Photo: Fizkes/Shutterstock

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission continue to adjust regulatory and exam requirements in light of the coronavirus pandemic. FINRA and the SEC also are warning the regulated community of coronavirus scams and are taking actions to halt them.

In mid-May, broker-dealers and their registered reps were awaiting the date they could begin their online test-taking appointments for exams that will start on May 24 as part of FINRA and the North American Securities Administrators Association’s online testing service, which is to be administered remotely by Prometric.

The online test delivery service will allow candidates to use their camera-equipped computer to take qualifications exams.

FINRA and NASAA said in early May that they and other regulators planned to finalize in the coming weeks the requirements for the online testing, which initially will include online delivery of the Securities Industry Essentials (SIE), Series 6, Series 7, Series 63, Series 65 and Series 66 exams, FINRA said.

The CFP Board also postponed the July 2020 CFP Certification Exam to Sept. 22–29, due to the coronavirus.

Those already registered for the July 2020 exam were to be notified in May about how to reschedule testing appointments for September or Nov. 3–10.

“The health and safety of our exam candidates has been paramount to us as we’ve monitored the COVID-19 pandemic and considered its impact on the CFP exam,” according to CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller.

“CFP Board did not make this decision lightly. We recognize the months of preparation many candidates put into preparing for the exam, and we appreciate their ongoing dedication and perseverance,” Keller added.

Registration for the September exam is open to all eligible candidates, and discounted early registration is available through July 28. The exam’s final registration deadline is Sept. 8.

The CFP Board noted that exam administrations will continue as planned “only if they can be conducted without compromising the health of exam candidates.”

There were about 2,600 registrants for the March CFP exam, with roughly 1,630 passing it — for a pass rate of 63%.

FINRA Reduces Mediation Fees

FINRA also announced a “significantly” reduced-fee mediation program. Parties can use remote mediation at significantly reduced fees through Aug. 31.

To date, more than 85 mediators have agreed to participate in the program, FINRA said, which features the following benefits:

• Parties will receive a random list of 10 national mediators along with their Mediator Disclosures for their consideration and ranking;

• The mediator payment for his/her service is $100 an hour split by the parties; and

• FINRA waives mediation filing fees and administrative fees (FINRA receives no revenue).

FINRA Dispute Resolution Services also offers virtual hearing services (via Zoom and teleconference) to parties in all cases by joint agreement of parties and mediator.

FINRA Task Force Catches Scams

FINRA’s National Fraud and Financial Crimes Detection Programs, part of the broker-dealer regulator’s newly established COVID-19 Fraud Task Force, has referred more than 50 potentially fraudulent COVID-19 scams by public companies to the SEC.

The referrals have provided direct assistance to the SEC in suspending trading in the shares of more than 20 public companies, FINRA said in early May.

On March 23, FINRA hired Greg Ruppert, the former head of Charles Schwab’s Financial Crimes Risk Management group, to head the NCFC, which provides surveillance, investigations and examinations of potential fraud associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Ruppert — who also was a special agent with the FBI for 17 years, investigating complex financial schemes, terrorist financing and cyber threats — has assembled a task force of 15 FINRA groups to monitor COVID-19 related frauds.

Members of the task force collaborate daily and share regulatory intelligence with the SEC’s COVID-19 Fraud and Insider Trading task forces as well as with the FBI and the North American Securities Administrators Association.

The NCFC’s Insider Trading and Fraud Surveillance teams recently identified suspected COVID-19 fraud activity at select firms. “This regulatory intelligence was shared with NCFC’s AML and Cause Exam teams as well as with FINRA’s Enforcement Department which, collectively, reviewed the information and opened exams and investigations,” FINRA said in the blog.

FINRA also warned broker-dealers in early May of phishing emails that purport to be from the self-regulator.

In Regulatory Notice 20-12, FINRA states that the scam is “a widespread, ongoing phishing campaign that involves fraudulent emails” that claim to be from FINRA officers, including Bill Wollman and Josh Drobnyk.

The emails have a source domain name “@broker-finra.org” and request immediate attention to an attachment relating to a broker-dealer firm.

The domain of broker-finra.org is not connected to FINRA and firms should delete all emails originating from this domain name, FINRA states. finra.org.

Washington Bureau Chief Melanie Waddell can be reached at mwaddell@alm.com.