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  and prospective underwriters from promising favorable research to obtain a mandate.  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.
Posts Tagged ‘FINRA’
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.
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. 
The Board authorized FINRA staff to prepare Regulatory Notices soliciting comments or issuing guidance on the following:
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”  ; 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”;  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.”  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.
On October 23, 2013, the SEC voted unanimously to propose Regulation Crowdfunding,  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.
On October 14, 2013, FINRA issued a Report on Conflicts of Interest. The report summarizes FINRA’s observations following an initiative, launched in July 2012, to review conflict management policies and procedures at a number of broker-dealer firms. The report focuses on approaches to identifying and managing conflicts of interest in three broad areas: enterprise-level conflicts governance frameworks; new product conflicts reviews; and compensation practices.
While the report does not break new ground or create or alter legal or regulatory requirements, it offers insight into the approach that FINRA expects firms to take in implementing a robust conflict management framework. In particular, the report identifies effective practices that FINRA observed at various firms. Broker-dealers should use this report as a basis for reviewing and potentially strengthening their policies and procedures relating to managing conflicts of interests.
FINRA has proposed a trade-reporting rule change that would result in the public dissemination of secondary market transactions in corporate debt securities sold under Securities Act Rule 144A. If adopted, this change could affect secondary market transactions in a number of assets classes, including high-yield debt securities.
On July 8, 2013, the US Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) submitted an amendment to its Rule 6750 to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). If adopted, the amendment would allow FINRA to disseminate information on transactions effected pursuant to Rule 144A under the Securities Act of 1933 (“Rule 144A”) through the Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine (“TRACE”), the principal trade-reporting system for fixed-income securities. The proposed amendment would allow FINRA to disseminate information regarding secondary transactions effected pursuant to Rule 144A. It would not require the reporting of primary transactions.
A recent FINRA disciplinary action sends a strong message to broker-dealers that the development of their compliance systems—particularly with respect to email review and retention—must keep pace with the growth of their businesses.
FINRA fined LPL Financial LLC (LPL) $7.5 million for significant failures in its email system that prevented LPL from accessing hundreds of millions of emails, and from reviewing tens of millions of other emails over an approximately six-year period. FINRA stressed that LPL’s inadequate systems and procedures caused the firm to provide incomplete responses to email requests from regulators, and also likely affected the firm’s production of emails in arbitrations and private actions. Accordingly, FINRA also required the firm to establish a $1.5 million fund to pay discovery sanctions to customer claimants that were potentially affected by the system failures, and to notify regulators that may have received incomplete email production.
In the fourth quarter of 2012, FINRA published Regulatory Notice 12-42 (the “Revised Proposal”), amending its proposal for substantive regulation of fixed-income research by FINRA-member firms.  The Revised Proposal represents the revision of FINRA’s earlier proposal, and modifies that proposal in meaningful ways. 
The Revised Proposal amends FINRA’s earlier proposal. In particular, the Revised Proposal:
On January 4, 2013, FINRA published Regulatory Notice 13-02, proposing a new FINRA rule (the “proposed rule”) in connection with the recruitment compensation practices of member firms. 
In short, the proposed rule would: