The Massachusetts Securities Division (the “Division”) recently issued a policy statement in which it stated, “It is the position of the Division that fully automated robo-advisers, as currently structured, may be inherently unable to carry out the fiduciary obligations of a state-registered investment adviser.” According to the Division, robo-advisers are generally incapable of fulfilling their fiduciary obligations, principally because they do not meet with clients, gather sufficient information on which investment advice can be rendered, nor provide highly personalized advice tailored to the information gathered. Continue reading
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) released a Regulatory Notice in May clarifying its new suitability rule, Rule 2111. The rule, which was approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in November 2010, will be implemented on July 9, 2012. The Notice is intended to answer industry questions and provide guidance on the new rule.
According to FINRA, the new rule imposes the same obligations as the predecessor rule and related case law. It is intended to clarify and codify three main suitability obligations.
The first obligation is reasonable-basis suitability, which has two components: a broker must (1) perform reasonable diligence to understand the nature of the recommended security or investment strategy involving a security or securities, as well as the potential risks and rewards, and (2) determine whether the recommendation is suitable for at least some investors based on that understanding.
The second obligation is customer-specific suitability, in which the broker must have a reasonable basis to believe that a recommendation of a security or investment strategy is suitable for the particular customer based on the customer’s investment profile.
In a move that signals the need for heightened due diligence and supervision among financial advisory firms, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) released Regulatory Notice 12-03 in relation to complex products last month. It is intended to guide firms to increase their supervision of activity involving complex products such as structured notes, reverse convertibles, inverse or leveraged exchange traded funds, hedge funds and securitized products. FINRA has already brought a number of enforcement actions against firms relating to complex products, charging inadequate supervision, unsuitable recommendations and misleading price sales.
Among the problems noted by FINRA is the uncertainty of how these products will behave in the market, as opposed to theoretical projections. The notice states, “Regulators have expressed concern about complex products because the intricacy of these products can impair the ability of registered representatives or their customers to understand how the product will perform in a variety of time periods and market environments, and can lead to inappropriate recommendations and sales.”
FINRA chose not to define a complex product in the notice due to the ever changing innovation in the marketplace; however, the notice states that “any product with multiple features that affect its investment returns differently under various scenarios is potentially complex.” The notice goes on to give a non-exhaustive list of examples of complex products. FINRA advises firms that are unsure whether a product is complex to err on the side of applying their procedures for enhanced oversight to the product.
One year ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) staff recommended that a uniform fiduciary standard be applied to both broker-dealers and investment advisers. Recently, however, the SEC postponed a corresponding rule proposal for a second time.
In January, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro sent a letter to Congressman Scott Garrett, Chairman of the House Capital Markets Subcommittee, stating that it needs to gather additional information for an economic analysis of the impact of a standard of care regulation. Although the SEC had previously set it for action in 2011, that time frame has now been changed to “date to be determined.” The SEC has already designated specific time frames for 51 other rules and reports required by the Dodd-Frank Act.
In the letter to Rep. Garrett, Chairman Schapiro wrote, “SEC staff are drafting a public request for information to obtain data specific to the provision of retail financial advice and the regulatory alternatives. In this request, it is our hope commentators will provide information that will allow commission staff to continue to analyze the various components of the market for retail financial advice.”