When considering the track record of a securities broker or dealer, investors should be cognizant of loopholes in background reporting.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) oversees the regulation of brokers and operates BrokerCheck, an online database that contains disciplinary records of registered brokers. But a review by the Wall Street Journal found that BrokerCheck is sorely lacking a wealth of information about registered brokers, some of which can be found in the records of state regulators. At least 38,400 brokers have regulatory or financial red flags that appear only on state records, according to the WSJ’s investigation; of those brokers, at least 19,000 had clean BrokerCheck records. One significant area omitted by FINRA: internal reviews.
The WSJ identified 4,346 brokers with one or more internal reviews reported on their state records but not on BrokerCheck. Other regulatory red flags not spotted on FINRA’s database: personal bankruptcies filed more than 10 years ago, judgments and liens that have been satisfied, and certain employment terminations.
FINRA’s records do include complaints against brokers, regulatory actions, terminations for cause, and personal bankruptcies filed within the last decade, which the agency says is consistent with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. But in light of the gaps – and a proposal from FINRA to the Securities and Exchange Commission to expand the obligations of financial institutions with regard to the background screening of applicants (https://scherzer.co/sec-considers-background-check-rule-proposed-by-finra/) – investors should consider checking state regulatory records to form a more complete picture of a broker’s history.
In response to the WSJ’s inquiry, FINRA launched a review of its database and said the agency is studying the current rules about the information disclosed on BrokerCheck. The agency is also attempting to patch a separate loophole by coordinating its efforts with state insurance regulators. Following reports that insurance and securities regulators struggle to share data – and that individuals take advantage of the gap by continuing to sell insurance products despite losing a securities license, for example – FINRA vowed to take action. Beginning this month, the agency said it will provide a monthly report of its disciplinary actions against securities brokers not only to state securities regulators but state insurance regulators as well.