The Securities and Exchange Commission should require improvements to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck system for vetting financial professionals and develop a national disciplinary database that investors could utilize. That call to action comes from a letter submitted to the Commission’s Investor Advisory Committee on Tuesday by the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association, Public Citizen, the PIABA Foundation, and the Securities Arbitration Clinic at St. John’s University School of Law.
In the joint letter, available online, the four investor advocacy groups say that FINRA is currently conducting a national advertising campaign “that inaccurately suggests that BrokerCheck reports provide complete information about brokers to investors.”
“FINRA actively encourages investors to use BrokerCheck so they can make informed decisions about their brokers,” the letter says. “FINRA also requires firms to notify investors repeatedly about the availability of BrokerCheck. Nevertheless, it then fails to provide complete and adequate information about their brokers. FINRA has chosen not to further expand BrokerCheck in an effort to protect the interests of its members in the securities industry, rather than the investors it has promised to protect.”
The groups urge the SEC to remedy the situation by requiring full disclosure of all publicly available background information about financial professionals. In March 2014, PIABA released a report critical of FINRA for, in its view, omitting information from BrokerCheck reports even though the information is publicly available from state securities regulator.
“The SEC should exercise its regulatory authority and require FINRA to harmonize the information on BrokerCheck Reports with the information already publicly available from states similar to Florida with broad public records laws,” they wrote. “BrokerCheck Reports should, like Florida, only exclude personal information such as social security numbers, and home addresses. There is simply no valid reason why the same information that is a public record at the state level is not publicly available from FINRA…To date, it appears FINRA’s rationale for not disclosing the same amount of information as these states is based on ‘personal privacy and fairness’ to FINRA members.”
The SEC should mandate that FINRA “place the interests of the investing public above any vague notion of privacy or fairness to financial advisors,” the letter adds, singling out detailed information about broker terminations “a glaring omission.” The groups also are concerned about past information that is either never reported or omitted after a period of time, including judgments and liens originally reported as outstanding that have been satisfied and bankruptcy proceedings filed more than ten years ago. The letter also criticizes FINRA for withholding information about examination scores on industry tests, failed exams, and internal reviews.