On the positive side, requiring what amounts to a net capital penalty should get the attention of senior leaders at these problem firms. On the other hand, FINRA needs to be careful that such a firm doesn’t make a cold calculation to hire a bad broker if the broker’s production offsets the additional financial obligation.
broker-dealer was fined and censured for failing to act against a longtime broker
charged with participating in pump-and-dump transactions. The SEC faults the firm for ignoring red flags
including emails outlining the illegal activity, FINRA arbitrations, and
customer complaints. One supervisor
explained that he did not act more aggressively because the broker worked at
the firm for 30 years and her business partner was a partial owner of the firm.
The SEC asserts that the firm’s supervisory system “lacked any reasonable
coherent structure to provide guidance to supervisors and other staff for
investigating possible facilitation of market manipulation.” The SEC also maintains that the firm “lacked
reasonable procedures regarding the investigation and handling of red flags.”
Reasonable policies and procedures must do more than simply restate the law and the firm’s commitment to comply with the law. The compliance manual or WSPs must specifically describe HOW a firm will prevent and address regulatory misconduct.
OUR TAKE: A motivated miscreant will find the weaknesses in your compliance and supervisory system. To avoid this type of theft, a firm should prohibit any third party money movement without the review of a supervisor or compli-pro.
FINRA has outlined recommended heightened supervisory procedures for brokers with a history of past misconduct. FINRA suggests that firms should (i) designate a principal with supervision responsibility; (ii) provide specific training to the bad broker; (iii) require written acknowledgements; and (iv) conduct periodic reviews of the plan’s effectiveness. FINRA also describes certain characteristics of an effective heightened supervisory plan: physical proximity of the supervisor to the broker, ongoing contacts and reviews, frequent monitoring, and expediting customer complaints. FINRA has also proposed rules that would subject member firms that hire bad brokers to additional FINRA monitoring and reporting.
OUR TAKE: FINRA wants to make it difficult on firms that hire brokers with a disciplinary record by imposing additional regulatory, monitoring and reporting requirements.
The SEC has launched an online search took that includes a database of all individuals who have settled, defaulted, or contested an SEC enforcement action that resulted in a final judgement or order in federal court or an administrative proceeding. The new system called SALI – SEC Action Lookup for Individuals – includes any respondent/defendant and not just investment professionals. The current database extends back to 2014, although the SEC intends to expand the database.
The SEC charged a broker-dealer with failing to supervise because its Written Supervisory Procedures failed to adequately detail how firm employees should respond to regulatory red flags. The SEC asserts that the firm failed to supervise a broker that charged with participating in a penny stock pump-and-dump scheme. The SEC maintains that the firm uncovered multiple red flags including a supervisor’s report, customer emails, arbitrations, and FINRA examinations. However, the SEC alleges, the firm’s WSP’s did not specify who should investigate or how such investigations should proceed. The firm did conduct two “flawed investigations” that failed to document its findings or detail a remedy. The Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office advised broker-dealers that this case “sends a clear message that we will not tolerate broker-dealers that fail to exercise appropriate supervision over employees.”
The SEC barred a broker from the industry for recommending an unsuitable in-and-out trading strategy that generated significant commissions. The SEC asserts that, given the costs, returns, and customers, the defendant had no reasonable basis to determine that a high volume trading strategy was suitable. According to the SEC, the broker should have known better because he attended firm-wide compliance training that addressed the importance of reasonable basis suitability.
OUR TAKE: Compli-pros should take comfort that the compliance training helped insulate the firm from liability against the rogue actions of this employee. Also, firm leaders should note that the SEC will prosecute individuals that violate the securities laws as part of its effort to root out bad actors.