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Archive for the ‘FINRA’ Category


FINRA Sanctions Citigroup Global Markets Inc. $11.5 Million for Inaccurate Research Ratings

FINRA announced that it has fined Citigroup Global Markets Inc. (CGMI) $5.5 million and required the firm to pay at least $6 million in compensation to retail customers for displaying inaccurate research ratings for numerous equity securities during a nearly five-year period, and for related supervisory violations.

An equity research rating reflects a firm’s opinion of the future performance of a public security. CGMI disseminated its research ratings to customers on account statements, email alerts and an online portal. CGMI brokers and supervisors, meanwhile, relied on internally disseminated research ratings to make security recommendations and to monitor customer transactions and portfolio allocations.

FINRA found that from February 2011 through December 2015, CGMI displayed to its brokers, retail customers and supervisors inaccurate research ratings for more than 1,800 equity securities —more than 38 percent of those covered by the firm. Because of errors in the electronic feed of ratings data that the firm provided to its clearing firm, the firm either displayed the wrong rating for some covered securities (e.g., “buy” instead of “sell”), displayed ratings for other securities that CGMI did not cover or failed to display ratings for securities that CGMI, in fact, rated. The firm’s actual research reports, which were available to brokers, and the research ratings appearing in those reports, were not affected by these errors.

The inaccuracies in the research ratings feed had widespread, adverse consequences. As a result of the errors, CGMI brokers solicited thousands of transactions inconsistent with the firm’s actual ratings and negligently made inaccurate statements to customers about those ratings. They also solicited transactions that violated certain firm-managed portfolio guidelines, which were premised on CGMI research ratings. For example, the portfolios were prohibited from containing equity securities the firm had rated “sell.” Because CGMI brokers relied on inaccurately displayed ratings, many customers’ portfolios improperly included “sell”-rated securities. CGMI supervisors, relying on those same inaccurate ratings, failed to detect and prevent a substantial number of transactions that were actually inconsistent with CGMI research or portfolio guidelines. The firm also made materially inaccurate statements and omissions regarding more than 19,000 research ratings on customer account statements, sent more than 1,000 customer email alerts with inaccurate ratings, and displayed inaccurate ratings on online portals available to customers.

The firm failed to timely correct the inaccurately displayed ratings, despite numerous red flags alerting the firm to ratings inaccuracies for several securities. The firm also failed to conduct testing reasonably designed to verify the accuracy of research ratings data that it used and distributed.

FINRA Fines Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. $2 Million for Failing to Reasonably Supervise Email Communications

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it has fined Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. $2 million for failing to maintain reasonably designed supervisory systems and procedures for reviewing email communications. In addition, Raymond James has agreed to conduct a risk-based retrospective review to detect potential violations evidenced in past emails.

FINRA found that during a nine-year review period, Raymond James’ email review system was flawed in significant respects, allowing millions of emails to evade meaningful review. This created the unreasonable risk that certain misconduct by firm personnel could go undetected by the firm. The combinations of words and phrases – otherwise known as the “lexicon” – used to flag emails for review were not reasonably designed to detect certain potential misconduct that Raymond James, in light of its size, structure, business model, and experience from prior disciplinary actions, knew or should have anticipated would recur from time to time. The firm also failed to devote adequate personnel and resources to the team that reviewed emails flagged by the system, even as the number of emails increased over time.

FINRA also found that Raymond James did not periodically test the configuration and effectiveness of its lexicon-based email surveillance system. The firm’s primary focus was reducing the number of “false positives” that would need to be reviewed rather than ensuring that the system was effectively identifying all potentially problematic categories of emails.

Susan Schroeder, FINRA Executive Vice President, Department of Enforcement, said, “Firms have a clear obligation to reasonably supervise electronic communications, which includes periodically re-evaluating the effectiveness of existing procedures. They should also assess whether their e-mail review and supervisory systems are reasonably designed in light of each firm’s business model.”

In addition, FINRA found that the firm unreasonably excluded from email surveillance certain firm personnel who serviced customer brokerage accounts. Raymond James also failed to apply its entire lexicon to the emails of approximately 1,300 registered representatives who worked in branches that hosted their own email servers.

