United States: Referral Fees And Commission Sharing: When May Broker-Dealers Share Their Fees With Non-Brokers?

Last Updated: October 22 2014
Article by Hillel Cohn

FINRA recently filed proposed rule changes with the SEC addressing when broker-dealers may pay referral fees or otherwise share compensation with persons who are not registered as broker-dealers. The proposed rule changes are subject to the SEC's approval. If approved, new Rule 2040 and related conforming changes to other FINRA rules will go into effect 45 to 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

THE REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTS

Under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the "Exchange Act"), persons who receive transaction-based compensation in connection with the purchase or sale of securities must generally be registered as broker-dealers or licensed as associated persons of a registered broker-dealer. In most cases, registered broker-dealers are not permitted to share their transaction-based compensation with persons who are not properly registered or licensed.

Over the years, the NYSE, NASD and FINRA have issued multiple rules and interpretations enforcing registration requirements and creating several important exceptions. The proposed rule changes would consolidate these rules and interpretations into new FINRA Rule 2040. While the proposed rule would not implement any substantive changes from the current set of rules and interpretations, it does include a few features which may have significant implications.

THE PROPOSED RULE

Proposed FINRA Rule 2040 starts with the general principle that no member firm or associated person may, directly or indirectly, pay compensation to an unregistered firm or unlicensed person, if the receipt of such compensation would cause the recipient to be subject to the broker-dealer registration requirements of the Exchange Act. In the rule proposal, FINRA makes it clear that it is the SEC, and not FINRA or other self-regulatory organizations, which is responsible for defining what conduct triggers the broker-dealer registration requirements of the Exchange Act. The SEC has repeatedly emphasized that the receipt of transaction-based compensation in connection with the purchase or sale of securities most likely means that the recipient must be registered as a broker-dealer. Thus, commission sharing or the payment of referral fees calculated as a percentage of the broker-dealer's transaction-based compensation, will in almost all cases be prohibited. On the other hand, compensation which is clearly not transaction-based, such as an hourly consulting fee paid to an IT consultant, would be permitted.

RESOLVING UNCERTAINTIES

Of course, compensation arrangements may come in all sizes and flavors and sometimes it is not readily apparent if a proposed compensation arrangement would require the recipient to be registered as a broker-dealer. For example, what about a referral arrangement which pays the finder a flat fee of $1,000 for every successful referral, irrespective of the size of the account or the value of commissions generated by the account?

To assist broker-dealers in resolving the question of whether a particular compensation arrangement requires registration, FINRA has included supplementary material with proposed Rule 2040. The supplementary material advises that broker-dealers should document the basis for their determination that a payment may be made to an unlicensed person. Where there is uncertainty, member firms are advised to seek support for their conclusion by (i) relying on published SEC no-action letters and interpretations, (ii) seeking no-action relief from the SEC or (iii) obtaining a legal opinion from independent legal counsel. Although the supplementary material indicates that the foregoing methods of supporting a conclusion are non-exclusive, it would not be surprising if the enumerated methods become the industry standard most compliance departments will require in order to avoid second-guessing by the regulators. These registration issues are often difficult to analyze and in many cases it may not be practical or cost-effective to seek no-action relief or an independent legal opinion. This uncertainty may push broker-dealers to adopt a conservative position when confronted with any question as to whether payment to an unlicensed person is permitted.

PROPOSED EXCEPTIONS

There are two important exceptions to the general prohibitions set forth in proposed Rule 2040 that would both continue to support existing practices permitted under the current rules. The first exception allows broker-dealers to pay referral fees to foreign persons for the referral of foreign nationals. Based on comments received by FINRA on its first draft of proposed Rule 2040, the ability to compensate foreign brokers for referrals is viewed as very important by many U.S. broker-dealers. In order for this exception to apply, the U.S. broker-dealer must determine that the foreign recipient of the referral fee is not required to register as a broker-dealer in the U.S. The foreign recipient should be conducting its business entirely outside the U.S., except as permitted under SEC Rule 15a- 6. The U.S. broker-dealer must also determine that the payment would not violate the laws of the country in which the recipient is located and that the foreign recipient is not a "disqualified" person under the Exchange Act. See Section 3(a)(39) of the Exchange Act. Finally, written disclosure of the fact that a referral fee is being paid must be made to and acknowledged in writing by the client. This exception is presumably predicated on the theory that foreign nationals operating outside the U.S. would not be subject to U.S. broker-dealer registration requirements.

The second exception would permit the payment of commissions to retired account executives or registered representatives ("representatives"). This exception is designed to incentivize retiring representatives to transition their business to other representatives at the firm. Under this exception, a retired representative may continue to share in commissions and other compensation generated by accounts he or she serviced at the firm even after the representative has retired and is no longer licensed as an associated person. In order to be eligible for this exception, the representative must enter into a contract prior to retirement with the member firm that provides for the post-retirement payments. Following retirement, the retired representative will not be able to solicit new business, open new accounts or service any existing accounts.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Hillel Cohn
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Morrison & Foerster LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Morrison & Foerster LLP
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions