Friday, February 5, 2010

Bad Advice -Ignore FINRA Social Media Guidance

Securities regulation is a big deal for those in the industry. The mix of rules, regulations and regulators is a dangerous web of potential violations, fines and suspensions. But those who are in the industry know that the regulators are serious, that they are looking for violations, and will bring actions for those violations.

Maybe it is a sign of the Madoff times, but I can't help but shutter when I read comments from supposedly educated and experienced people who comment on rules and regulations. We all know that FINRA has released its social media guidelines. And we know that like most topics, there can be more than one opinion on the impact of new pronouncements.

Some think that the guidelines are too vague, and therefore meaningless. The vagueness that they are referring to is a desire to meet two goals - first to insure that new rules and regulations address a wide range of situations, and second, to allow firms to create their own supervisory system to meet the challenges of their particular mix of issues. For the inexperienced, bright line tests are better because they are easier. The experienced prefer principle-based regulation - tell me what you want to accomplish, and I will figure out the best way for me and my firm to get there.

But that claim of vagueness has led to another unfortunate, and potentially dangerous conclusion. From a legal blog today, talking about FINRA's social media guidelines:

Investing blogs seem to be eyeing the rules with a wary eye, but the consensus seems to be something a long the lines of "it's impossible for them to enforce this, and they're probably not going to be too aggressive anyway."

I hope that any financial professional who is guided by that statement has my business card on his desk. He is going to need it shortly.

FINRA is taking this seriously, and is already requesting documents regarding the use of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It is not impossible for them to monitor the use of social media, they will do so, and will seek sanctions for misuse.
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