As we recently highlighted, the Securities and Exchange Commission took enforcement action against three registered investment advisers for violating the pay-to-play rule applicable to advisers under the Investment Advisers Act. Broker-dealers should be aware that in 2017 the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority announced the approval of modifications to two rules – Rules 203 and 458, imposing similar prohibitions and limitations on capital acquisition brokers (“CABs”). A CAB is a FINRA member firm that participates in a restricted amount of activities, such as “advising companies on capital raising and corporate restructuring, and acting as placement agents for sales of unregistered securities to institutional investors under limited conditions.” The rules will implement “’pay-to-play’ and related recordkeeping rules to the activities of member firms that have elected to be governed by the CAB Rules.” The new rules went into effect on December 6, 2017. Continue reading
The Department of Labor (DOL) last week published a final rule extending the transition period of the Fiduciary Rule and delaying the second phase of implementation from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019. The DOL stated that the primary reason for delaying the rule was to give the DOL necessary time to review the substantial commentary it has received under the criteria set forth in the Presidential Memorandum issued in February of this year, as well as to consider possible changes or alternatives to the Fiduciary Rule exemptions and to seek input from the SEC and other securities regulators.
The Fiduciary Rule was enacted in April 2016, with its applicability date originally set for April 10, 2017. It also provided for a transition period through January 1, 2018 for compliance with certain new and amended Prohibited Transaction Exemptions (PTEs), including the new Best Interest Contract (BIC) exemption. The full requirements of the BIC exemption, including the written contract requirement for transactions involving IRA owners, are not required until the end of the transition period. Continue reading
On May 17, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC’s”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) published a Risk Alert pertaining to cybersecurity. According to the Risk Alert, an extensive ransomware attack called WannaCry, WCry, or Wanna Decryptor “rapidly affected numerous organizations across over one hundred countries.” In light of the WannaCry attack, OCIE is urging registered investment advisers, broker-dealers, and investment companies, to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
According to the Risk Alert and an alert published by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Cert Alert TA17-132A, the hacker or hacking group who instigated the WannaCry attack obtained access to enterprise servers by way of exploiting a Windows Server Message Block vulnerability. WannaCry infects computers using software that encrypts data on a server using a .WCRY file-name extension, which prevents the rightful owner from accessing the data. Once infected, the ransomware software demands payment from the business in return for access to the business’ data. Microsoft released a patch to this vulnerability in March of 2017, but many users of Microsoft operating systems do not diligently update their software. Continue reading
The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released a final rule delaying by 60 days the implementation date of the DOL Fiduciary Rule from April 10th to June 9th. This is in response to President Trump’s February memorandum asking the DOL to review the impact of the DOL Fiduciary Rule and assess whether it negatively effects the ability of retirement investors to gain access to retirement information and financial advice. The DOL Fiduciary Rule seeks to assign fiduciary duties to all advisers to retirement investors by expanding the definition of fiduciary investment advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to cover a wider array of advice relationships.
Under the DOL’s final delay rule, the revised definition of fiduciary investment advice and certain provisions of the Best Interest Contract (BIC) exemption will be implemented on June 9th. At that time, advisers acting as fiduciaries and engaging in transactions covered by the exemption must comply with the impartial conduct standards of the BIC exemption. The impartial conduct standards include providing investment advice in the best interest of the retirement investor, receiving only reasonable compensation, and not making any materially misleading statements. Continue reading
In February 2017, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. (“FINRA”) published a Regulatory Notice asking for comment on proposed changes to FINRA Rule 2210, which governs communications with the public. Under current Rule 2210, broker-dealers are not allowed to make communications that “predict or project performance, imply that past performance will recur or make any exaggerated or unwarranted claim, opinion or forecast.” According to FINRA, the purpose of this rule is to prevent retail investors from relying on performance projections relating to individual investments, which tend to be deceptive.
However, FINRA has acknowledged that performance projections that are not based on how well an individual investment performed can be helpful to investors who are contemplating an investment strategy. Furthermore, investment advisers are permitted to use performance projections in choosing an investment strategy for their clients, provided that the projections do not violate the Investment Advisers Act of 1940’s antifraud rules. Therefore, FINRA proposed the amendments to Rule 2210 in order to allow broker-dealers to use projections in a way that benefits clients and to make the rules governing performance projections by broker-dealers and investment advisers more uniform. Continue reading
The Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued two new sets of FAQ guidance regarding the revised definition of fiduciary investment advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (Code), as well as the new prohibited transaction exemptions (PTEs). The first set of guidance is directed to retirement investors, not advisers, and answers basic questions investors may have regarding the new rule and how it will work. The second set of guidance is aimed at financial service providers and focuses mainly on the revised definition of fiduciary investment advice and the situations in which fiduciary duties will or will not attach under the new rule.
