Nearly ten years ago, FINRA decided to update its old suitability rule, NASD Rule 2310. It had been around a long time, and while it seemed to work fine, FINRA decided to incorporate into the new amended rule – FINRA Rule 2111 – some new concepts. One such concept concerned recommendations to hold. Under the old rule, only recommendations to purchase, sell or exchange a security had to be suitable. Under the new rule, FINRA added to that list recommendations to hold, provided, of course, that such recommendations are “explicit.”

And that’s been the law of the land since July 2012. There was a great deal of consternation, at first, as firms tried to figure out what, exactly, constituted an explicit recommendation to hold, and, more troubling, the best way to capture such recommendations from a books-and-records perspective. (Since no order ticket is generated by a hold recommendation, firms had to come up with some method of memorializing them, and that was a bit tricky.) But, really, it hasn’t turned out to be that big of a deal. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a FINRA disciplinary action that involved an allegation that a broker made an unsuitable recommendation to hold.

The only place where recommendations to hold have managed to become the focus of any attention are in customer arbitrations, particularly cases where the recommendation to buy the investment at issue was made a long time ago. Pursuant to the “eligibility rule,” FINRA Rule 12206, for a claim even to be eligible for arbitration, the Statement of Claim must be filed within six years of the date of the event or occurrence which gives rise to the claim. Thus, if the purchase was made more than six years before the Statement of Claim was filed, the case is subject to dismissal. To avoid such dismissals, clever lawyers representing investors bake into their Statements of Claim vague allegations that at some time – typically no date is specifically identified – within the six-year period preceding the filing of the Statement of Claim, the BD and/or the broker made an unsuitable recommendation to hold the investment at issue. These claims serve one purpose: to avoid dismissal for being untimely. At the hearings, if the cases get that far, claimants devote almost no effort to pursue their hold claims.
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FINRA announced today that it entered into a settlement with MetLife Securities, Inc. in which MetLife agreed to pay FINRA a $20 million fine and its customers up to $5 million in compensation for, basically, making misrepresentations over a five-year period to customers who replaced one variable annuity with another regarding the costs of making

Yesterday, FINRA released its annual Examination Priorities Letter in which it set forth the top issues that would guide its examinations in the coming year. Running 13 pages in length (while complaining about having to be so “brief”), FINRA set forth some of the “many areas of potential concern” it expects to encounter this year.

I wish I was able to report some fireworks, or something semi-controversial, but FINRA and its hand-picked panelists managed to avoid saying anything particularly remarkable in any way. If you have never attended one of these conferences, and think that people come to learn cutting edge strategies, forget it. It is all very basic, very