Friday, June 25, 2021

The Arbitration System

The premise that underlies the justification for the loss of rights in arbitration is simple: both parties knowingly agreed to binding arbitration. This presumption is based upon the presumptions that 1) signators read contracts before signing, 2) they have the time and knowledge to understand the implications of the arbitration provision, and 3) they have a viable ability to opt-out of agreeing to the provision. Arbitration's entire legitimacy is based upon these fairly specious presumptions. And there has been much written about these presumptions and whether or not binding arbitration is actually the product of an informed voluntary decision by both parties. See “Whimsy Little Contracts' with Unexpected Consequences: An Emperical Analyss of Consumer Understanding of Arbitration Agreements,” Jeff Sovern, Elayne Greenberg, Paul Kirgis, and Yuxiang Liu, St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-0009, October 29, 2014 and “Arbitration Clauses Trap Consumers with Fine Print,” Jeff Sovern, AmericanBanker.com, December 2, 2014.

The position of the “Whimsy Little Contracts'...” study is that no one would voluntarily agree to have substantial rights resolved in a quasi-judicial system contaminated by bias. Take a look at this chart and decide for yourself if the system is fair and free of improper influence:


Finally, there is another false assumption that bolsters the presumption favoring arbitration: it is more efficient than the courts: Cheaper and quicker! Unfortunately, I could rattle off twenty examples demonstrating just how questionable this presumption is when presented as a general truth. I received an arbitration award from JAMS 7 years after the claim was filed. I just paid AAA over $20,000 before the Panel has ever convened, and the Respondent buried us in discovery. If I was in Federal Court, I would have a scheduling order protecting my client for approximately $200 in filing fees.

In sum, both the courts and the legislature need to take a hard and honest look at the jurisprudential legitimacy of binding arbitration. Food for thought.



Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Harms and Indicators of Excessive Trading

 

Many securities brokers work for commissions. This means that they charge investors a fee whenever executing a trade on their behalf. This method of compensation has, in the past, enticed some nefarious brokers to increase their compensation by making more trades on a customer’s behalf than is in the customer’s best interest.

What is Excessive Trading?

Excessive trading, also known as churning, occurs when a securities broker executes trades in a customer’s account at an unsuitable frequency in an effort to increase their own commissions. Make no mistake, excessive trading is illegal. Unfortunately, in all but the most egregious circumstances, you may need to consult a professional to determine whether you are a victim of excessive trading. There is no “one size fits all” test to determine whether a broker is churning a customer’s account. Instead, courts and regulators balance several factors to determine whether a broker’s trading would be deemed excessive. It is determined by the volume at which trades are being executed, the type of security being traded, the investor’s stated investment objectives and the investor’s risk tolerance (including their age, net worth, and investment experience). For instance, the same number of trades may be suitable for an investor with more speculative objectives but unsuitable for an investor with more conservative objectives. Moreover, one type of product traded a certain number of times may be suitable; whereas, a different type of product—not meant for that volume of trading—traded just as many times may be unsuitable.

The Harms of Excessive Trading 

            Excessive trading can cause significant and irreparable harm to investors beyond simply loss of principal. It will almost always prevent the desired growth due both to excessive fees that accompany it and the excessive switching of investment products that will only yield growth if they are held onto for certain periods of time. Even if an investor’s principal investment remains intact after a ten year period, the fact that an account achieved no, or minimal, growth over that period—when a properly traded account would have seen the growth the investor desired—can cause damage to an investor’s financial health which cannot be undone. 

The Evolution of Excessive Trading           

Excessive trading primarily occurs when securities brokers engage in unnecessarily frequent switching of equities sold on public securities exchanges. When this occurs, the broker “earns” a commission for each trade. Over time, these charges compound and cause substantial harm. In recent years, more and more securities brokers are starting to engage in excessive trading of more long term investment products not sold on public exchanges such as mutual funds, unit investment trusts, private equity funds, closed-end funds, and, most notably, variable annuities. Long-term product switching, especially when it involves variable annuities, does not need to occur at the same volume as equity switching in order to be deemed excessive. For example, annuities are specifically designed to be held onto long term and are often marketed to elderly vulnerable investors with very low risk tolerance. Investors placed in products such as variable annuities may be charged inordinately high[1] fees when they are both placed in and exit the product. That means that the fees investors incur as a result of excessive trading will rack up even more when the trading involves individually tailored private investment products like annuities.

