It has been over 40 years since significant changes to "The Investment Advisers Act" were adopted. To say that advisors are excited about this recent update is definitely an understatement. With all of the different communication and social media platforms available to advisors, they are eagerly looking forward to sharing testimonials with potential clients hoping to open new doors of opportunities.
Firms and their compliance departments need to take a proactive approach when it comes to addressing these new marketing updates. Testimonials and endorsements still need to be monitored and approved to ensure they are not misleading investors. Firms need to decide what types of statements they are going to approve, what platforms will be utilized, and how registered advisors are going to notify them and gain approval before any endorsement is published.
Initially advisors will want to add these testimonials and endorsements to their websites and other online destinations that may or may not be monitored by compliance. Demands on compliance’s time for monitoring and approvals will certainly increase. Additionally, firms need to reevaluate their disclosure policies to ensure that advisors provide notification and documentation of what and where they wish to publish testimonials and endorsements online.
Compliance departments should expect to see a large increase in their workload related to internet monitoring and approvals that need to occur. What will compliance do to monitor endorsement and testimonial platforms such as Yelp, Google Reviews, or social media platforms like Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter? Advertisements that include third-party ratings will be required to include specific disclosures to prevent them from being misleading.
Is compliance waiting for advisors to disclose everything? Are policies based entirely on the honor system? How do you discover your advisor’s online presence, including these new testimonials and endorsements if they are not disclosing them to compliance?
While you are forming your compliance strategy and updating policies, procedures and workflows it is important to consider how and what technologies can assist compliance with this increased workload. As the SEC and FINRA are adapting to new technology, compliance departments need to evolve and rely on innovative technology as well to support their job requirements.
For over a decade, SiteQuest Compliance has continued to be a trusted partner, supporting compliance and supervision departments with tools that can help meet these increasing demands with regards to compliance and supervision.
Our Eagle Eye solution uncovers and supervises your advisors’ online footprint. It discovers social media accounts, websites, blogs, yelp pages, OBAs, DBAs, and online profiles, allowing you to address issues prior to regulatory discovery or examination.
Our SQWatcher platform monitors and archives advisor websites including those that may be hosted by non-approved website providers. It creates historical records of these sites, creates workflow events of specific types of changes like new pages, changes to readable text, images, and more with customizable rules to meet your needs.
This update to the Investment Advisers Act will require your firm to revise its policies. Our newly launched Policies solution is a powerful tool used to organize, version control, and distribute your firm’s policies and Written Supervisory Procedures (WSPs) to your employees and advisors. Ensuring that your advisors always have access to your most current policies with easy to search features.
As your advisors are “Modernizing their Marketing Practices” contact us today to discuss your specific needs and concerns. Let us show you how we can help streamline your workflows to maximize your time, while helping to ensure you don’t miss anything with regards to internet and website supervision and content approval.
Sources: https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-334 | https://www.sec.gov/rules/final/2020/ia-5653.pdf
2020 is a big year for us as we are celebrating 10 years of compliance partnerships. There have been many significant changes in supervision over the past 10 years, especially with an increase in workload and scope for online supervision. Trying to stay compliant with the FINRA 3110 Supervision rule can become a daunting task as the web offers an easy to use and often free resources for advisors to get their name and practice out in the public eye.
As YOUR compliance partner, we’ve observed several interesting trends that we expect to see increase during 2020.
With the increase in online articles being published on blogs, websites, and social media sites like Linkedin, many advisors are writing, being mentioned, and even cited in third party articles. We continue to see these occurrences with very little if any disclosure information and perhaps is not considered pre-approved content.
Have you heard of Quora? Quora is an online question and answer platform. 775,000 people use Quora monthly to ask questions. This is a large audience that advisors have the ability to connect with. They can publish content, answer people’s questions, and search for specific topics that relate to your industry. BUT how do you know if your registered advisors are using Quora?
Yelp is another online platform that is continually growing in popularity. The Securities and Exchange Commission recently charged three advisers and a marketing firm for violating the testimonial rule by promoting their business on Yelp. Over 4.6 million businesses are using Yelp. With 163 million Yelp reviews, how are you to know if your advisors are actively soliciting testimonials from their clients?
Adding to your monitoring struggle is YouTube. It is estimated that over 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! There is an increasing trend in people publishing personal video and vlogs related to their business. With over 1 billion daily users how are you to find videos uploaded to YouTube by your registered advisors if they don’t send you the direct links?
Advisors can create non-monitored social media accounts. How do you know if your advisors even have a social media account if they don’t tell you about it? How do you find these social media accounts?
