As of June 30, 2020, broker-dealers are required to be in compliance with the new Regulation Best Interest (“Reg BI”) standard of conduct. Firms were given one year to mold their compliance apparatus, train representatives, draft policies, and implement procedures to fit the heightened standard. However, anyone working in corporate compliance or project management understands that implementing change on a company wide scale in such a short time is an enormous task. Now that the new standard has been in effect for a month, we believe it is important to highlight some aspects of the Reg BI standard which may have been overlooked when overhauling a firm’s compliance systems.
Reg BI replaces the suitability standard and sets out more robust investor protections than had been required under suitability.
§240.15l-1 Regulation best interest.
(a) Best interest obligation. (1) A broker, dealer, or a natural person who is an associated person of a broker or dealer, when making a recommendation of any securities transaction or investment strategy involving securities (including account recommendations) to a retail customer, shall act in the best interest of the retail customer at the time the recommendation is made, without placing the financial or other interest of the broker, dealer, or natural person who is an associated person of a broker or dealer making the recommendation ahead of the interest of the retail customer.
Reg BI goes on to enumerate four obligations which must be satisfied when making any security or investment recommendation. Broadly speaking, those obligations are: 1) Disclosure- written disclosure of material facts relating to the scope of the relationship including fees, limitations on securities investments; 2) Care- suitability on steroids; 3) Conflict- identification, disclosure, and/or mitigation of incentives, limitations, and conflicts which may exist; and 4) Compliance- maintenance and enforcement of written policies and procedures designed to achieve compliance with Reg BI.
Over the past year, broker-dealers should have received training on each of these obligations and firms’ compliance departments should have implemented the use of new forms to document their adherence. However, given the deluge of new forms broker-dealers are using to evidence compliance, two of the most important differences between suitability and Reg BI may have gone overlooked.
Reg BI requires that a broker-dealer act in the customer’s best interest at the time the recommendation is made. Under the new standard, “recommendation” will be interpreted broadly and even includes instances where a recommendation is made but the customer does not execute the order.
Reg BI also defines “retail customer” more broadly than it was defined under the suitability standard. Under the suitability standard, certain high net worth individuals could be treated as institutional investors rather than retail customers if certain other circumstances applied. Thus changing the applicability of the suitability analysis. However, that is not the case under Reg BI: any “natural person” regardless of their wealth or accredited investor status is a “retail customer”. It should also be noted that there is no de minimus exception. So, in any instance that a broker-dealer makes a recommendation to a natural person for their personal, household or family use, Reg BI applies.
Now that Reg BI is in effect, FINRA expects all firms and broker-dealers to be in compliance. However, even firms giving their best efforts may fall short of full Reg BI compliance. The attorneys at Cosgrove Law Group, LLC have decades of experience interpreting securities regulations, auditing firm compliance, and responding to regulatory investigations. If there is any doubt as to whether your firm has met its Reg BI obligations, it may be time to contact experienced securities counsel to navigate the regulatory landscape.
Author: Max Simpson
 Reg BI also creates an obligation to make supplemental oral disclosures for topics not covered in forms which would create a conflict given the specific circumstance. Best practice is to follow oral disclosure with written disclosure to memorialize that the disclosure did in fact occur.
 Of course this is an oversimplification of Reg BI’s care standard which deserves its own separate blog. Suffice it to say, the obligation of care is robust.
 FINRA UNscripted, EP63, Regulation Best Interest: Implementing a New Standard of Conduct, July 7, 2020.