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FINRA Answers Questions on BDs' Electronic Communications

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has released guidance based on questions it has received from broker-dealers regarding communications with the public — specifically when using websites, email and other electronic communications.

FINRA’s communications rules — Rules 2210 through 2220 — are based on the principles of ensuring that member communications are fair and balanced, and that investors do not receive misleading information, the broker-dealer self-regulator explains in Regulatory Notice 19-31.

Broker-dealers now often market and advertise their products and services using websites, email, social media, search advertisements, mobile apps and other electronic media, FINRA explains.

Regulatory Notice 17-18 (Social Media and Digital Communications), Regulatory Notice 11-39 (Social Media Websites and the Use of Personal Devices for Business Communications), and Regulatory Notice 10-06 (Social Media Websites) have offered guidance on how to apply the communications rules to social media and electronic communications.

Reg Notice 19-31 offers guidance on the application of the communications rules to social media and electronic communications.

For instance, one question probes FINRA on whether disclosures in marketing materials, which “have become quite extensive,” are required.

FINRA’s response: No. However, while FINRA doesn’t object to BDs’ communications including disclosures that are not required by the rules, BDs “must ensure the additional information does not inhibit an investor’s understanding of the required information.”

Electronic media and design innovations, FINRA states, “may open new ways to present information to investors and focus a communication on the most relevant parts.”

However, ads may sometimes include “rote or prescriptive boilerplate that is irrelevant to the marketing message, or disclosure for purposes other than compliance with rule requirements, such as disclaimers related to business relationships or disclosure about intellectual property. Combining this additional text with more important and relevant disclosure — such as in a single block of fine print text — can detract from the impact of information required for the investor to understand the product or service.”

Another question asks if it’s necessary to disclose risks, costs or other drawbacks in a communication that are unrelated to its content.

FINRA states that while its rules require that communications “be fair and balanced,” they don’t require “them to be exhaustive lists of all possible risks and warnings associated with a product or service. Information about risks, costs or drawbacks is more effective when it is related to the benefits that the communication promotes.”