One of the biggest trends that we see continuing into 2020 are the use of DBAs. FINRA observed that “certain firms were not maintaining sufficient WSPs and controls, or providing adequate disclosures regarding the use of DBA names.” Outside business activities and unauthorized content from your registered advisors are a growing concern that will always be present. What controls does your firm have in place to aid you in discovering these DBAs if your advisors are not disclosing them? How do you know what your advisors are putting online using their “DBA” name?
Your time is valuable. Any search engine can produce an endless amount of meaningless results that need to be reviewed. Our Eagle Eye application is designed with built-in intelligence that sifts through the web’s clutter and brings the most relevant results to your attention. Our multi-query processes and dynamically designed algorithms provide more accurate results for a quick review process. In addition to our search results our automated screenshots feature helps you document, report and escalate any issue that is brought to your attention.
One of our clients said :
"The Eagle Eye Surveillance system has been a force multiplier in my firm’s supervisory scheme. This simple tool has transformed my internet surveillance sweep process from a time-consuming, multi-day enterprise where I view the same search results over and over to a simple process that can be completed in a couple of hours."
Another one of our clients said:
“As soon as we implemented Eagle Eye, the system found searches that were previously missed with the manual process and as a result, we updated our policy and procedures to minimize compliance risk. Also, one of our previous hurdles was demonstrating to our regulators with documentation that we were conducting the appropriate monitoring but with the audits reports, that are available directly from the system, we are able to document and show individual findings in an organized manner."
You can minimize your risk and address these growing trends by utilizing our Eagle Eye application.
Contact us today for your personalized demo of how our application with work for YOUR firm.
Ten years ago, SiteQuest Technologies was created with the mission to make compliance supervision easier and more efficient by providing user-friendly applications to help financial firms stay compliant in the ever-changing digital world. Working side-by-side, truly listening to what our customers need and want, and developing solutions to meet those needs is still is our focus today.
With our customers in mind, we are excited to announce that SiteQuest Technologies is updating its name to SiteQuest Compliance. As rules and regulations evolve, our customers’ challenges are ever-increasing. From workflows to policies, to website monitoring and archiving, to internet supervision, to discovering undisclosed OBAs and social media accounts, our suite of compliance solutions provide financial firms with the tools they need.
While our name has changed, our values have not. As a company, and as individuals, we value integrity, honesty, continual improvement, and innovation. We are committed to our customers and work with them as partners, to be an industry leader in compliance applications.
Our SiteQuest Compliance team brings many years of experience in this industry. We know the challenges compliance and supervision brings, and we look forward to many more years of serving our great customers and partners.
In alignment with the adoption of a new name, SiteQuest Compliance has launched a new website at SQCOMPLIANCE.COM.
Thank you for visiting our new website. Take a moment and look around. Contact us to see how our applications will assist you with your everyday compliance needs and challenges.
President & CEO
A securities firm and its chief compliance officer were fined $225,000 by FINRA and required to retain an expert to evaluate and approve its written supervisory procedures (WSPs).
** We would like to note that the actions of this CCO are not the norm. This person committed many willful violations which led to this fine. But, many of the violations were in direct relation to supervision. SiteQuest Compliance provides solutions to CCO in regards to internet and website supervision. That is the primary focus of our article review.
“The NAC found that this securities firm and the CCO violated NASD Rules 3010 and 2110 and FINRA Rule 2010 by failing to establish and maintain an effective supervisory system, including written supervisory procedures (“WSPs”)… The firm then failed to implement a supervisory system to reasonably ensure appropriate review and supervision of the websites.”
NASD Rule 3010 required that FINRA member firms have reasonable supervisory procedures. The CCO in this case was responsible for reviewing and drafting the firm’s WSPs, and the WSPs provided that all advertising would be reviewed for misleading or inaccurate statements and that the firm’s president, would do so. The firm’s WSPs also specified that “all business messages on the internet shall be considered advertising.” And NASD Rule 2210 defined “advertisements” to include “any material . . . that is published, or used in any electronic . . . public media, including any website.” The NAC faulted the CCO for not “identifying” in the WSPs that “websites are advertising to be reviewed”; its rationale for holding the CCO liable when “the firm’s procedures did not specifically state that websites were advertising.” One registered advisor for this securities firm created two non-password-protected, publicly available websites. This firm and the CCO didn’t ensure appropriate review and supervision of these websites as advertising.
In the end, the NEC found that the firm’s failure to supervise the websites violated NASD Rules 3010 and 2110 and FINRA Rule 2010.
Our SQWatcher application would have been a great resource and support for this securities firm. SQWatcher is a web-based solution that TRACKS, MONITORS, and DOCUMENTS your websites assisting with your compliance. With SQWatcher, you have a partner that is built to support your firm, knowing that your required websites are being monitored and archived with tools that will alert you if there is a problem. With an easy to use interface, we will personally support you through the implementation and learning process, continually ongoing to ensure that you and your firm are getting the most out of this industry-leading application.