The Indicators of Excessive Trading 

            Regulatory agencies such as FINRA have two main tools to identify excessive trading. One is by looking at the Turn-Over Rate. This is the number of times the securities in the account turn into new securities. The second is called the Cost-Equity Ratio. This is the amount the account would need to appreciate in order for the customer to simply cover the fees they are being charged. A turn-over rate of 6 and a cost-equity ratio of 20 percent are the prime indicators that excessive trading is most likely occurring. However, as noted above, these are just two indicators of many. Excessive trading still may exist where these indicators are not met.

Who Can Stop Excessive Trading? 

More so than both FINRA and the customers themselves, it is actually the broker-dealer who is in the best position to both spot and put a stop to excessive trading. Many securities firms have alert systems in place where they will be automatically be notified if an investor’s turn-over rate reaches 6 and their cost-equity ratio reaches 20 percent; however, case-law dictates that these two numbers are not necessary to make someone liable for excessive trading. Many brokers engaging in this practice know how to effectively skirt these alerts and avoid raising red flags by engaging in trading that falls just shy of reaching the numbers necessary to trigger the alerts. For this reason, FINRA has called on all broker-dealers to be more vigilant in broker supervision beyond merely “checking in on things” once an alert has gone off.

            Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult for investors to recognize when excessive trading is actually occurring. The investor is not trained in this industry and may only receive quarterly or annual statements from their broker. In some of the most egregious violations, brokers will skirt supervision mechanisms by fraudulently changing an investor’s preferences to allow for more frequent and speculative trading, essentially banking on investors not noticing the change in preferences on their account statements.

            The best thing that investors can do is make sure that their investment objectives and risk tolerance are listed correctly on account statements, actively communicate with their broker, and take thorough notes of their conversations. If investors do have any suspicions, they should never be afraid to call the broker-dealer and speak to a supervising manager. Legitimate brokers are not offended by this action and it will have no affect on your working relationship.

            Here at Cosgrove Law Group, LLC, we have substantial experience dealing with fraud related to brokers and financial professionals. If you suspect that you are a victim of excessive trading, contact the experienced attorneys at Cosgrove Law Group, LLC.

Author: Alexander Oakes, J.D. Candidate 2023, St. Louis University School of Law

[1] It is not uncommon to see an investor charged 25 percent of their principal investment if they exit an annuity early.

Friday, February 12, 2021

U-5 Filings and the Compelled Self-published Defamation Doctrine

 

Last year, the California Court of Appeals issued a highly instructive opinion in the area of U-5 defamation. Some excerpts from that opinion will help us get started on a variety of blogs. The case is Tilkey v Allstate Insurance Company.

INTRODUCTION

While Michael Tilkey and his girlfriend Jacqueline Mann were visiting at her home, the two got into an argument. Tilkey decided to leave the apartment. When he stepped out onto the enclosed patio to collect his cooler, Mann locked the door behind him. Tilkey banged on the door to regain entry, and Mann called police. Tilkey was arrested and pled guilty to a disorderly conduct charge only, and other charges were dropped. After Tilkey completed a domestic nonviolence diversion program, the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed as well.

Before the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed, Tilkey's company of 30 years, Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate), terminated his employment based on his arrest for a domestic violence offense and his participation in the diversion program. Allstate informed Tilkey it was discharging him for threatening behavior and/or acts of physical harm or violence to another person. Following the termination, Allstate reported its reason for the termination on a Form U5, filed with Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and accessible to any firm that hires licensed broker-dealers like Tilkey. Tilkey sued Allstate for wrongful termination and compelled self-published defamation.

The jury returned a verdict in Tilkey's favor on all causes of action and awarded him $2,663,137 in compensatory damages and $15,978,822 in punitive damages. The Court of Appeals concluded that compelled self-published defamation is a viable theory, and substantial evidence supported the verdict that the statement was not substantially true. The court did, however, remand the matter for recalculation of the punitive damages award.

