desist from future violations of Massachusetts General Laws and Regulations, employ a third-party consultant to supervise the firm’s practices regarding employee trading and social media usage, conduct an annual compliance review, and pay an administrative fine of $4 million.

    Securities Massachusetts State Issues Enforcement Broker-Dealer

  • Rhode Island extends its work from home provisions for lenders

    State Issues

    On December 22, 2020, the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation extended interim guidance permitting mortgage loan originators, lenders, loan brokers, and exempt company registrants to work from home, even if the home is not a “licensed branch” or located outside of Rhode Island (previously covered here, here, and here.) To take advantage of this exemption, the individual must maintain certain specified data security provisions. This extension is set to expire March 31, 2021.

    State Issues Covid-19 Rhode Island Lending Mortgage Origination Broker-Dealer Licensing


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