The NEC stated that “We reiterate here that compliance officers “play a vital role in our regulatory framework. That role in many instances has increased in complexity, and there are circumstances where the role presents difficult challenges. In making determinations about CCO liability, the protection of investors and the public interest are at the forefront of our minds.”
SiteQuest Compliance has over 15 years of industry experience supporting CCOs with their ever changing and increasingly complex job requirements.
Every day, thousands of advisors and advisor websites are being monitored and documented with the aid of our industry-leading compliance and supervision applications. We are proud to be a partner in compliance. We would love to discuss your compliance concerns. Contact us today!
Source: (FINRA Case #2011027666902)
Are Yours? Do You Even Know It is Happening?
One website that is growing in popularity for advisors is Yelp.com. The ability to list your business and have people leave reviews is very tempting for advisors to use in hopes of gaining new clients. Unfortunately the use of Yelp is in direct violation of the SEC’s “Testimonial Rule” under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.
Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged three advisers and a marketing firm for violating the testimonial rule by promoting their business on Yelp. These three advisors worked with a marketing company to solicit testimonials from clients asking them to post their reviews on the investment adviser's behalf to Yelp and other social media websites. Each of these advisors were fined $10,000. The marketing firm received cease-and-desist orders and were required to pay civil penalties of $35,000.
YouTube is another platform that is rising in usage by advisors resulting in violations and fines. An Illinois-based RIA, was fined $15,000 for creating a 31-minute-long YouTube video that featured testimonials from multiple clients. The video was published on their public website and YouTube.com, and was shown to guests at a party celebrating the firm's 50th anniversary. This YouTube video was also in direct violation with the SEC’s “Testimonial Rule”.
Are you actively monitoring Yelp and YouTube for these type of SEC infractions from your registered advisors?
It can be difficult even knowing where to start. Over 4.6 million businesses are using Yelp. With an ever increasing 163 million Yelp reviews how are you to know if your advisors are actively soliciting testimonials from their clients?
Adding to your monitoring struggle is YouTube. It is estimated that over 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! With over 1 billion daily users how are you to find videos uploaded to YouTube by your registered advisors if they don’t send you the direct links?
Eagle Eye is a solution. With Eagle Eye precision our application will help you quickly identify any social media accounts including Yelp and YouTube that your registered advisors own. Allowing your firm to take action and comply with the SEC’s requirements. Eagle Eye’s automated documentation and screenshots of your findings will help you respond to a regulator.
We’d love to show you more. Contact SiteQuest Technologies today to see how our application can aid in your supervision responsibilities, saving you time and lowering your risk.
Related Article: Trends when it comes to supervising the web.
Related Article: Known Compliance Gaps
Sources: SEC.gov | Investment News
This summer the Securities and Exchange Commission instituted five separate settled fines against two SEC-registered investment advisers, three investment adviser representatives, and a marketing consultant who committed and/or caused violations of the Testimonial Rule under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 through their use of social media and the internet. (read the entire article)
Several testimonial ads about registered representatives were created and published on social media outlets. Additionally, two videos were created and published online containing client testimonials on its public website and on YouTube.com. The SEC’s regulators found that these firms (and their ads) were in violation of Section 206(4) of the Advisers Act and Rule 206(4)-1(a)(1).
As a compliance supervisor are you aware of what ads your registered advisors are putting online? Are they creating and publishing videos without sending them first to compliance for approval? With all of your responsibilities how do you find the time to continually monitor your advisor’s online presence? Without action, this could leave your firm vulnerable to fines from the SEC or FINRA because of online content you are unaware of.
SiteQuest Compliance's Eagle Eye application contains industry-leading technology that will help you monitor and discover your advisors’ online presence. Eagle Eye is designed with built-in intelligence that searches and sifts through the web’s billions of pages of clutter bringing only the most relevant results to your attention. Our multi-query processes and dynamically designed algorithms provide more accurate search results for you to quickly review. Our application is loaded with features that automate your monitoring and documentation processes. Our clients have found that Eagle Eye cuts their workload by as much as 80%.
Each of these aforementioned firms were fined between $35,000 and $10,000 from the SEC. That fine just the tip of the iceberg. There are lawyer fees, employee time spent and resources dealing with the issue, proving to the regulatory agency that the fine has been fixed and that you are now in compliance. There is also the unknown cost to your firm’s reputation.
Eagle Eye is a first of its kind application that is designed specifically to help the financial industry easily and effectively supervise the web.
Contact us today to discuss your supervision concerns. We will be able to match our products to your needs.