FACTS

On August 31, 2014, Mann sent an e-mail to Tilkey at work mentioning the charges that had been filed against him. A field compliance employee later discovered this e-mail while conducting a routine compliance review and forwarded it to Human Resources (HR). HR professional Tera Alferos conducted the initial investigation, and she interviewed Tilkey. She noted Tilkey had been asked to accept a plea deal to have two of the three charges dropped, then the last one dismissed. She never spoke with Mann or interviewed the arresting officers. She also did not investigate Mann's background or review her social media accounts.

A couple weeks later, Alferos sent her supervisor a summary of her investigation, which stated that the police report had been reviewed and noted Tilkey had been charged with but not convicted of a crime. The summary also explained there was no FINRA reporting obligation because there were no felony charges, and it concluded there had been no violation of company policy.

A supervisor then changed the conclusion to state Tilkey's behavior may have been at a level that caused the company to lose confidence in him. At the supervisor’s request, Alferos next added references to the domestic violence charge because it suggested Tilkey had engaged in behavior that could be construed as acts of physical harm or violence toward another person, in violation of company policy. In an e-mail referencing the decision to terminate Tilkey's employment, a Ms. Metzger wrote that they were amending the reason for terminating Tilkey to be "violence against another person whether employed by Allstate or not. "It identified the policy violation as "[t]hreats or acts of physical harm or violence to the property or assets of the Company, or to any person, regardless of whether he/she is employed by Allstate." When the company terminated his employment, it informed Tilkey, "Your employment is being terminated as a result of engaging in behaviors that are in violation of Company Policy. Specifically, engaging in threatening behavior and/or acts of physical harm or violence to any person, regardless of whether he/she is employed by Allstate."

The company then filed a Form U5 with FINRA reporting its reason for terminating him as follows: "Termination of employment by parent property and casualty insurance company after allegations of engaging in behaviors that are in violation of company policy, specifically, engaging in threatening behavior and/or acts of physical harm or violence to any person, regardless of whether he/she is employed by Allstate. Not securities related."

Tilkey sued Allstate asserting three causes of action: (1) violation of California section 432.7; (2) wrongful termination based on noncompliance with section 432.7; and (3) compelled self-published defamation to prospective employers. Following trial, the jury returned a verdict for Tilkey and awarded $2,663,137 in compensatory damages, with $960,222 for wrongful termination and $1,702,915 for defamation, and $15,978,822 in punitive damages. Allstate moved for a new trial, which the trial court denied. Allstate appealed.

I: WRONGFUL TERMINATION

Allstate argued it did not violate the California wrongful termination statue (432.7) when it used as a factor in its termination decision Tilkey's arrest and subsequent conditional plea and entry into a diversion program. Tilkey countered that the company's reliance on his arrest records violated section 432.7; thus, he was wrongfully terminated. The parties' disagreement hinged on the interpretation of section 432.7, subdivision (a)(1), which prohibits employers from utilizing as a factor in employment decisions any record of arrest or detention that did not result in conviction or any record regarding referral to or participation in any pretrial or post trial diversion program.

Allstate argued a conditional plea agreement qualifies as a conviction. Tilkey contended he never entered a guilty plea; thus, there was no conviction. The court concluded we conclude the term "conviction" as defined in section 432.7 does not require entry of judgment: “The plain language here makes clear that a judgment is not required because the conviction can exist without respect to sentencing. (See ibid.) The statute's legislative history supports this interpretation.” A conviction under section 432.7 does not require an entry of judgment; it simply requires entry of a guilty plea. Thus, Allstate did not violate section 432.7 by using Tilkey's arrest as a factor in its decision to terminate his employment.

II: DEFAMATION

Allstate next challenged the defamation verdict, contending that self-compelled defamation should not provide a basis for a defamation per se cause of action. It further contended there was no evidence that Tilkey's self-publication was compelled by its publication of the reason for his employment termination on the Form U5 because that publication contained a privileged statement. Finally, Allstate maintained that its statement was substantially true, justifying reversal of the verdict.

For a valid defamation claim, the general rule is that "the publication must be done by the defendant." (Live Oak Publishing Co. v. Cohagan (1991) 234 Cal.App.3d 1277, 1284 (Live Oak Publishing).) But there is an exception "when it [is] foreseeable that the defendant's act would result in [a plaintiff's] publication to a third person." For the exception to apply, the defamed party must operate under a strong compulsion to republish the defamatory statement, and the circumstances creating the compulsion must be known to the originator of the statement at the time he or she makes it to the defamed individual.