FINRA previously issued Regulatory Notice 07-59 which provides guidance regarding the review and supervision of electronic communications.

In settling this matter, Raymond James neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.

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.

FINRA Dispute Resolution Issues Status Report on Arbitration Task Force Recommendations

Action Taken on 35 of 51 Recommendations to Date

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) today released a status report on the recommendations made in the FINRA Dispute Resolution Task Force’s Final Report issued in December 2015. In July 2014, FINRA had formed a 13-member task force composed of individuals representing a broad range of interests in securities dispute resolution to consider possible enhancements to its arbitration and mediation forum. FINRA released an interim status report in October 2016 and today’s report sets forth further progress made to date. FINRA has discussed all of the task force recommendations with the National Arbitration and Mediation Committee (NAMC). FINRA has taken action on 35 of the 51 recommendations; 16 are pending.

Robert Cook, FINRA’s President and CEO, said, “We are very pleased to report that we have already implemented many of the task force’s recommendations, and we are diligently responding to the remaining recommendations. Many of the recommendations we are putting in place are meaningful changes that will position the forum to better serve all parties involved. The NAMC and FINRA staff are doing an effective job of comprehensively reviewing and promptly taking action on the recommendations.”

Many of the recommendations, particularly those involving forum transparency, arbitrator recruitment and training, and case administration processes did not require rulemaking and were implemented in 2016. Among those, the report notes that FINRA received 945 arbitrator applications in 2016, far exceeding its goal to recruit 750 new arbitrators. FINRA’s latest arbitrator demographic survey, which was conducted by an external consulting firm, showed particular progress in adding women and African-Americans to the roster. In 2016, 33 percent of the arbitrators added were women (compared to 26 percent in 2015) and 14 percent were African-American (compared to 4 percent in 2015).

FINRA commenced the rulemaking process on six of the recommendations. Of those, the SEC has already approved two proposals related to the number of public arbitrators on lists and motions to dismiss; there are four proposals in various stages in the rulemaking process, including a proposal addressing the task force recommendation to develop an intermediate form of adjudication for small claims.

The task force’s recommendations were reviewed by the NAMC, FINRA’s standing Board advisory committee, which recommended items to implement immediately, items that would require further discussion and items that may not be feasible.

FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, regulates securities firms doing business in the United States. FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity through effective and efficient regulation and complementary compliance and technology-based services. FINRA touches virtually every aspect of the securities business – from registering and educating all industry participants to examining securities firms, writing rules, enforcing those rules and the federal securities laws, and informing and educating the investing public. In addition, FINRA provides surveillance and other regulatory services for equities and options markets, as well as trade reporting and other industry utilities. FINRA also administers the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and firms. For more information, please visit www.finra.org.

SEC Approves Amendments to the Customer Code of Arbitration Procedure Regarding Panel Selection in Cases with Three Arbitrators

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved amendments to FINRA Rule 12403 (Cases with Three Arbitrators) of the Code of Arbitration Procedure for Customer Disputes (Customer Code) to increase the number of arbitrators on the public arbitrator list that FINRA sends to parties during the arbitration panel selection process from 10 to 15. The amendments also increase the number of strikes to the public arbitrator list from four to six, so that the proportion of strikes is the same under the amended rule as it is under the current rule.

The amendments will become effective for all arbitrator lists FINRA sends to parties on or after January 3, 2017, for panel selection in customer cases with three arbitrators.

Full version of the notice:

http://www.finra.org/sites/default/files/notice_doc_file_ref/Regulatory-Notice-16-44.pdf

 

Updates to the FINRA Arbitration Process

The FINRA Board of Governors met this week to discuss a number of issues, including several rulemaking items. A summary of the rule proposals that relate to FINRA arbitration, as approved by the FINRA Board, are below.

Broadening Chairperson Eligibility in Arbitration

The Board authorized filing with the SEC proposed amendments to Rules 12400 and 13400 (Neutral List Selection System and Arbitrator Rosters) to revise the arbitration forum chairperson eligibility requirements. Specifically, an attorney arbitrator would be eligible for the chairperson roster if he or she completes chairperson training and serves as an arbitrator through award on at least one arbitration, instead of two arbitrations, administered by a self-regulatory organization in which hearings were held.

