Friday, September 23, 2011

TWEETING, POSTING, and FRIENDING: Social media’s two-edged sword for Investment Advisers

Regulators and compliance departments alike have been shaking their heads at the potential pitfalls of social media. How to support and allow Investment Adviser’s to use social media tools and still protect the investor from bad actors and misinterpreted posts or tweets is no easy task. The rapid fire tweets and the “share everything” mentality become permanent, potentially discoverable, records. But Investment Advisers are finding that social media provides valuable avenues never before available to share and gain information, to find new clients, and to better understand existing clientele.

This week, the Wall Street Journal had an article on this very subject. While little official guidance has been provided to Registered Investment Adviser firms on proper social media policies, reviewing the current guidelines for client communication can offer guidance to compliance and legal departments when they are requested to develop a road map for their firm and its social media policies. The potential pitfall in having a detailed policy is that once it is in black and white, it must be followed, and either an individual or a department must be charged with ensuring this—quite a task for a such a vast medium. However, given the free-range but permanent aspects of social media, RIA’s of all sizes should begin discussing and seeking legal counsel on how they will address this matter given the current regulations in place that govern client and potential client communications. The alternative--waiting for a post or a tweet to cause a problem--can be a dangerous course to take.

Additionally, many employees may appreciate the guidance and opportunity to hear and be heard on this matter as they try to use social media to the best use without exposing their record or license to unnecessary risk. Part of being in a highly regulated industry is staying ahead of the curve so that potential problems don’t become actual ones.

FINRA has provided Broker Dealers with specific guidelines regarding social media. Using these rules as a framework for RIA’s social media policies may be another helpful tool when the RIA firm is looking for a place to start the discussion on this topic.

Cosgrove Law, LLC offers consulting to RIA firms on a wide range of compliance matters.

Monday, September 19, 2011


State securities regulators' enforcement efforts were robust in 2010, according to a panel of regulators at NASAA's annual conference last week. Cosgrove Law, LLC provides both civil and criminal representation in the securities and white-collar arena, so it was interested to learn that there was a substantial increase in criminal prosecutions filed by securities regulators in 2010. For “non-fraud” cases, the regulators scored themselves a 32% increase in “failure to supervise” actions, but filed fewer “suitability” actions.

Other interesting statistics: almost half of the state regulators' enforcement actions were brought against non-registered persons in 2010. As for registered individuals, 12% of those actions were brought against investment adviser representatives (IAR's) and 23% were filed against broker-dealer agents. 5% were brought against registered solicitors, and the balance fell upon insurance industry members. The regulators continued to express ire over insurance industry members dually licensed as investment advisers with what they perceive to be an excess concentration or focus upon annuity sales.

Notably, today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting Adviser Alert that shares an important observation: investment advisers are “among regulators' best tipsters.” In our experience, reputable advisers are also likely to recommend legal counsel to new clients whom they observe to have been victimized by their prior broker or adviser or insurance agent. Food for thought.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Members of this firm, financial industry members, and SEC and FINRA staff joined state securities and commodities regulators at their annual conference this week. As always, the conference agenda was relentless—filled with impressive panels discussing trends and developments on the broker-dealer and investment advisory side, State, Federal and SRO enforcement actions and compliance audits, as well as commodities regulation and international financial market policy. When NASAA's Enforcement Section met during the conference, its leaders listed precious metals retail sales as one of their primary concerns and enforcement priorities. The discussion, however, focused on margin sales, with an additional dose of skepticism about precious metals depository services. Notably, many interpret language in the Dood-Frank Act to preclude most transactions that combine the use of margin and storage, although the precious metals industry still awaits belated CFTC rule-making in this area.

In the interest of full disclosure, Cosgrove Law, LLC is a member of the ICTA and provides compliance services to members of the precious metals industry. Is also, however, represents investors defrauded by the less reputable members of an industry arguably vindicated by years of market appreciation. Indeed, today's Wall Street Journal published one of dozens of articles regarding the role of gold and other metals in the personal finances and portfolios of Americans struggling through another year of economic malaise and equity market volatility. To read this full article, please click here.