While the first set of FAQ guidance is not necessarily aimed at financial service providers, it did provide a few useful insights that I will briefly discuss here. The DOL stated that the new rule does not require advisers to indiscriminately move clients from commission-based accounts to fee-based accounts, and instead requires advisers to act in the client’s best interest when deciding what type of account to recommend. Regarding the best interest requirement, the DOL clarified that providing investment advice in a client’s best interest does not mean that advisers have a duty to find the best possible investment product for clients out of all the investments available in the marketplace. Continue reading
On January 4, 2017, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) published its Annual Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter (“Priorities Letter”). The Priorities Letter notifies firms about issues that FINRA intends to examine in 2017. It is also intended to let firms know which of these issues are relevant to their businesses so that the firms can improve their compliance with FINRA rules and their risk management programs.
According to the Priorities Letter, FINRA draws its examination priorities from both observations made in the course of regulation and suggestions from a variety of outside sources. Evidence has shown that many FINRA-registered firms have found past Priorities Letters helpful in making sure their business is in compliance with FINRA rules. Finally, FINRA assures readers of the Priorities Letter that in formulating an examination, FINRA looks to factors such a firm’s “business model, size and complexity of operations, and the nature and extent of a firm’s activities against the priorities outlined in this letter.”
FINRA intends to prioritize the following issues in 2017. Continue reading
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently denied a motion brought by the National Association for Fixed Annuities (NAFA) to enjoin the implementation of the new Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary rule. This is the first court decision on a legal challenge to the rule. There are currently several other lawsuits against the DOL seeking to overrule the new DOL fiduciary rule that await decision.
NAFA is an insurance trade association that represents insurance companies, independent marketing organizations, and individual insurance agents. NAFA has been very vocal in its opposition to the new DOL fiduciary rule, stating that the new rule will have “catastrophic consequences for the fixed indexed annuities industry” and that meeting the April 2017 deadline is “almost an impossibility for the industry.” Along with other opponents to the rule, NAFA believes the rule will lead to higher compliance costs and will greatly increase litigation risk.
On October 17, 2016, FINRA published Regulatory Notice 16-37 setting an effective date for implementation of its new Capital Acquisition Broker (“CAB”) rules (“CAB Rules”). The CAB Rules, which codify the creation and regulation of a new FINRA Membership category designed for broker/dealers that restrict their activities to certain designated corporate finance transactions, are discussed in greater detail in a recent Parker MacIntyre blog post (see “SEC Approves FINRA’s Capital Acquisition Broker Rules (“CAB Rules”)”). Continue reading
A new limited broker/dealer classification framework at the federal level has been created as the result of a recent SEC Order approving a FINRA rule proposal seeking to address the longstanding industry desire for augmented exemptive relief and/or limited registration classifications for broker/dealers that restrict their activities to certain designated corporate finance transactions. The new federal broker/dealer registration category known as Capital Acquisition Brokers (“CABs”), which some observers have dubbed a “lite” form of broker/dealer registration, is the latest development in this area of securities regulation, and follows a recent string of federal and state no-action letters providing exemptive relief to so-called Mergers and Acquisitions (“M&A”) Brokers. However, enthusiasm for the new CAB Rules should be tempered somewhat in that: (1) the CAB Rules do not provide exemptive relief—i.e., they do not allow firms to avoid registration but instead set up a form of registration that is meant to be somewhat less onerous; (2) CAB registration still requires that CAB firms adhere to many of the same strictures required of full broker/dealers; and (3) opting to be regulated as a CAB may require reassessment as time goes on to the extent that a firm’s business activities change. While formally approved by the SEC, FINRA’s CAB Rules are not as yet effective. FINRA will publish the effective date in an upcoming Regulatory Notice. The full set of CAB Rules approved by the SEC may be found online at http://www.finra.org/sites/default/files/SR-FINRA-2015-054-amendment-2.pdf.