While FINRA is clear to say that what it provides are guidelines, not hard and fast rules, it does publish a “Sanction Guidelines” that reads surprisingly like a menu. However, even for each category of conduct there are aggrevating and mitigating factors that can be taken into account. If you are facing potential disclipinary action from FINRA, it is important to find counsel that can help you navigate the issues.
FINRA points to 19 general factors that are considered when sanctioning a FINRA member or Registered Representative:
1. The respondent’s relevant disciplinary history (see General Principle No. 2).
2. Whether an individual or member firm respondent accepted responsibility for and acknowledged the misconduct to his or her employer (in the case of an individual) or a regulator prior to detection and intervention by the firm (in the case of an individual) or a regulator.
3. Whether an individual or member firm respondent voluntarily employed subsequent corrective measures, prior to detection or intervention by the firm (in the case of an individual) or by a regulator, to revise general and/or specific procedures to avoid recurrence of misconduct.
4. Whether the respondent voluntarily and reasonably attempted, prior to detection and intervention, to pay restitution or otherwise remedy the misconduct.
5. Whether, at the time of the violation, the respondent member firm had developed reasonable supervisory, operational and/or technical procedures or controls that were properly implemented.
6. Whether, at the time of the violation, the respondent member firm had developed adequate training and educational initiatives.
7. Whether the respondent demonstrated reasonable reliance on competent legal or accounting advice.
8. Whether the respondent engaged in numerous acts and/or a pattern of misconduct.
9. Whether the respondent engaged in the misconduct over an extended period of time.
10. Whether the respondent attempted to conceal his or her misconduct or to lull into inactivity, mislead, deceive or intimidate a customer, regulatory authorities or, in the case of an individual respondent, the member firm with which he or she is/was associated.
11. With respect to other parties, including the investing public, the member firm with which an individual respondent is associated, and/or other market participants, (a) whether the respondent’s misconduct resulted directly or indirectly in injury to such other parties, and (b) the nature and extent of the injury.
12. Whether the respondent provided substantial assistance to FINRA in its examination and/or investigation of the underlying misconduct, or whether the respondent attempted to delay FINRA’s investigation, to conceal information from FINRA, or to provide inaccurate or misleading testimony or documentary information to FINRA.
13. Whether the respondent’s misconduct was the result of an intentional act, recklessness or negligence.
14. Whether the member firm with which an individual respondent is/ was associated disciplined the respondent for the same misconduct at issue prior to regulatory detection. Adjudicators may also consider whether another regulator sanctioned a respondent for the same misconduct at issue and whether that sanction provided substantial remediation.
15. Whether the respondent engaged in the misconduct at issue notwithstanding prior warnings from FINRA, another regulator or a supervisor (in the case of an individual respondent) that the conduct violated FINRA rules or applicable securities laws or regulations.
16. Whether the respondent member firm can demonstrate that the misconduct at issue was aberrant or not otherwise reflective of the firm’s historical compliance record.
17. Whether the respondent’s misconduct resulted in the potential for the respondent’s monetary or other gain.
18. The number, size and character of the transactions at issue.
19. The level of sophistication of the injured or affected customer.
Even taking these general issues into account, depending on the alleged conduct, there are different factors considered. For example, for an allegation of selling away, a difference of a few thousand dollars in the value of the security sold can mean the difference of a recommendation of a suspension of 10 days or 6 months.
If you are facing potential sanctions from FINRA, you need competent counsel to help you navigate the process, your license is your livelihood.