Tag: FINRA


Fiduciary Duty Proposal

Dan Ryan is Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on a PwC publication by Mr. Ryan, Adam Gilbert, Genevieve Gimbert, and Armen Meyer.

With fewer than 18 months left in office, President Obama has asserted that the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) proposed fiduciary standard for retirement account advisors is a major priority. The DOL completed public hearings last week on this proposal, and we believe that the rule will be finalized early next year with the proposal’s core framework intact.

The DOL’s final rule is set to transform the competitive landscape and disrupt current business models, particularly for financial institutions that are reliant on traditional broker-dealer activities which are currently not covered by the existing Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) fiduciary standard.

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Outsourcing: How Cyber Resilient Are You?

Dan Ryan is Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on a PwC publication by Bruce Oliver, Roozbeh Alavi, Garit Gemeinhardt, Amandeep Lamba, and Joe Walker.

Cyber attacks on financial institutions continue to increase, both in number and impact. While the industry’s defenses against cyber criminals have been improving, recent high-profile breaches indicate that many cyber risk areas remain under addressed.

Regulators are particularly concerned that the industry’s third-party service providers are a weak link that cyber attackers can exploit. [1] Financial institutions have become increasingly reliant on the information technology (IT) services these providers offer, either directly through the outsourcing of IT or indirectly through outsourced business processes that heavily rely on IT (e.g., loan servicing, collections, and payments). [2] Regardless, banks remain ultimately responsible—they own their service providers’ cyber risks.

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Remarks at the 4th Annual Fixed Income Conference

Michael S. Piwowar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Piwowar’s recent remarks at the University of South Carolina and UNC-Charlotte 4th Annual Fixed Income Conference, available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Piwowar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

This conference is one stop on a bit of a tour I have been on lately, speaking with academics around the country. In each of those conferences, meetings, and other events I have been encouraging increased dialogue between academic researchers and the SEC. Just last month, I spoke to a group of equity market microstructure researchers at the University of Notre Dame, with a message similar to what I intend to share with you today [April 21, 2015]. [1] That message is simple: your work is vital to helping the SEC accomplish its core mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.

Given the talent and collective focus of the people in this room, I do not need to recite statistics about the size of the fixed income markets, the degree to which issuers rely on bonds for debt financing, or the pervasiveness of fixed income products from the largest institutional investor portfolios to the smallest retail investor accounts. Suffice it to say that well-functioning fixed income markets are a concern of nearly all participants in our securities markets.

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Expanding Oversight: SEC Proposes Amendments to Rule 15b9-1

The following post comes to us from Andre E. Owens, partner in the securities practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and is based on a WilmerHale publication.

On March 25, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “Commission”) proposed an amendment to Rule 15b9-1 (the “Proposal”) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) that, if adopted, would close an historical exception to the general requirement that registered broker-dealers must become members of a registered national securities association (“Association”), effectively, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”). [1] In doing so, the SEC intends to require SEC-registered broker-dealers that are members of one or more securities exchanges to also become members of FINRA, subject to FINRA rules and oversight. According to the SEC, FINRA membership would help accomplish a key regulatory goal: enhancing the oversight of off-exchange and cross-market trading activity. [2]

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Implications of the SEC’s Plans to Amend Rule 15b9-1

Annette Nazareth is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and a former commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on an article by Ms. Nazareth and Jeffrey T. Dinwoodie that first appeared in Traders Magazine.

The overwhelming majority of SEC-registered broker-dealers must also be members of FINRA. Through a commonly overlooked exemption in SEC Rule 15b9-1, some broker-dealers that operate proprietary-only businesses are able to avoid FINRA regulation. The SEC recently voted to on a proposal to amend this rule on March 25.

While it is not clear whether the SEC will seek to eliminate the exemption or narrow its availability, the rulemaking could have important implications for firms currently relying on the exemption and, more broadly, for the ongoing market structure debate.

Let’s explore the history of this exemption and some of the possible implications of an SEC rulemaking.

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FINRA Settles with Banks; Provides Views on Analyst Communications During “Solicitation Period”

Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

In December, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority entered into settlement agreements with a number of the major banking firms in response to allegations that their equity research analysts were involved in impermissibly soliciting investment banking business by offering their views during the pitch for the Toys “R” Us IPO (which was never actually completed). FINRA rules generally prohibit analysts from attending pitch meetings [1] and prospective underwriters from promising favorable research to obtain a mandate. [2] In this situation, no research analyst attended the pitch meetings with the investment bankers and none explicitly promised favorable research in exchange for the business. However, FINRA announced an interpretation of its rules that took a broad view of a “pitch” and the “promise of favorable research.” FINRA identified a so-called “solicitation period” as the period after a company makes it known that it intends to conduct an investment banking transaction, such as an IPO, but prior to awarding the mandate. In the settlement agreements, FINRA stated its view that research analyst communications with a company during the solicitation period must be limited to due diligence activities, and that any additional communications by the analyst, even as to his or her general views on valuation or comparable company valuation, will rise to the level of impermissible activity. The settlements further suggested that these restrictions apply not only to research analysts, but also to investment bankers that are conveying the views of their research departments to the company. The practical result of these settlements will be to dramatically reduce the interaction between research analysts and companies prior to the award of a mandate.