Recently the Division of Securities, Utah Department of Commerce fined two credit unions and a licensed broker-dealer for failing to supervise the advisors working within the credit unions. (read the full report)
These credit unions are not registered broker-dealers or investment advisors. They entered into a networking agreement with a third-party broker-dealer to provide securities brokerage services to their credit union customers through registered representatives. In this case, the parties involved were not closely monitoring the actions and communications of these advisors with regards to how the advisors and the credit unions branded these services. The “lines were being blurred” and it was not clearly disclosed that these advisors worked for the third-party investment service provider, and not for the credit unions.
The emails, marketing materials, communications in print and electronic were not being supervised and in the view of the regulator, causing confusion with customers being misled. As a result, the broker-dealers and the credit unions were fined $750,000.
FINRA and the SEC are not the only regulatory agencies requiring firms to monitor their advisors. Each state has their own division of securities regulators.
Have you entered into a third-party agreement with another company to provide security brokerage services to their clients? Do you have advisors that are working in the facilities of these partners?
The biggest question of all is, “Are you sufficiently monitoring your advisors and their online presence?”
The use of our Eagle Eye application would have identified where the broker dealers’ presence was online such as social media, blogs, online articles, Yelp, YouTube and more, allowing you to review each URL. Our SQWatcher application would have alerted you to any changes on their websites ensuring that your supervision department could review and approve wording changes before they go live on the web.
We’d love to tell you more. Contact SiteQuest Compliance today to see how our applications can aid in your supervision responsibilities, saving you time and lowering your risk.
I’M SURE I HAVE SOME COMPLIANCE GAPS, BUT DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START...
It can be very challenging for financial firms to search, monitor, and document their advisor's web presence and registered websites without interrupting day-to-day business demands and operations. Yet failure to do so can leave exposed compliance gaps unaddressed and open your firm up to fines and disciplinary actions from regulatory agencies. Common compliance gaps often include improperly documented or improperly enforced policies and procedures, insufficient evidence of a WSP, undisclosed OBAs and social media accounts, as well as rogue advisor websites. Many firms know that they have gaps, but they don’t know where to start.
FINRA publishes a monthly disciplinary report with actions and fines against firms and individuals. One of the most common fines involves undisclosed OBAs. Currently, many firms work on the “honor system” with hopes that their employees with be completely honest and disclose everything required. Unfortunately, this honor system doesn’t always work. How are you to find out if your advisors have an undisclosed OBA? That is where Eagle Eye can help you close this gap with our deep web searching technology that quickly cut through the clutter of the web and bring to your attention relevant results when monitoring your registered reps.
Do you know if your advisors have disclosed all of their social media accounts? In a recent random sampling of 10 employees from a prospective client, our Eagle Eye solution found serious violations with three of the advisors including several OBAs and social media accounts that were never disclosed. This is a typical compliance gap for many firms. Is this one your firm is facing as well?
Are you sure that your firm is monitoring all of your advisors online advertising? Do you have a process in place that is easy to demonstrate to a regulator? Do you even know if they are producing advertising that you are unaware of? This could be another compliance gap your firm is facing.
In addition to all of the supervision regulations, you need to prove that your firm has WSPs in place to help document all of the actions your firm is taking to monitor web presence. For many firms, this turns into another compliance gap they need to address.
You have a broker-dealer responsibility to monitor every website that your advisors' utilize for business purposes. Many times, advisors want to have their own website to help them stand out among the thousands of other financial advisor websites out there. How are you monitoring these websites? Are you notified of every change automatically so that it can be approved? If not, here is another compliance gap you might be facing. Recently there has been an increase in fines imposed by FINRA regarding website monitoring. Just like this fine imposed just a few months ago. SiteQuest Compliance's SQWatcher program is an easy to use solution that will quickly help you fill this gap at a fraction of the cost of a fine.
Then to complete all of this monitoring you need to document all of your findings in an organized manner. Many times this is the last step in the compliance process and yet it can become one of the largest compliance gaps for a firm. Our automated documentation features found as part of our programs are detailed and searchable. We provide you with all of the information you need to respond to a regulator.
SiteQuest Compliance offers programs, support, and experience to help you bridge these gaps and respond to a regulator. A firm that is able to demonstrate compliance with tangible evidence will mitigate risks, such as costly regulatory fines, and be better prepared for unannounced visits from regulatory agencies.
Contact us today and talk to us about any gaps you need help addressing.
About James Cella
James Cella is the President of a growing and innovative compliance technology provider called SiteQuest Compliance. James is a customer-centric individual and focuses on building and sustaining positive and lasting relationship with his clients and partners. James and his family are "super fans" of University of Utah Football and have attended nearly every home game since 2002. Go Utes!