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On September 7, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent, with a New York-based broker-dealer subsidiary of a global financial services company to resolve allegations that it distributed reports to the firm’s institutional customers that omitted required disclosures or included inaccurate disclosures. Among other things, FINRA alleged that the firm’s failure to implement a supervisory system reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the disclosure requirements and failure to enforce the supervisory procedures it had in place, led to the publication of 60 debt research reports with a total of 333 disclosure omissions. The letter reports that after identifying the issue and reporting it to FINRA, the firm “immediately ceased the production of all debt research and suspended the issuance of equity research.” The firm neither admitted nor denied the findings set forth in the AWC letter but agreed to pay a $175,000 fine.
On August 13, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) reminded member firms of their supervisory obligations related to outsourcing to third-party vendors. Regulatory Notice 21-29 reiterates that supervisory obligations under FINRA Rule 3110 extend to member firms’ outsourcing of certain “covered activities” and reminds firms that under Regulatory Notice 05-48, “‘outsourcing an activity or function to … [a vendor] does not relieve members of their ultimate responsibility for compliance with all applicable federal securities laws and regulations and [FINRA] and MSRB rules regarding the outsourced activity or function.’” Emphasizing that “member firms have continued to expand the scope and depth of their use of technology and have increasingly leveraged [v]endors to perform risk management functions and to assist in supervising sales and trading activity and customer communications,” FINRA reminds member firms that supervisory systems and associated written supervisory procedures extend to the “outsourced activities or functions” of their vendors. The notice also cites examples of violations uncovered during previous examinations linked to third-party vendors related to data integrity, cybersecurity and technology governance, and books and records requirements. These include instances where firms’ vendors failed to implement technical controls or failed to properly manage customers’ nonpublic information. Member firms are encouraged to take a “risk-based approach” to vendor management and to assess whether their supervisory procedures for third-party vendors are “sufficient to maintain compliance with applicable rules.”
On July 15, FINRA announced amendments to Rules 5122 and 5123 to require that members file retail communications that promote or recommend private placement offerings. Rule 5122 applies to private placements of unregistered securities issued by a member or a control entity, and requires that the member or control entity provide prospective investors with a private placement memorandum (PPM), term sheet, or other offering document that reveals the intended use of the offering proceeds and expenses, among other things. Rule 5123 requires that “members file with FINRA any PPM, term sheet or other offering document, including any material amended versions thereof, used in connection with a private placement of securities within 15 calendar days of the date of first sale.” According to FINRA, the amendments require a member to file retail communications with the FINRA Corporate Financing Department “no later than the date on which the member must file the private placement offering documents under Rules 5122 and 5123.” The amendments become effective on October 1.
On July 8, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 21-25, reminding firms to notify their FINRA risk-monitoring analysts if they currently engage in, or plan to engage in, activities regarding digital assets. The notice discusses the types of activities of interest to FINRA, which include, among other things: (i) transactions in digital assets; (ii) pooled funds investing in digital assets; (iii) derivatives associated with digital assets; (iv) engagement in an initial or secondary offering of digital assets; (v) participation in cryptocurrencies and other virtual coins and tokens; (vi) acceptance or mining of cryptocurrency; and (vii) “recording cryptocurrencies and other virtual coins and tokens using distributed ledger technology or any other use of blockchain technology.” The notice encourages firms to promptly notify their risk monitoring analyst in writing on an ongoing basis.
On June 15, the SEC, North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), and FINRA announced the release of a training program, “Addressing and Reporting Financial Exploitation of Senior and Vulnerable Adult Investors,” to assist securities firms in implementing the training requirements established in the Senior Safe Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Senior Safe Act was included as Section 303 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law in May 2018. The Act addresses barriers financial professionals face in reporting suspected senior financial exploitation or abuse to authorities. The training program may be utilized by firms to instruct associated persons on how to detect, prevent, and report financial exploitation of senior and vulnerable adult investors. The program also acts as a resource for firms enforcing the requirements of the Senior Safe Act and certain state training requirements relating to senior investment protection.
