The Securities and Exchange Commission may soon consider the creation of a new public database that compiles the scattered array of information on financial market professionals and securities laws violations. The idea was laid out in a proposal released by its Investor Advisory Committee on Thursday. The database (a suggested name is “InvestorCheck”) could be passed along to commissioners for a vote this summer.
Numerous databases maintained by a variety of organizations each contain potentially relevant information for investors seeking out bad actors and shady pasts. “Investors of all ages, but particularly elders, would benefit from a comprehensive, easy-to-use database containing basic background information on firms and individuals selling financial products,” the proposal says.
The recommendation calls upon the SEC to:
Develop a disciplinary database for violations of securities laws that allows investors to easily conduct searches of any person or firm that was sanctioned for these violations;
Reduce the complexity of background searches by simplifying the search process and ensuring comparable quality with existing databases.
Obtain agreements from other federal regulators, self-regulatory organizations, and state regulators to develop of a single site that permits searches of the databases they maintain.
The proposal points out that much of the sought-after information is already available, albeit in a variety of separate, underutilized databases. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, for example, operates BrokerCheck, a comprehensive database on current and former FINRA members. The SEC operates the Investor Advisor Public Disclosure system and facilitates searches of investment advisers and investment adviser representatives. “These databases, however, do not include all market professionals. They do not include municipal advisors and their employees, firms and financial professionals registered only with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and National Futures Association, insurance agents, and mortgage brokers. Most noticeably, the databases do not include individuals who have been sanctioned by the SEC, FINRA, the CFTC, National Futures Association, or state regulators, but are unregistered. Only about 25 percent of commodities advisers are registered as investment advisors with the SEC; only about 7.5 percent of commodities brokers are also registered as brokers with the SEC.
Other databases that could be tied to the unified system built by the SEC are the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System, a repository of on state-licensed financial services companies; the National Crime Information Center’s data on criminal arrest and conviction information submitted by local, state, and federal agencies; and the Bureau of Prisons’ publicly accessible database with basic information about inmates incarcerated in a federal prison and their release dates.
Investors seeking to conduct a background check on a market professional, “confront a diffuse, confusing, and complex environment,” the proposal says, urging the SEC “to take a leadership role in reducing the confusion and complexity of this process and centralizing information relevant to investors.”