Compelled Self-Published Defamation Per Se

In an action for defamation per se, the meaning is so clear from the face of the statement that the damages can be presumed. The originator of the statement is liable for the foreseeable repetition because of the causal link between the originator and the presumed damage to the plaintiff's reputation but the publication must be foreseeable.  The presumed injury is no less damaging because the plaintiff was compelled to make the statement instead of the employer making it directly to the third party. Allstate offered several other arguments for why the Court should not accept a theory of compelled self-published defamation.

Form U5 Privilege

Allstate provided a written explanation for Tilkey's termination of employment on the Form U5 to FINRA, which was available to every prospective employer of similarly licensed employees. Thus, disclosure was not absolutely privileged. Thus, Tilkey was compelled to explain the reason for his discharge, and this repetition was reasonably foreseeable.

Additionally, the qualified privilege that attaches to communications about an employee's job performance when made without malice or abuse to a third party likewise protects an employer against compelled self-published defamation. This conditional privilege helps protect the free flow of reference information.

Firms are required to file a Form U5 with FINRA whenever a registered representative leaves the firm. If the registered representative's employment has been terminated, the form asks the firm to provide a reason for termination. When the Form U5 identifies allegations of improper conduct by a broker-dealer, an issue that FINRA may need to investigate, it can on those occasions be considered "a communication made 'in anticipation of an action or other official proceeding.' (Briggs v. Eden Council for Hope & Opportunity (1999) 19 Cal.4th [1106,] 1115.)" (Fontani v. Wells Fargo Investments, LLC (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 719, 732, disapproved of on other grounds in Kibler v. Northern Inyo County Local Hospital District (2006) 39 Cal.4th 192.) In those instances, the information reported on the Form U5 would be protected by the absolute privilege outlined in Civil Code section 47, subdivision (b), at least in California.

Section 7 of the Form U5, however,  includes a list of disclosure questions for full terminations that asks if the terminated employee was the subject of a governmental investigation; was under internal review for fraud, wrongful taking of property, or violated investment related laws, regulations, or industry standards relating to compliance; was convicted of or pled guilty to a felony; or was convicted of or pled guilty to a misdemeanor that related to investments, fraud, false statements, bribery, perjury, forgery, counterfeiting, extortion, or wrongful taking of property. These questions make clear that FINRA seeks termination information that allows it to assess whether the employee's conduct lacked compliance with regulatory requirements in the securities arena. FINRA does not ask for information about non-securities-related activities because that information falls outside its scope of regulation.

Thus, according to the California Court, the absolute privilege extends to communications required by FINRA, i.e., fraud- and securities-related information. However, the communication of Tilkey's termination here did not regard improper securities-related conduct, and Allstate did not limit its responses to fraud- and securities-related information. Instead, Allstate explained Tilkey's departure was the result of a "termination of employment by parent property and casualty insurance company after allegations of engaging in behavior that are in violation of company policy, specifically, engaging in threatening behavior and/or acts of physical harm or violence to any person, regardless of whether he/she is employed by Allstate. Not securities related." This statement did not contain allegations of improper securities conduct, theft, or allegations or charges of fraud or dishonesty. It was not offered in anticipation of or to initiate an investigation; nor was it offered in the course of any other official 29 proceeding. (See Civ. Code, § 47, subd. (b).) Thus, the absolute privilege does not apply[1].

Substantial Evidence Supported the Jury Findings That Tilkey Was Compelled to Self-Publish a Statement That Was Not Substantially True

