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FINRA fines Merrill Lynch $1.4 million for supervisory lapse

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that it has fined Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated $1.4 million for failing to establish a reasonable supervisory system and procedures to identify and evaluate extended settlement transactions, and for related rule violations.

Extended settlement transactions have a longer time between trade and settlement than routine securities transactions, and therefore involve an extension of credit and exposure to counterparty, credit and market risk. As a result of its supervisory deficiencies, Merrill failed to collect adequate margin to offset this risk, improperly extended credit to cash-account customers, and miscalculated its outstanding margin and net capital.

FINRA found that from at least April 2013 through June 2015, Merrill’s customers engaged in extended settlement transactions with notional values of hundreds of millions of dollars across numerous firm product lines. Despite the prevalence of these transactions, Merrill’s supervisory system, including written supervisory procedures, was not reasonably designed to identify and evaluate extended settlement transactions for compliance with margin and net capital rules. Consequently, Merrill’s computation of margin requirements and net capital deductions for tens of thousands of extended settlement transactions was inaccurate, resulting in margin rule and net capital violations, as well as inaccurate books and records and FOCUS Report filings.

FINRA also found that Merrill improperly extended hundreds of millions of dollars of margin credit in numerous retail customers’ cash accounts, in violation of Regulation T. These transactions should only have been permitted in margin accounts, not in customer cash accounts.

Merrill knew that its supervisory system was not reasonably designed to achieve compliance in connection with extended settlement transactions by April 2013. However, Merrill failed to implement any remedial measures until mid-2014. Moreover, Merrill failed to establish a firm-wide supervisory system and written procedures to address extended settlement transactions until mid-2015. FINRA found that Merrill’s failures to promptly address the deficiencies after it knew about them unreasonably delayed its compliance with applicable margin, net capital, and books and records rules, as well as Regulation T.

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