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FINRA Proposes Broker Hiring Bonus Disclosure Rule to SEC


Written by: Jessica M. Brown and Jay B. Gould

On March 10, 2014, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) submitted a proposed rule to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that would require disclosure to certain clients and FINRA regarding the details of a broker-dealer representative’s financial recruiting incentives (the “Proposed Rule”). The Proposed Rule is intended to ensure that the former clients of a representative who has changed firms are aware of: (i) the recruitment compensation that induced the representative to change firms, and (ii) all of the costs and potential risks associated with transferring their assets to the new firm (the “Recruiting Firm”). In addition to disclosures to clients, the Proposed Rule would require the Recruiting Firm to report to FINRA at the beginning of a representative’s employment, any significant total compensation increases the representative will receive in the first year, compared to the representative’s compensation the prior year.

Under the Proposed Rule, if a Recruiting Firm directly or through the representative, tries to induce the representative’s clients from a prior firm to transfer assets to the Recruiting Firm, the Recruiting Firm would be required to disclose to the potential client if the representative has received, or will receive, $100,000 or more in either (i) aggregate “upfront payments” or (ii) aggregate “potential future payments.” Upfront payments include compensation received upon commencement of association or specified amounts guaranteed to be paid at a future date (e.g. cash, deferred cash bonus, transition assistance, forgivable loans, equity awards, loan-bonus arrangements, or ownership interests. Potential future payments include those offered as a financial incentive contingent upon the representative meeting performance-based goals, allowance for additional travel or expense reimbursement in excess to what is typical for similarly situated representatives, or a commission schedule for a representative who is paid on a commission basis in excess of what is typically provided to similarly situated representatives.  Where the Recruiting Firm partnered with another entity, such as an investment adviser or insurance company, to recruit a representative, the disclosed upfront payments and potential future payments would include any payments from those third parties connected to the recruitment.

The amount of recruitment compensation received would be disclosed separately for aggregate upfront payments and aggregate potential future payments using ranges for each: $100,000 to $500,000; $500,001 to $1,000,000; $1,000,001 to $2,000,000; $2,000,001 to $5,000,000; and above $5,000,000. In addition to the amounts that must be disclosed, the Recruiting Firm would be required to disclose the basis for determining the upfront and potential future payments. Pursuant to the Proposed Rule, disclosure would not be required to be disclosed to clients that meet the definition of an “institutional account” under FINRA Rule 4512(c), however accounts held by natural persons would not qualify for the institutional account exception under the Proposed Rule.

Client disclosures, pursuant to the Proposed Rule, would also be required to include whether transferring assets from the representative’s prior firm to the Recruiting Firm would cause the client to incur any costs the Recruiting Firm would not reimburse. Further, if the assets are not transferrable, the Recruiting Firm would be required to disclose the costs the client may incur, including taxes.

The Proposed Rule would require the disclosures be made to the client at the time of first individualized contact by the representative or Recruiting Firm that attempts to convince the client to transfer assets. Written disclosures would be required if the contact is in writing. If the contact is oral, the disclosures would be made orally with written disclosures to follow. The disclosure requirement would be mandated for the representative’s first year with the Recruiting Firm.

The second component of the Proposed Rule would require the Recruiting Firm to report to FINRA if it reasonably expects the total compensation paid to the representative, in his/her first year, to increase the representative’s prior year’s compensation by the greater of 25% or $100,000. The compensation information reported to FINRA would not be available to the public under the Proposed Rule.

The SEC will review the Proposed Rule and is expected to seek public comment. The Proposed Rule has not yet been published on the SEC’s website as of the date of this posting.

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