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FINRA BrokerCheck Ad Campaign Supported by Huge Fine Volume

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said Monday that its new $3.5 million national advertising campaign promoting BrokerCheck was made possible by the large volume of fines it collected from brokers last year.

The ads were created by Ogilvy & Mather and tout the free online BrokerCheck tool that allows investors to probe a broker’s background and regulatory complaint history. The ads will appear in print, online and on television, urging investors not to make “leap-before-you-look mistakes” when choosing a broker.

The digital ad, which starts Monday and runs through June, encourages investors to “get important facts” about a broker’s professional background by logging on to BrokerCheck. The print ad — to appear Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal — asks why people who wouldn’t cross the street, change lanes or reply to an email without checking first would invest with a broker before checking her background.

“We go online to research everything from restaurants to movies to hotels. So before handing over your hard-earned money, why wouldn’t you check out your investment professional or firm first?” the ad states.

The 15-second TV spots, to run for five weeks on cable channels, including CNBC, Bloomberg, CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business, Fox News, ESPN, Discovery, The History Channel and HGTV, includes one spot that states: “You wouldn’t haul a load without checking your clearance. So why would you invest without checking BrokerCheck?”

A print ad will run in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, with the campaign to run digitally on Bloomberg, CNBC, Fortune, Reuters, TubeMogul, the Undertone Network and The Wall Street Journal, along with YouTube and the search engines Google, Yahoo and Bing.

A FINRA spokesperson told ThinkAdvisor that due to the “volume of FINRA fines” collected last year, “we are able to devote resources to promote this important investor protection tool.”

FINRA imposed approximately $135 million in fines in 2014, up 125% from the $60 million in fines the regulator assessed in 2013.

Richard Ketchum, FINRA’s chairman and CEO, noted in a statement announcing the ad campaign that BrokerCheck “is a key component to FINRA’s ongoing efforts to help investors make informed choices about brokers and brokerage firms. People immediately go online to check out a new restaurant where they might spend $25 for a meal, but don’t think to use BrokerCheck when they’re handing over $2,500 — or $25,000 of their life’s savings or even more — to an investment professional to invest. That has to change, and we hope this campaign will help.” The self-regulator launched in late April a toll-free helpline for seniors to provide them with assistance regarding their brokerage accounts and investments.

Susan Axelrod, FINRA’s executive vice president of regulatory operations, stated at FINRA’s annual conference in Washington last week that the helpline has received more than 400 calls in a little over a month, and is intended to help seniors with such tasks as filing a complaint and getting help with BrokerCheck.

The hotline comes on the heels of an examination of 44 broker-dealers recently released by the Securities and Exchange Commission and FINRA finding that some BDs are recommending unsuitable products to seniors.

The report also found that some reps could be violating FINRA’s rule on communications with the public by not tracking which reps use a senior designation.

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