The jury concluded that Tilkey was under strong pressure to communicate Allstate's defamatory statement to another person. There was ample evidence to support this conclusion. A “vocational evaluator” testified Tilkey would have a difficult time ever getting another job because he had been terminated, and the reason for termination reported on the Form U5 was negative. He also noted that because Tilkey sold life insurance, he was required to hold securities licenses, and agencies and employers hiring those with securities licenses would have access to U5 forms. Tilkey's supervisor at Allstate, testified that Allstate routinely reviewed the securities public information from the Form U5 of any person they were hiring, and he could not recall ever hiring anyone at Allstate whose Form U5 stated he was terminated for cause. Tilkey testified that when he recruited agents, he would have someone check the Form U5, and he never hired anyone whose Form U5 showed the termination was for cause. He also never received an interview from any company that had access to a Form U5, even though he had 30 years of experience and performed well, receiving the third largest bonus in the state just a few weeks before his termination. Even if the company never offered any specific information about the reason for Tilkey's discharge from employment to prospective employers, its statement at the time of discharge and its reporting of the information on the publicly available Form U5 necessitated Tilkey's self-publication in other settings. In sum, the Court of Appeals upheld the defamation verdict but concluded that the punitive damage award was excessive. More on that later.



[1] Had Allstate instead eliminated the specifics in its statement, privilege may have attached because Allstate was required to report the termination. For example, it could have supplied the following statement: "Termination of employment by parent property and casualty insurance company after allegations of engaging behavior that are in violation of company policy. Not securities related."

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Gary Gensler Nominated to be the New SEC Chairman

On January 18th, a few days before Biden was sworn in as President, he announced his nomination for the new Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) chairman.  President Joseph Biden named Gary Gensler as his pick for SEC chairman[1].  While Gensler still needs to be confirmed by the senate[2], it is expected that he will be approved. Gensler’s confirmation will create a 3-2 democratic majority in the SEC commission.

Gary Gensler has an extensive resume within the financial industry.  He is a former Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) chairman, and is known for supporting intensive regulation. During his tenure at the CFTC, he introduced new rules concerning derivative markets, and implemented the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.  Gensler has also worked inside the industry he regulated, as an executive at Goldman Sachs from 1979 to the late 1990s[3]. Gensler has served as Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Markets[4]. Currently, he is a professor of Global Economics and Management at MIT Sloan School of Management[5].

Gary Gensler is recognized as an aggressive regulator. He is known to be direct about his policy decisions and not straying away from controversy[6]. Gensler’s transparent conduct can be beneficial for the SEC, and also beneficial to those who fall under SEC regulation. Transparency in decision making can make it easier to predict what new polices could be passed, but more importantly, how those polices will affect the securities industry. This is primarily because Gensler is unambiguous about what he wants to accomplish. Gensler is consistent. While Gensler is transparent about his policy decisions, he advocates for that same transparency within securities markets. Possible changes include an increase in ESG disclosures[7], possible new rules to “swaps” (similar to his actions as CFTC Chairman), and increased whistleblower protections[8].

Gensler may impact the cryptocurrency industry. Gensler is a supporter of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, however, he has also indicated the possibility of some cryptocurrencies falling under the scope of securities definitions (such as XRP)[9]. Overall, we can expect Gensler and the SEC to become more hands-on when it comes to regulation. 

At Cosgrove Law Group, we will be keeping a close eye on potential new regulation by the SEC. If you have any questions regarding securities regulations and rules, please feel free to give us a call at 314-563-2490.

Please follow us on Twitter @CosLawGroup, on LinkedIn at Cosgrove Law Group, LLC, and on Facebook at Cosgrove Law Group, LLC

 

[1] Politi, J. (2021, January 18). Biden names Gensler as SEC head in push towards more scrutiny. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.ft.com/content/a1ddd082-a253-4148-975a-1ec85b5e94d0

[2] Dizikes, P. (2021, January 19). MIT Sloan's Gary Gensler to be nominated for chair of Securities and Exchange Commission. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://news.mit.edu/2021/gary-gensler-nominated-chair-sec-0119

[3] Gary Gensler. (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://ballotpedia.org/Gary_Gensler

[4] Sprunt, B. (2021, January 18). Biden Taps Veteran Financial Regulators To Lead SEC, CFPB. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/sections/biden-transition-updates/2021/01/18/958023670/biden-taps-veteran-financial-regulators-to-lead-sec-cfpb

[5] Lundy, J. G., MacPhail, M. R., & Porteous, D. W. (2021, January 19). President Biden Announces Gary Gensler as SEC Chair Nominee. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.natlawreview.com/article/president-biden-announces-gary-gensler-sec-chair-nominee