Motions to Dismiss in Arbitration

The Board authorized filing with the SEC proposed amendments to Rules 12504 and 13504 (Motions to Dismiss) to provide that arbitrators in its forum may act upon a motion to dismiss prior to the conclusion of a party’s case in chief if the arbitrators determine that the non-moving party previously brought the same dispute against the same party, and the dispute was fully and finally adjudicated on the merits.

Panel Selection in Customer Cases with Three Arbitrators

The Board authorized filing with the SEC proposed amendments to Rule 12403 (Cases with Three Arbitrators) to increase the number of public arbitrators on the list that FINRA sends parties during the panel selection process in customer cases. Specifically, FINRA would increase the number of public arbitrators on the list from 10 to 15. FINRA would also increase the number of strikes to the public list from four to six, to keep the proportion of strikes the same under the amended rule as it is under the current rule.

– See more at: http://www.finra.org/industry/update-finra-board-governors-meeting-17#sthash.0jLFQXOe.dpuf

FINRA Launches National Ad Campaign Promoting BrokerCheck

Spots Underscore the Ease and Importance of Checking Before You Invest

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) today launched a national ad campaign promoting BrokerCheck (brokercheck.finra.org), FINRA’s free online tool that allows investors to access information about every broker’s employment history, certifications and licenses, as well as regulatory actions, violations or complaints made against them.

The ads, created by Ogilvy & Mather, feature humorous examples of people taking action without conducting any background research, including:

  • a bride surprised by her organist’s song choice;
  • a man too late in reading the listed side effects of the medication he has taken; and
  • a truck driver blissfully ignorant of a road’s clearance restrictions.

Viewers are urged not to make the same type of leap-before-you-look mistakes when choosing a broker—they should use BrokerCheck.

The 15-second spots will run for five weeks on cable channels, including CNBC, Bloomberg, CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business, Fox News, ESPN, Discovery, The History Channel and HGTV. A print ad will run in The Wall Street Journal tomorrow. The campaign will run digitally on relevant sites that includeBloomberg, CNBC, Fortune, Reuters, TubeMogul, the Undertone Network and Wall Street Journal, and search engines Google, Bing/Yahoo andYouTube.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of FINRA, Richard G. Ketchum, said, “BrokerCheck is a key component to FINRA’s ongoing efforts to help investors make informed choices about brokers and brokerage firms. People immediately go online to check out a new restaurant where they might spend $25 for a meal, but don’t think to use BrokerCheck when they’re handing over $2,500—or $25,000 of their life’s savings or even more—to an investment professional to invest. That has to change, and we hope this campaign will help.”

FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity through effective and efficient regulation and complementary compliance and technology-based services. FINRA touches virtually every aspect of the securities business – from registering and educating all industry participants to examining securities firms, writing rules, enforcing those rules and the federal securities laws, and informing and educating the investing public. In addition, FINRA provides surveillance and other regulatory services for equities and options markets, as well as trade reporting and other industry utilities. FINRA also administers the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and firms. For more information, please visit www.finra.org.

FINRA Sanctions LPL Financial LLC $11.7 Million for Widespread Supervisory Failures

LPL Ordered to Pay Approximately $1.7 Million in Restitution to Customers

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it has censured LPL Financial LLC and fined it $10 million for broad supervisory failures in a number of key areas, including the sales of non-traditional exchange-traded funds (ETFs), certain variable annuity contracts, non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) and other complex products, as well as its failure to monitor and report trades and deliver to customers more than 14 million trade confirmations. In addition to the fine, FINRA ordered LPL to pay approximately $1.7 million in restitution to certain customers who purchased non-traditional ETFs. The firm may pay additional compensation to ETF purchasers pending a review of its ETF systems and procedures.

Brad Bennett, FINRA Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement, said, “LPL’s supervisory breakdowns resulted from a sustained failure to devote sufficient resources to compliance programs integral to numerous aspects of its business. With today’s action, FINRA reaffirms that there is little room in the industry for lax supervision and that it will not hesitate to order firms to review and correct substandard supervisory systems and controls, and pay restitution to affected customers.”

