FINRA helpline aims to aid smaller firms, but concerns arise

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FINRA has launched a helpline to provide firms with direct assistance and answers to general and routine FINRA related questions, as well as direct callers to the proper regulatory staff and other departments. The effort is part of its FINRA360 organizational improvement program.

While allowing small firms to get general information faster and easier, it also will “free up other critical FINRA resources to help firms with more substantive matters such as examinations, financial questions, the implementation of rules and licensing requirements," FINRA CEO Robert Cook said in a statement.

"One of the real benefits of our role as a self-regulatory organization is our ability to provide firms with the tools and resources to help them comply with regulations — and this new resource is aimed squarely at doing that," Cook said.

Advisor Liz Miller of Summit Place Financial is as enthusiastic about the launch as FINRA, applauding the regulator for its focus on helping smaller firms.

“Financial service firm regulation and compliance is increasingly complex, and it is difficult sometimes to navigate reporting and registering requirements,” Miller says. “Large firms generally have experienced inside compliance officers or outside counsel who know precisely how to identify and file forms. Even the most committed small firms are often left to navigate with only the help of industry guidelines and instruction papers. ”

To be sure, not everyone is so excited about the helpline. Advisor Gene McManus of AP Wealth Management doesn’t expect to get much use out of it and even raised a concern about its reliability.

“Our chances of using it are slim,” says McManus. “One concern I might have is [whether] an oral response or even a written one (email) could be relied upon if there was some sort of enforcement action in the future?”

The number of small FINRA firms—those with fewer than 150 registered brokers—has been in steady decline for years. From 2002 to 2016, the number dropped to 3,400, a loss of about 1,500 over that time period.

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Financial planning Financial regulations Practice management Client communications Robert W. Cook FINRA