[6] Nicodemus, A. (2021, January 19). 'A very strong and vocal regulator': Biden taps Gary Gensler to lead SEC. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.complianceweek.com/regulatory-policy/a-very-strong-and-vocal-regulator-biden-taps-gary-gensler-to-lead-sec/29931.article

[7] Glazer, E. (2021, January 18). Companies Brace Themselves for New ESG Regulations Under Biden. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/companies-brace-themselves-for-new-esg-regulations-under-biden-11610719200

[8] Schweller, G. (2021, January 18). Biden Picks Gary Gensler to Chair SEC. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://whistleblowersblog.org/2021/01/articles/whistleblower-news/biden-picks-gary-gensler-to-chair-sec/

[9] Basar, S. (2021, January 21). Crypto Industry Eyes Gary Gensler at SEC. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.tradersmagazine.com/am/crypto-industry-eyes-gary-gensler-at-sec/

 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

FINRA Orders Worden to Pay $1.2 Million in Restitution to Customers Whose Accounts Were Excessively Traded

FINRA announced last week that it sanctioned Worden Capital Management LLC (WCM) more than $1.5 million, including approximately $1.2 million in restitution to customers whose accounts were excessively traded by the firm’s representatives, and a $350,000 fine for supervisory and other violations. WCM must also retain an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive review of the relevant portions of the firm’s supervisory systems and procedures.

FINRA found that from January 2015 to October 2019, WCM and the firm’s owner and CEO, Jamie Worden, failed to establish and enforce a supervisory system reasonably designed to achieve compliance with FINRA’s rules relating to excessive trading. As a result, WCM’s registered representatives made unsuitable recommendations and excessively traded customers’ accounts, causing customers to incur more than $1.2 million in commissions..

Jessica Hopper, Head of FINRA’s Department of Enforcement, said, “FINRA has an unwavering commitment to protect investors from excessive and unsuitable trading. Firms must ensure they establish systems and procedures reasonably designed to supervise representatives’ recommendations to their customers, and firms’ supervisory personnel must have in place the necessary tools and training to address red flags.”

FINRA also found that WCM and Worden interfered with customers’ requests to transfer their accounts to another member firm. Finally, as a result of supervisory failures, WCM failed to timely file amendments to registered representatives’ Form U4s and Form U5s to disclose the filing or resolution of customer arbitrations[1]



[1] Michelle, Ong. (2020, December 31). FINRA Orders Worden Capital Management LLC to Pay More than $1.2 Million in Restitution to Customers Whose Accounts Were Excessively Traded. Retrieved January 05, 2021, from https://www.finra.org/media-center/newsreleases/2020/finra-orders-worden-capital-management-llc-pay-more-12-million

 

Monday, December 14, 2020

What Chairman Jay Clayton’s Resignation Could Mean for Future of Financial Regulation

On November 16th, 2020 Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Chairman, Jay Clayton announced he will be stepping down from his position at the end of 2020[1]. The Chairman’s announcement comes as no surprise, mainly due to Joe Biden’s presidential victory. SEC chairs typically step down when there is a new president elect[2]. (Former Chair Mary Jo White stepped down in 2016 after current President Donald Trump’s election[3] and former Chair Mary Schapiro resigned in 2012 after former President Barack Obama’s election.[4]) President-Elect Joe Biden is likely to nominate a new chairman before his inauguration on January 20th, 2021.

SEC Commissioner, Allison Lee is positioned to become the acting Chair until President Biden appoints a replacement for Jay Clayton[5]. Possible appointments include former SEC commissioner Kara Stein, Former commissioner Rob Jackson, Preet Bharara, a former United States attorney for the Sothern District of New York, Maxine Waters head of the House Financial Services Committee and, Gary Gensler who is currently leading the financial policy transition team for the future Biden administration[6].  

An appointment of a democratic chair will create a democratic majority within the commission. Historically, democratic members of the SEC rely heavier on enforcement than their republican counterparts. Gary Gensler, for example, aggressively implemented regulations such as the Dodd-Frank Act during his tenure as chairman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”)[7]. The appointment of a democratic chair within the SEC will result in increased enforcement and investigations.

