Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blogging for dollars

Everyone taking the Series 66 is also already a Series 7-licensed stockbroker or will soon become one, assuming there are no felony convictions in the recent past or any misdemeanors involving fraud or other "money crimes" to report on Form U-4. Therefore, FINRA rules shape your daily business life. They are also part of the Series 65 exam, so those candidates have to know about them, even if they never get a Series 6 or 7 and become subject to FINRA's awesome powers to ruin careers or protect investors, depending on your perspective.

As I found out here at Google's "blogspot," setting up a blog is amazingly easy these days. You just give it a name, choose a template and start posting whatever it is you want to say. I'm not sure why so many blogs degenerate into rants and personal assaults on people the blogger has never and will never meet, but bashing the president of the United States is within the blogger's 1st Amendment rights. Recommending that readers purchase securities or stop by the branch office for an IRA checkup is a whole nuther thing entirely. FINRA has a notice to members (10-06) that everyone should read. Turns out, if you're an agent for, say, Morgan Stanley, Morgan Stanley has to worry about all kinds of things connected to your blog, facebook, etc. First, your static blog posts that mention anything about your firm's business or securities in general is likely considered "advertising" by FINRA, and advertising is subject to pre-approval and record retention by the firm. If you're recommending securities, FINRA's suitability rules apply. Is the variable annuity you're pushing suitable to all followers of your blog? If not, that could be a problem, especially if they buy what you're recommending and end up losing money. Facebook allows you to put up static posts, but also allows you to chat in real-time. While "extemporaneous" commentary on a website or during any public appearance does not--and cannot--be pre-approved, it does have to be monitored by compliance, a group not generally known for their sense of humor.
So, before you launch a blog or post a stock recommendation on your Facebook wall, please read the FINRA notice 10-06, and please proceed carefully, letting your compliance officers know exactly what you're up to online.

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