FINRA Issues Guidance in New Social Media Websites Notice

In November, Legal Bytes reported (Regulators Poised to Give Financial Institutions a Slap in the Facebook) that Richard Ketchum, Chief Executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), acknowledged Wall Street is eager to use social media to interact with customers. In the course of his remarks at a recent meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), he noted, “We continue to witness the advent of technologies that will challenge your ability to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements,” and “Social networking is one such innovation.

Now, supplementing existing FINRA Rules, FINRA has released a notice concerning online media rules (you can download and read a copy of the notice below) whose key components include requirements that securities firms:

  • Must develop policies and require its employees to comply with the new regulatory requirements
  • Must retain records of communications (a compliance requirement of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934) when social media is used to communicate
  • Must ensure that recommendations made through social media are suitable to all investors to whom the recommendation is made (e.g., by limiting or filtering access based on investor/consumer qualifications)

FINRA’s notice takes the position that securities firms must adapt existing rules to social media and essentially mirror the 2003 FINRA definition of “public appearance.” This definition noted that chat room postings were no different than if a firm representative was in a room making statements to a room filled with investors. FINRA’s current notice indicates that information posted or content placed online (static information) is subject to these same rules and must be approved by a firm principal – presumably, even information about individuals in the firm that may be part of an individual’s profile on the firm’s website or in social media platforms. But online interactions that are occurring on the fly (e.g., in real time), while subject to supervisory requirements (e.g., they must be supervised, perhaps even monitored), do not require such approvals.

You can read or download the FINRA Regulatory Notice 10-06 (Social Media Web Sites) [PDF] here.

As mentioned in the Legal Bytes November post, SEC disclosure rules apply to Tweets, blog postings, wall postings and other communication platforms provided by social media sites, and other regulatory agencies are seeking to address the use of social media sites by the entities they regulate (e.g., the FCC, the New York State Insurance Department). So if any of this is of interest and if you need to know more or need help, please contact me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum, or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work. We are happy to help.

Update:  Rimon lawyers Christopher P. Bennet, Amy J. Greer, Jacob Thride and Kevin Xu have prepared a Client Alert on the subject which you can read by going to: FINRA Issues Notice for Financial Firms Using Social Media.