FINRA found that, at various times spanning multiple years, LPL failed to supervise sales of certain complex structured products, including ETFs, variable annuities and non-traded REITs. With regard to non-traditional ETFs, the firm did not have a system to monitor the length of time that customers held these securities in their accounts, did not enforce its limits on the concentration of those products in customer accounts, and failed to ensure that all of its registered representatives were adequately trained on the risks of the products. Also, LPL failed to supervise its sales of variable annuities, in some instances permitting sales without disclosing surrender fees, and in connection with certain mutual fund “switch” transactions, it used an automated surveillance system that excluded these trades from supervisory review. Additionally, LPL failed to supervise non-traded REITs by, among other things, failing to identify accounts eligible for volume sales charge discounts.

FINRA also found that LPL’s systems to review trading activity in customer accounts were plagued by multiple deficiencies. For example, LPL used a surveillance system that failed to generate alerts for certain high-risk activity, including low-priced equity transactions, actively traded securities and potential employee front-running. The firm used a separate, but flawed, automated system to review its trade blotter that failed to provide trading activity past due for supervisory review. LPL failed to deliver over 14 million confirmations for trades in 67,000 customer accounts. In addition, due to coding defects that remained undetected for nearly six weeks, LPL’s anti-money laundering surveillance system failed to generate alerts for excessive ATM withdrawals and ATM withdrawals in foreign jurisdictions. FINRA also found that LPL failed to report certain trades to FINRA and the MSRB, and failed to ensure it provided complete and accurate information to FINRA and to federal and state regulators concerning certain variable annuity transactions.

FINRA further found that LPL failed to reasonably supervise its advertising and other communications, including its registered representatives’ use of consolidated reports. LPL did not monitor the creation or use of consolidated reports, and failed to ensure that these reports reflected complete and accurate information.

In settling this matter, LPL neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.

Aidikoff, Uhl & Bakhtiari files Securities and Exchange Commission comments on FINRA Rule 2081 regarding expungement

Aidikoff, Uhl & Bakhtiari partners, Philip M. Aidikoff and Ryan K. Bakhtiari, have filed comments with the Securities and Exchange Commission concerning proposed FINRA Rule 2081 (Prohibited Conditions Relating to Expungement of Customer Dispute Information).  Proposed Rule 2081 seeks to add additional safeguards to the expungement process by prohibiting the conditioning of the settlement of a dispute with a customer or compensating a public customer for the agreement to consent to, or not to oppose, a request to expunge information from the CRD system.

For information about the firm’s comments, visit http://www.securitiesarbitration.com/comments-filed.php

Aidikoff, Uhl & Bakhtiari is an “AV” rated law firm with a worldwide practice representing individuals and institutions in disputes with Wall Street and the financial services industry. Attorneys for the firm regularly appear before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) as well as in numerous state and federal courts to resolve financial disputes between customers, employees, banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies and other members of the financial services industry.

Aidikoff, Uhl & Bakhtiari partner Ryan Bakhtiari to Speak at 2014 FINRA Annual Conference

Aidikoff, Uhl & Bakhtiari partner Ryan Bakhtiari has been invited to participate as a speaker at the 2014 FINRA Annual Conference program on Monday, May 19, 2014 titled “Arbitration, Expungement and Arbitrator Disclosure.” 

The FINRA Annual Conference is held between May 19, 2014 and May 21, 2014 at the Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel.  The conference brings together legal and compliance professionals, with securities industry regulators to discuss regulatory priorities and practical compliance solutions.
 
This year’s conference features more than 30 sessions, many of which are geared toward attorneys, including: 

  • Arbitration, Expungement and Arbitrator Disclosure
  • Enforcement Developments
  • Ethics and Professional Responsibility for Securities Attorneys

For more information and to register for the conference, visit www.finra.org/annualconference.

Aidikoff, Uhl & Bakhtiari is an “AV” rated law firm with a worldwide practice representing individuals and institutions in disputes with Wall Street and the financial services industry. Attorneys for the firm regularly appear before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) as well as in numerous state and federal courts to resolve financial disputes between customers, employees, banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies and other members of the financial services industry.  More information is available at www.securitiesarbitration.com.

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