FINRA’s Targeted Examination Letter on Social Media Use

wallpapers-red-bull-s-eye-target-psdgraphics-x-1June 2013,  has seen FINRA publish another targeted examination letter — this time aimed at members and associated persons use of social media.  FINRA uses these letters, primarily, to educate member firms about how it uses targeted exams, known as sweeps, to gather insights on member regulatory responses on emerging issues, and carry out investigations.

Relying on FINRA Rule 2210(c)(6) which subjects member firms’  communications (including electronic)  to periodic spot-check procedures, FINRA’s Advertising Regulation Department is asking firms and their associated persons for information about how they use social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs).  Questions and information requests include:

  • how a firm’s social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs) platform is being used as part of its business purpose; 
  • URL information for all social media sites the firm uses; date of first use, and the identity of those who post or update content;
  • how a firm’s associated persons are using social media;
  • a firm’s written supervisory procedures covering the production, approval and distribution of social media communications;
  • what measures firms adopt to monitor compliance with social media policies (e.g., training meetings, annual certification, technology);
  • a list of a firm’s top 20 producing registered representatives (based on commissioned sales) who used social media for business purposes to interact with retail investors, including the type media they use, their name, CRD number, and dollar amount of sales made and commissions earned during a specific period.

FINRA says its  selection of firms for the targeted exam is based on a number of factors, including the “level and nature of business activity in a particular area, customer complaints and regulatory history, and prior examination findings.”

The letter demonstrates the attention broker-dealer’s should pay to both adopting policies and procedures and supervising interactive electronic communications to ensure that content requirements of FINRA’s communications rules are not violated.  In doing so, members should review FINRA’s Regulatory Notices 07-59, 10-06,  11-39 and FINRA Conduct Rules 2210 and 3010.

 

Is It Okay for Sub-Advisers to Rely on Investment Advisers for Form ADV Delivery?

Can a sub-adviser or unaffiliated adviser, selected by an investment adviser to help manage client assets, deliver its Form ADV Part 2 to the adviser, instead of the client? Yes, they can, according to a recently issued SEC no-action letter  to Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Generally, under Rule 204-3 of the Advisers Act, the “Brochure Rule,” an investment adviser must deliver a copy of its Form ADV (Part 2A) brochure  and any required supplements (Part 2B) to each of its advisory clients or prospective clients before or at the time of entering into an advisory contract with them.  This includes sub-advisers who are required to deliver their own brochure to the advisory client.

Goldman operates discretionary wrap-fee or managed account programs that employ the services of over 40 unaffiliated sub-advisers.  The programs hire and allocate Goldman’s client assets across multiple sub-advisers.  The fact that these sub-advisers managed client assets, establishes a fiduciary relationship with the client, and makes them also responsible for complying with the Brochure Rule.

Goldman sought assurances that permitting clients to elect not to receive the brochure documents but, instead, rely on Goldman to receive them on the client’s behalf would not result in the SEC bringing an enforcement action.In support, Goldman pointed to several examples of so-called “constructive delivery” where the SEC has permitted delivery of documents to a properly authorized agent — thus, constituting delivery to the agent’s principal  in accordance with well-established common-law agency principles.

Examples of  this in other contexts, Goldman noted, included, the SEC permitting investment advisers to receive offering prospectuses on behalf of their clients; the SEC approving various SROs rules allowing broker-dealers to satisfy their proxy delivery obligations, annual and semi-annual reports, and other shareholder communications obligations to customers by sending the materials to the customers’ investment advisers instead of the customers;  under Regulation S-P, the SEC permitting advisers to satisfy their obligations to deliver initial and opt-out notices to consumers by sending the notices to the consumers’ legal representatives; and under rule 206(4)-2, the Custody Rule, the SEC permitting advisers to satisfy their obligations to send notices of custodial arrangements and any required account statements to a client by sending them to an “independent representative” designated by the client.