The main question lies in where the priorities of enforcement will be.  Over the previous 3-years, the SEC commission focused more on deregulation and lowering business costs[8].  A democratic commission will possibly shift focus onto increased regulation, specifically on private markets. Additionally, environmental, social, and corporate governance (“ESG”) disclosures are likely to become a larger part of SEC enforcement in a democratic commission, particularly regarding environmental disclosures. Democratic Commissioner Allison Herren-Lee has advocated for standardized reporting for public companies regarding their climate risk[9] efforts which could lead to another amendment to Regulation S-K. Regulation Best Interest and Shareholder Proxy Voting are both expected to come under review with a democratic commission[10]. While these are just theories about what could potentially happen, it is still not for certain. When a new chair is nominated and confirmed, we will have a better idea of what to expect from the SEC. Here at Cosgrove Law Group, LLC we will keep an eye on future changes within the SEC and CFTC.



[1] Sorkin, A., Karaian, J., Merced, M., Hirsch, L., & Livni, E. (2020, November 16). Trump's S.E.C. Chairman Is Stepping Down. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/16/business/dealbook/clayton-sec-stepping-down.html 

[2] Cox, J. (2020, November 16). Jay Clayton says he will step down early as head of the SEC at the end of 2020. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/16/jay-clayton-says-he-will-step-down-early-as-head-of-the-sec-at-the-end-of-2020.html 

[3] Merle, R. (2019, March 28). SEC chair to step down, clearing path for Trump to eliminate tough Wall Street regulations. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2016/11/14/sec-chair-to-step-down-clearing-path-for-trump-to-eliminate-tough-wall-street-regulations/ 

[4] Press Release. (2012, November 26). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2012-2012-240htm 

5 Schroeder, P., Price, M., & Johnson, K. (2020, November 27). Factbox: The top contenders to run Biden's financial agencies. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-biden-wallstreet-regulators-factb/factbox-the-top-contenders-to-run-bidens-financial-agencies-idUSKBN28716L 

[6] Schroeder, P., Price, M., & Johnson, K. (2020, November 27). Factbox: The top contenders to run Biden's financial agencies. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-biden-wallstreet-regulators-factb/factbox-the-top-contenders-to-run-bidens-financial-agencies-idUSKBN28716L

 [7] Miedema, D. (2014, January 03). Swaps regulator Gensler: Banker turned Wall Street scourge. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-financial-regulation-gensler/swaps-regulator-gensler-banker-turned-wall-street-scourge-idUSBREA020OC20140103 

[8] Zanki, T. (2020, October 20). 4 Ways A Biden Election Could Swing SEC Priorities. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://www.law360.com/articles/1319347 

[9] Pisani, B. (2020, November 12). What a Democrat-controlled SEC might look like and what it would mean for markets. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/11/what-a-democrat-controlled-sec-might-look-like-and-what-it-would-mean-for-markets.html 

[10] Rasmussen, P., & Tehrani, P. (2020, November 7). ANALYSIS: Four Spots Biden Is Likely to Reverse SEC Deregulation. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://news.bloomberglaw.com/bloomberg-law-analysis/analysis-four-spots-biden-is-likely-to-reverse-sec-deregulation

 AUTHOR: Julianna M. Ness

Please follow us on Twitter @CosLawGroup, on LinkedIn at Cosgrove Law Group, LLC, and on Facebook at Cosgrove Law Group, LLC

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Missouri Securities Division Brings Action for Unregistered Investment Advice

Missouri’s Commissioner of Securities recently issued an Order to Cease and Desist against a California resident that was allegedly collecting fees to provide advice regarding stock selections. According to the order, Yifel Lu (“Lu”), “…for compensation, provided unregistered investment advice to individuals throughout the United States. Lu touted personal success in the United States stock market in an internet chat room. When asked for Lu’s advice, Lu instructed individuals to contact him on a separate phone/computer application. Once alternative contact was established, Lu proceeded to require clients to pay a fee of at least $300 for his advice. When the fee was agreed upon, Lu instructed clients to deposit funds electrically into a PayPal account.”  

Moreover, a Missouri Resident initially met Lu in a public chatroom on Moonbbs “where Lu, using the username “kyoraiden123,” touted his personal success in the United States stock market and advertised stock-selection advice. Lu promised multiple stock tips with the potential for high profit.”

The Enforcement Section is seeking disgorgement of the $300 fees and over $75,00 in civil penalties. Food for thought.