On April 16, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC), which resulted in a $250,000 fine against a New York-based trading firm for allegedly failing to establish an anti-money laundering (AML) compliance program and a tailored Customer Identification Program (CIP) over a four-year period, which permitted potentially suspicious trading out of accounts based in China and other foreign countries. As a result, the firm allegedly failed to detect red flags concerning potentially suspicious activity and failed to investigate or report the activity in a timely manner. According to FINRA, the firm’s failure to set up a “reasonable” AML program and a tailored CIP between September 2016 and September 2020 resulted in the failure to “detect, investigate, and respond” to red flags in four related accounts, including suspicious activity related to: (i) possible trading of low-priced securities and other activity connected to the foreign accounts; (ii) transactions that lacked business sense or apparent investment strategy; (iii) a customer account that had “unexplained or sudden extensive wire activity, especially in accounts that had little or no previous activity”; and (iv) a customer account, which showed an unexplained high level of account activity with very low levels of securities transactions. FINRA stated that although the “firm’s written procedures required the use and review of exception reports to assist with the identification of red flags for suspicious trading and suspicious money movements, they did not identify any exception reports that the firm would use and did not describe how supervisors should use them.” The firm neither admitted nor denied the findings set forth in the AWC letter.
On April 12, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC), fining a New York-based member firm for allegedly failing to implement a reasonable anti-money laundering (AML) program for transactions involving low-priced securities. The firm also allegedly failed to establish a due diligence program for monitoring and investigating “potentially suspicious transactions.” According to FINRA, the firm and its principal failed to, among other things, (i) take reasonable steps to establish and implement an AML program tailored to the firm’s new business line (and particularly the deposit and liquidation of microcap stocks), resulting in the firm’s failure to identify or investigate potentially suspicious transactions; and (ii) provide meaningful guidance regarding how the principal was to identify or review red flags specific to the customer account business. In addition, FINRA allegedly found that the principal “repeatedly” permitted deposits and re-sales of microcap securities despite missing documentation. As a result, the firm and its principal violated FINRA Rules 3310(a) (Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Program), 3110(a) (Supervision) and 2010 (Standards of Commercial Honor and Principles of Trade).
On April 5, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC), with a New York-based broker-dealer subsidiary of a global financial services company to resolve allegations that it failed to monitor employees’ outside brokerage accounts for “potentially deceptive trading practices.” Among other things, FINRA alleged that the firm’s failure to maintain a supervisory system to ensure employees disclosed their outside brokerage accounts precluded the personal account trading team from accurately monitoring account activity for compliance with the firm’s trading restrictions. FINRA further indicated that “[w]hile the firm ultimately was able to review the relevant trading activity, the inability to do so earlier led to the firm’s failure to timely monitor trading in these accounts.” The firm neither admitted nor denied the findings set forth in the AWC letter but agreed to pay a $345,000 fine.
On December 4, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC), fining a New York-based member firm $55,000 for allegedly failing to implement a reasonable anti-money laundering (AML) program for transactions involving low-priced securities. The firm also allegedly failed to establish a due diligence program for monitoring and reporting “known or suspected money laundering activity conducted through or involving correspondent accounts for foreign financial institutions.” According to FINRA, the firm failed to, among other things, (i) “include reasonable procedures for the surveillance of potentially suspicious trading in low-priced securities,” such as listing “some of the most relevant red flags”; (ii) ensure its surveillance reports and tools were “reasonably designed to detect and cause the reporting of potentially suspicious activity”; and (iii) reasonably respond to red flags received from a clearing firm related to potentially suspicious activity. FINRA also claimed that the firm failed to identify all of its foreign financial institution accounts (FFIs) due to a lack of systems or processes to do so. Specifically, the firm allegedly failed to review 33 correspondent accounts for FFIs, nor did it identify 15 of these 33 accounts as FFIs. As a result, the firm allegedly violated FINRA Rules 3310(b) and 2010. The firm neither admitted nor denied the findings set forth in the AWC agreement but agreed to pay the fine, address identified deficiencies in its programs to ensure compliance with its AML obligations, and provide a certification of compliance with FINRA Rule 3310.
Recently, FINRA announced that all in-person arbitration and mediation proceedings will be postponed until January 1, 2021, except in certain specified circumstances. In particular, a proceeding may occur prior to that date: (1) if all parties to the arbitration or mediation agree to proceed in-person and the participants comply with state and local health orders; (2) if a panel orders that the arbitration or mediation take place telephonically or by Zoom; or (3) the parties stipulate that the proceeding may take place telephonically or by Zoom.
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