In Regulatory Notice 16-29 (Regulatory Notice),1 the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) requested comments on proposed amendments to Rule 32202 – its “Gift Rule” – as well as new proposed FINRA Rule 3221 (Restrictions on Non-Cash Compensation) and new proposed FINRA Rule 3222 (Business Entertainment) – that would consolidate a patchwork of rules and guidance on non-cash compensation related to the sale of securities and on business entertainment. The proposed amendments and new rules (collectively, Proposal) are intended to protect U.S. investors while reducing member compliance costs.

The Regulatory Notice indicates that the Gift Rule “seeks both to avoid improprieties that may arise when a member firm or its associated persons give anything of value to an employee of a customer or counterparty and to preserve an employee’s duty to act in the best interests of that customer.” The proposed amendments to the Gift Rule update the gift limit for inflation and add a de minimis threshold. Proposed FINRA Rule 3221 extends – to the sale of all securities – the current limitations on payment or receipt of non-cash compensation. Proposed FINRA Rule 3222 requires firms to adopt written policies and procedures to govern business entertainment.

Comments on the Proposal are due by September 23, 2016. Proposed rule changes become effective after the FINRA Board of Governors authorizes a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which then considers approval of the proposed rule changes after publication for public comment in the Federal Register.

Proposed Rule Amendments

Background

FINRA launched “a retrospective review of its gifts, gratuities and non-cash compensation rules to assess their effectiveness and efficiency” in April 2014, and published the results of its review in a report later that year (Retrospective Report).3 The Retrospective Report found the current FINRA rules governing gifts, gratuities and non-cash compensation4 to be generally effective in protecting investors, but also indicated that: the $100 gift limit was too low; the related tracking was overly inclusive and costly; and compliance with existing rules was complicated because they are spread throughout the FINRA rulebook and certain rules are specific to particular types of securities. The Regulatory Notice also indicated that FINRA’s examination staff found instances of poor recordkeeping in logs of gifts and business entertainment.

The Proposal would: consolidate the existing rules under a single rule series in the FINRA rulebook; incorporate existing guidance and interpretive letters into the rules; change specific aspects of the regulation of gifts, non-cash compensation and business entertainment; and prescribe recordkeeping requirements.

Gifts

FINRA is proposing to amend the Gift Rule to increase the gift limit from $100 to $175 per person per year and to add a de minimis threshold below which firms would not need to record gifts. Further, by incorporating existing guidance, the amended Gift Rule would continue to: include gifts given during the course of business entertainment; value gifts at the higher of cost or market value; and provide for annual aggregation of all gifts from members (and associated persons) to a recipient. Subject to certain conditions, the amended Gift Rule would continue to allow:

  • Bereavement gifts that are customary and reasonable;
  • Personal gifts for infrequent life events (e.g., wedding or birth) that are customary, reasonable and personal (i.e., not in relation to the employer’s business);
  • De minimis gifts (e.g., pens or notepads) valued at less than $50;5
  • Promotional items (e.g., umbrellas or tote bags) if the item is valued at less than $50 and displays the member’s logo; and
  • Commemorative items for business transactions (e.g., lucite stones or plaques) if the item is solely decorative.
     

The proposed amended Gift Rule would continue the existing requirements related to supervision and record retention, by requiring FINRA members’ systems and procedures to be reasonably designed to ensure: that a recipient’s gratuity is reported to the member; reviewed for compliance;6 and maintained in the member’s records. However, gifts that are de minimis gifts and promotional or commemorative items are not subject to the recordkeeping requirements.

Restrictions on Non-Cash Compensation

Proposed FINRA Rule 3221 extends the current prohibition on offers or payments of non-cash compensation to the sale of any security. Currently, FINRA rules only apply to offers or payments of non-cash compensation with respect to investment company securities, variable insurance contracts, direct participation programs and public offerings of securities.7 Proposed FINRA Rule 3221 would continue to define the following aspermissible non-cash compensation arrangements:

  • Gifts from offerors8 that:
    • Do not exceed $175 per individual per year; and
    • Are not preconditioned on the achievement of a sales target.9
       
  • Training or education meetings by offerors where the offeror pays for associated persons’ expenses, provided that:
    • Prior approval to attend is not preconditioned on the achievement of a sales target;
    • The location is appropriate in light of the purpose of the meeting as defined in the Proposal;10
    • An offeror may only pay for certain (i.e., training, education, meals, lodging and transportation) expenses, and not for entertainment or for guests.
       
  • Internal sales contests between permitted participants11 where the arrangement is either:
    • Not preconditioned on achievement of a sales target; or
    • “Preconditioned on achievement of a sales target [where the arrangement is] based on the total production with respect to all securities [distributed by the member], and not based on conditions that would encourage an associated person to recommend particular securities or categories of securities.”12
       

Further, by incorporating existing guidance as supplementary material to FINRA Rule 3221, FINRA proposes to continue existing interpretations related to: gifts incidental to business entertainment; the valuation of gifts at the higher of cost or market value; the aggregation of gifts per recipient per year; permitted personal gifts; and permitted de minimis gifts and promotional or commemorative items.13 In addition, the supplementary material includes training and education meetings that must “first and foremost be intended to provide training or education to an associated person” where training must occupy “substantially all” of the work day.14

FINRA also proposes to require members to retain records of non-cash compensation provided or receivedby a member (or its associated persons).15

Business Entertainment

Proposed FINRA Rule 3222, which would apply to business entertainment provided by a member (or its associated persons) and to the receipt of business entertainment by a member (or its associated persons) from an offeror,16 would include an occasional meal, a ticket to a sporting event and other comparable entertainment, among other events.17

Proposed FINRA Rule 3222 requires principles-based written policies and supervisory procedures to:

  • Detect and prevent business entertainment intended (or reasonably perceived as intended) as an improper quid pro quo;
  • Define forms of business entertainment, as either permissible or impermissible, based on specified factors;18
  • Require the offeror or member (or its associated persons) to host the business entertainment;
  • Specify that the business entertainment is not preconditioned on the achievement of a sales target;
  • Require appropriate training and education of all relevant personnel; and
  • Require the maintenance of detailed records, including the factors used to determine permissibility.
     

Specific Requests for Comment

In addition to requesting comments on all aspects of the Proposal, FINRA seeks comments on the following specific questions, including whether:

  • Risks to customers might increase as a result of raising the gift limit to $175, and whether this limit is appropriate;
  • $50 is an appropriate de minimis threshold for recordkeeping;
  • The Gift Rule should be broadened to encompass gifts given by member firms (or their associated persons) to their own employees or gifts by member firms’ employees to their retail clients or customers;
  • Disallowance of product-specific internal sales contests for non-cash compensation is appropriate;
  • Training and education meetings should allow entertainment;
  • Proposed recordkeeping requirements are appropriately tailored to allow compliance monitoring;
  • Consolidation of regulationin the Proposal simplifies and affects the costs of compliance; and
  • Compliance programs might be impacted – including consideration of the estimated costs of drafting policies and procedures covering business entertainment, as well as the economic impact of extending the non-cash compensation rules to all securities.