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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.
On August 18, members of the House and the Senate issued a letter to the FTC with various inquiries related to the FTC’s preservation of agency records. The letter notes that the FTC “has struggled to comply” with the Federal Records Act citing a February 2022 memo from the FTC Inspector General issuing two recommendations for improving records management. The letter further indicates that the FTC has not provided explanations for instances of document deletion and have asked for responses by the end of the month to identify (i) what records have been deleted and why; (ii) how the FTC is working to company with retention requirements; (iii) whether it has notified National Archives and Records Administration of any deleted records; and (iv) how it has addressed prior recommendations.
On August 8, the CFTC issued an order simultaneously filing and settling charges against a California-based futures commission merchant, requiring it to pay $6 million. The CFTC claims that the respondent violated the Commodity Exchange Act and Commission Regulations by “failing to maintain, preserve, or produce records required to be kept under CFTC recordkeeping requirements, and failing to diligently supervise matters related to its business as a CFTC registrant.” According to the order, respondent’s employees allegedly communicated through personal text messages regarding information required to be maintained under the CFTC-mandated recordkeeping requirements. The CFTC stated that if the information were to be requested, respondent would not be able to furnish the communications promptly. The CFTC further alleged that the use of unauthorized communication was also in violation of the respondent’s own policies and procedures. In addition to the $6 million civil money penalty, the order requires the respondent to cease and desist any further violations of the commission’s regulations that were previously violated. The CFTC noted that the SEC also announced an order filing and settling charges against the merchant for “related recordkeeping and supervision violations.”
On October 12, the SEC adopted final amendments to its rule governing the electronic recordkeeping requirements for security-based swap entities. (See SEC fact sheet here.) The updates are applicable to security-based swap dealers (SBSDs) and major security-based swap participants (MSBSPs), and are intended to make the rule adaptable to new technologies in electronic recordkeeping. The amendments will also facilitate examinations of broker-dealers, SBSDs, and MSBSPs by “designating broker-dealer examining authorities as Commission designees for purposes of certain provisions of the broker-dealer record maintenance and preservation rule,” the SEC said. Specifically, the amendments address requirements related to the maintenance and preservation of electronic records, the use of third-party recordkeeping services to hold records, and the prompt production of records. Under the SEC’s broker-dealer electronic recordkeeping rule, broker-dealers are required “to preserve electronic records exclusively in a non-rewriteable, non-erasable format,” known as the “write once, read many format.” The amendments now provide an audit-trail alternative under which broker-dealers “must preserve electronic records in a manner that permits the recreation of an original record if it is altered, over-written, or erased.” According to the SEC’s announcement, the audit-trail alternative is intended to provide broker-dealers greater flexibility when configuring their electronic recordkeeping systems so they more closely align with current electronic recordkeeping practices, while also ensuring that the authenticity and reliability of the original records are protected. The amendments are also applicable to nonbank SBSDs and MSBSPs.
The final amendments are effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On September 27, the SEC and CFTC announced settlements (see here and here) with numerous broker-dealers for alleged recordkeeping failures. According to the SEC, from January 2018 through September 2021, the firms’ employees communicated about business matters using text messaging applications on their personal devices. The SEC further alleged that the firms violated federal securities laws by failing to maintain or preserve the substantial majority of these off-channel communications. The SEC charged each of the firms with violating certain recordkeeping provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and with failing to reasonably supervise and detect such violations. Additionally, an investment adviser was charged with violating certain recordkeeping provisions of the Investment Advisers of 1940. In addition to paying a total of $1.1 billion in fines, the firms were ordered to cease and desist from future violations of the relevant recordkeeping provisions and were censured. The firms agreed to retain compliance consultants to, among other things, conduct comprehensive reviews of their policies and procedures relating to the retention of electronic communications found on personal devices. The SEC recognized the firms’ cooperation with the investigation.
Separately, in a related action, the CFTC announced settlements with many of the same firms for related conduct, totaling nearly $710 million. The CFTC noted that each firm acknowledged to CFTC staff that it was aware employees used unapproved methods to engage in business-related communications. The CFTC also said that as a result of each firm’s failure to ensure that its employees complied with communication policies and procedures, the firms failed to maintain business-related communications. The CFTC found that each firm failed to diligently “supervise its business as a CFTC registrant or registrants, in violation of CFTC recordkeeping and supervision provisions.”