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2014 SEC and FINRA Enforcement Actions Against Broker-Dealers and Investment Advisers

The following post comes to us from Jon N. Eisenberg, partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP, and is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

It’s been a busy year for securities regulators. The SEC recently reported that in FY 2014 new investigative approaches and innovative use of data and analytical tools contributed to a record 755 enforcement actions with orders totaling $4.16 billion in disgorgement and penalties. By comparison, in FY 2013 it brought 686 enforcement actions with orders totaling $3.4 billion in disgorgement and penalties. We do not yet have FINRA’s fiscal year 2014 enforcement action totals, but we know that FINRA too has taken a more aggressive approach to enforcement—in 2013 FINRA barred 135 more individuals and suspended 221 more individuals than it did in 2012. Moreover, like the SEC, FINRA increasingly is relying on data and analytical tools to make its enforcement program more effective. FINRA’s proposed Comprehensive Automated Risk Data System (CARDS) is a further step in that direction. CARDS will help FINRA more quickly identify patterns of transactions and monitor for excessive concentration, lack of suitability, churning, mutual fund switching, and other potentially problematic misconduct. Both broker-dealers and investment advisers now find themselves in a position in which, from an enforcement perspective, regulators often have far better data and analytical tools than the firms have.

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FINRA To Propose Market Structure Actions

Annette Nazareth is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and a former commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

On September 19, 2014, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) announced that its Board of Governors (the “Board”) approved a series of regulatory initiatives primarily focused on equity and fixed income market structure issues. This is a direct response by FINRA to two important speeches this summer by SEC Chair Mary Jo White, in which she articulated an ambitious agenda of market structure reforms. [1]

The Board authorized FINRA staff to prepare Regulatory Notices soliciting comments or issuing guidance on the following:

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The Untouchables of Self-Regulation

Andrew Tuch is Associate Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law.

The conduct of investment bankers often arouses suspicion and criticism. In Toys “R” Us, the Delaware Court of Chancery referred to “already heightened suspicions about the ethics of investment banking firms” [1] ; in Del Monte, it criticized investment bankers for “secretly and selfishly manipulat[ing] the sale process to engineer a transaction that would permit [their firm] to obtain lucrative … fees”; [2] and, more recently, in Del Monte, it criticized a prominent investment banker for failing to disclose a material conflict of interest with his client, a failure the Court described as “very troubling” and “tend[ing] to undercut the credibility of … the strategic advice he gave.” [3] While the investment bankers involved in the cases inevitably escaped court-imposed sanctions, because they were not defendants, they also escaped sanctions from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the regulator primarily responsible for overseeing their conduct.

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Jobs Act Title III Crowdfunding Moves Closer To Reality

The following post comes to us from Peter J. Loughran, corporate partner and co-chair of the Securities Group at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, and is based on a Debevoise & Plimpton Client Update by Mr. Loughran, Paul M. Rodel, and Lee A. Schneider.

On October 23, 2013, the SEC voted unanimously to propose Regulation Crowdfunding, [1] the rules related to the offer and sale of securities through crowdfunded private offerings, as set forth in Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (“JOBS”) Act. FINRA then published its proposed rules governing the licensing and regulation of so-called “funding portals,” a new type of limited-purpose regulated intermediary solely for these offerings. Crowdfunding itself is not new. Websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo help all sorts of businesses, organizations and people raise money through small individual contributions for an identifiable idea or business. Until the JOBS Act, however, crowdfunding could not be used to offer or sell securities to the general public. Issuers and intermediaries relying on Regulation Crowdfunding expect to further democratize investing in start-ups, because any investor, whether or not accredited, may invest in these securities.

To permit crowdfunding, JOBS Act Title III added two provisions to the Securities Act of 1933: (1) Section 4(a)(6), which creates a new exemption to allow issuers to use crowdfunding to offer and sell securities in unregistered offerings and (2) Section 4A, which requires certain disclosures to be made by crowdfunding issuers and sets forth requirements for crowdfunding intermediaries. Proposed Regulation Crowdfunding and the proposed FINRA rules would implement these statutory provisions and create the regulatory framework for crowdfunding. Both agencies have sought comment on all aspects of their proposed rules, which are due in early February.

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