Investment advisers relying on the Goldman no-action letter should consider implementing, among others, the following  steps:

1.  Offer the client, in writing, the choice of appointing you,  the adviser,  to receive the brochure document from sub-advisers and briefly explain, in plain English, the information in the sub-adviser’s brochure document. This can be done in the investment management agreement or a separate agreement;

2. Inform the client of the identity of any sub-advisers you engage to manage the client’s assets, and inform the client  that allowing you to receive the brochure does not waive or diminish their right to receive the brochure if they so choose;

3. Preserve the brochure documents that you receive and make them available to clients upon request.  Clients should be free to change their minds at any time and request, at no additional cost, that the  sub-advisers’ brochure documents be delivered to them directly;

4. Maintain policies and procedures designed to ensure that the sub-adviser’s brochure documents are appropriately reviewed by the adviser, and ensure that such policies address and manage any conflicts related to any business relationship the adviser has with a sub-adviser; and

5. Finally, when evaluating a particular sub-adviser’s disclosure for material conflicts, consider whether to (a) not retain the sub-adviser or (b) inform affected clients of a specific conflict and seek the client’s consent, even though the client may have elected not to receive brochure documents.

With Settlements, Will the SEC Make Defendants Admit Guilt?

Reporting on Mary Jo White’s speech at a Wall Street CFO Network function, the Washington Post notes her comments about the long-simmering topic of failure of securities law violators to admit guilt when they settle with the SEC.  As a matter of practice, the SEC has routinely allowed defendants to settle cases “without admitting or denying wrongdoing.”  In light of public criticism and some pointed criticisms by judges handling these type settlements(See my December 15, 2011 blog post ), White wants to draw a sharper distinction between those cases where clear-cut misconduct is shown and those cases where wrongdoing or guilt is less clear.

The Washington Post article notes that “[i] an e-mail sent to the SEC staff earlier this week, the co-directors of the enforcement division said that cases in which the defendant engaged in “egregious intentional misconduct” may justify requiring an admission, as would the obstruction of an SEC investigation or “misconduct that harmed large numbers of investors.”

Despite public protestations, and some courts’ misgivings about allowing defendants to pay large fines to settle cases without admitting wrongdoing, wholesale changes in the settlement policy are unlikely.  Further, district courts have limited authority to change an executive branch agency’s decision to settle a claim, including the SEC’s “neither admit nor deny” policy.

Whether a sharper line is drawn or not, such settlements still serve an important public policy.  Similar to the rationale for plea bargaining in criminal cases, without being able to settle without admitting guilt, many defendants would not settle.   Some defendants would rather risk going to trial than admit guilt that might leave them open to other lawsuits, denial of insurance coverage, or higher insurance premiums.  Still other defendants,  lacking resources, might simply consider walking away from these cases.  The result — long investigations and trials with even harsher fines and sanctions that may go uncollected and waste limited resources.

 

Deadline: Financial Statement Distribution for Funds of Hedge Funds

Calendar on desk - June 30thAdvisers to funds of funds who maintain custody of clients funds as defined in Investment Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-2, and whose fiscal year ends December 31,  have a deadline looming.   The deadline is June 30 (180 days of the end of their fiscal year) for distributing to fund investors audited financial statement prepared in accordance with GAAP to fund investors  is approaching.

Normally, for advisers to other pooled investment vehicles, including  limited partnerships and limited liability companies, the deadline for distributing annual audited financial statements  is within 120 days of the end of their fiscal year.  The SEC extended the deadline from 120 days to 180 days for funds of  hedge funds because the earlier deadline made it hard for some fund of hedge funds to timely complete their fund audits prior to audits being completed for the underlying funds in which they invested.

 

Public Arbitrator Definition Excludes Mutual Funds and Hedge Funds

Effective July 1, 2013, add to the types of  individuals who are no longer eligible to serve as public arbitrators in FINRA arbitrations persons associated with, or registered through, a mutual fund or hedge fund.

The list has been growing and already includes  (i) attorneys and accountants who derive a certain percentage or a certain amount of their income from the securities industry, (ii) investment advisers, (iii) persons or spouses employed by entities involved in the securities industry, and (iii) directors or officers or spouses or an immediate family member of a person who is a director or officer of, an entity that directly or indirectly controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with, any partnership, corporation or other organization that is engaged in the securities business.

Despite complaints from some in the securities industry that the change means more arbitrators with less experience and education about how the securitie industry works, the rationale approved by the SEC and adopted under Codes of Arbitration Rules (Customer and Industry Codes) 12100(u)(3) and 13100(u)(3) for including these categories is just the opposite.  The change arises from complaints that certain arbitrators on FINRA’s public arbitrator roster are not perceived as public and may be biased because of their industry background and experience.  The exclusion is not permanent.   If the individual ends the affiliation that was the basis for the exclusion, they are eligible to serve as a public arbitrator  two calendar years after ending the affiliation.