Finance & Banking
On January 28, 2019 the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) released Regulatory Notice 19-04 announcing a 529 Plan Share Class Initiative encouraging firms to self-report potential violations. Broker-Dealers are encouraged to consider self-reporting under the initiative if they have identified specified failures in connection with 529 plan recommendations, and have the ability to assess the impact of the failures. Firms have until April 1st to notify FINRA in writing if it has decided to self-report.
On Christmas Day 2013, The Wolf of Wall Street debuted to rave reviews and quickly became director Martin Scorsese’s top-grossing film. Audiences loved Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort, an aggressive stockbroker who rapidly rises to wealth through smooth talking and high-pressure sales tactics. The film is filled with outrageous partying, unethical Wall Street stockbrokers and bankers, and culminates in the arrest of Belfort and the downfall of his criminal enterprise. While certain scenes from the film were arguably embellished, the film is based on a true story. The more amazing true story, however, is that The Wolf of Wall Street was funded and produced through a massive fraud that makes Jordan Belfort’s escapades look miniscule. On November 1, 2018, Timothy Leissner, a Goldman Sachs partner, plead guilty to conspiring to launder money and violating foreign antibribery laws for his role in a massive scandal that involves the prime minister of Malaysia, Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds, and even Paris Hilton.
Just in time for holiday shopping, and at the beginning of Q4, President Trump delivered some news for holiday shoppers. In what shocked some, but others found as expected and inevitable, President Trump continued his message to the world that the US will not be “handing out donations” much longer. His latest re-negotiation to bring dollars back to the US has left overseas ecommerce providers wondering what the latest move in this Administration’s financial overturn is going to do for their business. It’s not the big players like Amazon that’ll feel the brunt of this, but the smaller players in the eCommerce space that outsource their products overseas may feel a hit in their margins as this move by Trump takes its toll.
On October 31, 2018 the Federal Reserve (the “Fed”) announced a proposal for looser capital and liquidity requirements for some U.S. banks. This announcement is in line with the latest moves to reduce regulatory burdens on community and regional financial institutions, but marks one of the most significant rollbacks of bank regulations since the Trump administration took office. The proposed changes will divide big banks into four categories based on their size and other risk factors. The proposal will generally affect large U.S. lenders, yet leave some of the largest banks untouched.
Both the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Labor (DOL) are pushing ahead with fiduciary standards for investment advisers despite the 5th Circuit striking down the DOL’s previous fiduciary rule earlier this year.
Judge P. Kevin Castel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered an Order for Final Judgment and Consent Order for Final Judgment (“the Orders”) early this month, resolving charges of a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) Complaint against a New York Corporation, Gelfman Blueprint Inc. (“GBI”) and its Chief Executive Officer, Nicholas Gelfman. The CFTC’s complaint, filed in January of 2017, marked the first anti-fraud enforcement action involving Bitcoin filed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Orders found that from approximately January of 2014-January 2016 Defendants Gelfman and GBI, through its officers and agents and employees, operated a Bitcoin Ponzi scheme in which they fraudulently solicited more than $600,000 from at least 80 customers.
In the age of digitization, data seems less secure than ever. Public companies constantly attempt to safeguard both personal and financial data, yet their efforts fail due to new outbreaks of malicious encryption viruses and persistent email phishing attempts. Data breaches and cyber fraud carry severe financial implications for public companies who fall victim to these types of attacks. But a new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report says that public companies that are easy targets of cyber scams could also be in violation of federal securities laws and accounting regulations that call for firms to safeguard their assets. Although the SEC has issued its warning to public companies about the compliance and financial risks posed by cyber fraud, many companies are still struggling to implement effective protections against newly-evolved forms of cyber-attacks.
Earlier this year, Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies writ large, occupied many financial headlines as onlookers began to divert their attention to the “unexplained” rise, and subsequent fall in the price of one the more popular (and maiden) cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin. Naturally, because many of the onlookers didn’t realize what Bitcoin was (or is), the media took lead on the story. Earlier this month, Bitcoin began to make its appearance in headlines, once again.
On September 18, 2018, the United States Supreme Court overturned a stay blocking a District Court ruling requiring non-profits to disclose identity of all contributors who give more than $200 a year. Prior to the ruling, IRS designated 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations and 501(c)(6) organizations such as business leagues and boards of trade, who do not register as political committees with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), were required to disclose donors only when they contributed for specific political advertisements. While the ruling requires the FEC to give guidance, newly issued FEC rules limit the scope of the court’s intention. It is likely that the new ruling will allow some donors to remain undisclosed while requiring partial disclosure of donors who contribute towards certain, but not all, expenditures.
On September 11, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced two enforcement actions relating to failures to register by market intermediaries in connection with digital asset activities. Despite earlier suggestions that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) might be the primary self-regulatory organization (SRO) regulating this market, the main takeaway from these cases is that market intermediaries dealing in digital assets may also have registration and customer protection liabilities, and the failure to observe them can result in serious penalties.