On July 9, 2012, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) implemented a new securities rule governing the obligation of brokers to make "suitable" investment recommendations to customers. While FINRA Rule 2111 is based upon NASD Rule 2310 - the prior suitability rule - FINRA Rule 2111 expands the old rule in several significant ways.
The Suitability Obligation
Investors go to their stockbrokers not only to get advice as to which stocks are likely to offer good returns. They also are seeking input on which investments are suitable for their specific circumstance. The suitability rule is intended to provide the investor with peace of mind that his/her broker has reasonably believes the broker's investment recommendations are appropriate at the time the investment is made. Unfortunately, we have seen far too many situations where the proposed investment makes more sense for the broker than for the investor.
Rule 2111 requires that brokers:
"have a reasonable basis to believe that a recommended transaction or investment strategy involving a security or securities is suitable for the customer, based on the information obtained through the reasonable diligence of the member or associated person to ascertain the customer's investment profile"
FINRA Rule 2111(a) essentially takes existing case law and codifies it into three specific suitability claims. (1) reasonable-basis suitability; (2) customer-specific suitability; and (3) quantitative suitability.
1. Reasonable-Basis Suitability
Reasonable-basis suitability means that a broker must perform reasonable diligence to understand the investment products and strategies that the broker recommends to her customer. The broker must also be able to demonstrate that she actually understands the product that she is recommending to her client.
2. Customer-Specific Suitability
Customer-specific suitability means that a broker must have a reasonable basis to believe that her recommendations are suitable for a customer based on the customer's "investment profile." The broker must be able to establish that she understands who her client really is, what their needs are, and how this recommendation fits into what they are trying to accomplish.
3. Quantitative Suitability
Quantitative suitability means that a broker who has control over a customer's account must have a reasonable basis to believe that a series of recommended securities transactions is not excessive (often called a churning analysis). The broker's must be able to establish that her overall trading record comports with the client's goals.
New Requirements Imposed Upon Brokers
FINRA is clearly trying to send a message to brokers in this new economic climate and that message is "You will be responsible to your clients." They are also expanding the potential definition of "clients" to include those who only had an informal relationship with the broker or prospective customers who may never have opened an account with the firm. Even recommended strategies, such a "hold" recommendation, may come under the purview of new FINAR Rule 2111. There is no requirement that the advice resulted in a commission before Rule 2111 comes into play. Simply put, brokers are now responsible for all customer recommendations.
While this is not an exhaustive discussion of the impact the new FINRA Rule will have upon brokers and their customers, it is clear FINRA is trying to chart a new course with an emphasis on protecting the individual customer from abuse. FINRA arbitration is relatively cheap and quick, especially in comparison to litigation a case in court. In fact, there is an expedited process for the elderly wherein you can file your complaint and have your case heard in less than 9 months.
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