Documentation and Compliance Key in FINRA Sweep Exams of Options Accounts

Broker-dealers need to document their firm’s processes for supervising options trading and demonstrate compliance with them in new FINRA sweep exam on option accounts.

The industry self-regulator is conducting targeted examinations of broker-dealers’ supervision of options trading as part of its ongoing efforts to protect retail investors. FINRA CEO Robert Cook had indicated in July that the sweep would be coming and the regulator followed through shortly thereafter, releasing its Targeted Examination Letter on Option Account Opening, Supervision, and Related Areas in early August.

“Options are tricky and can be difficult to understand for certain investors. Even registered representatives recommending them can struggle understanding and explaining their inherent risks to investors. This sweep exam attempts to determine if firm compliance and supervision programs are adequate to protect investors holding option accounts,” said Margie Webber, Director of Regulatory Compliance for RegEd.

Auditors Seek Specific Information

FINRA and other regulators use targeted exam letters, or sweeps, to focus examinations and pinpoint regulatory responses to emerging issues. The number of firms included in targeted exams and the criteria for inclusion vary.

FINRA’s targeted exam sweep of broker-dealers’ options account activity covers the period from January 2020 to August 2021. In its letter, FINRA asks firms to provide the following information for both self-directed accounts and accounts in which registered representatives recommended options for retail investors.

  1. Written Supervisory Procedures (WSP), compliance manuals, and any other written guidance related to the firm’s processes and procedures regarding the firm’s options account opening and due diligence activities specific to each level of trading permission
  2. Compliance manuals and any other written guidance pertaining to the firm’s supervision of options trading in customer accounts
  3. Methods for surveilling activity of existing options customers
  4. Descriptions of the technology and processes for approving or denying customer options account applications and the supervisory review of those systems
  5. Requirements to open margin accounts or otherwise be approved for margin in connection with options activity as well as descriptions of any technology or process for approving or denying margin accounts
  6. Instances where options limitations (account approval or transactions in options accounts) were not appropriately applied, and any steps taken to date to prevent future breaches of requirements 
  7. Whether the firm reviewed non-options customers and/or existing options customers for promotion or recommendation of a new options account, and if so, how it conducted the review(s) and how often
  8. Means of advertising options accounts and how applications were provided to and submitted by customers
  9. Sample options account applications or similar records used to collect information from customers as part of the firm’s options account approval process 
  10. Sample options-related disclosure materials or other communications provided to customers that explain firm practices and policies

Responding to Auditors’ Requests

“Firms leveraging technology in their compliance and supervision programs are well-positioned to respond to this sweep,” Webber said. “Enterprise compliance solutions give firms visibility throughout the organization and allow for the ownership of procedures and delegation of responsibilities, enabling the compliance professional to more efficiently respond to regulatory examinations such as this options account sweep” she said.

As built-for-purpose tools tailored to the needs of broker-dealers and investment advisers, RegEd’s compliance solutions for securities firms are highly effective as well as cost-efficient. Firms can seamlessly manage all aspects of their compliance programs, reducing risks and costs by automating and streamlining processes. And each solution is configured for optimal performance by RegEd’s implementation experts, who have worked with many of the nation’s largest securities firms.

RegEd’s compliance management platform includes the following solutions (among others).

  • Policies and Procedures Management Solution – An enterprise workflow, work-process, and task management solution, it enables comprehensive, end-to-end administration and oversight of all elements of a firm’s policies and procedures.
  • Education and Training Suite – Robust technology and content power firms’ compliance programs. Solutions like CE Program Management and Firm Element Training simplify training and education and improve compliance.
  • Advertising Review – Automates and streamlines compliance reviews to reduce compliance risk and speed time to market. Hallmarked by unmatched flexibility and ease-of-use, it drives the highest levels of efficiency, enabling firms to handle projected volume growth without compromising review quality or turnaround.

Schedule a consultation to learn more about how RegEd’s compliance solutions enable broker-dealers to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency across the enterprise.

About RegEd

RegEd is the market-leading provider of RegTech enterprise solutions with relationships with more than 200 enterprise clients, including 80% of the top 25 financial services firms.

Established in 2000 by former regulators, the company is recognized for continuous regulatory technology innovation with solutions hallmarked by workflow-directed processes, data integration, regulatory intelligence, automated validations, business process automation, and compliance dashboards. The aggregate drives the highest levels of operational efficiency and enables our clients to cost-effectively comply with regulations and continuously mitigate risk.

Trusted by the nation’s top financial services firms, RegEd’s proven, holistic approach to RegTech meets firms where they are on the compliance and risk management continuum, scaling as their needs evolve and amplifying the value proposition delivered to clients. For more information, please schedule a consultation.

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