This section contains interpretive guidance issued by the MSRB that establishes a regulatory standard and clarifies the application of the principles of an MSRB rule and may provide more information about the obligations and prohibited conduct under the rule. Learn about the differences between interpretive guidance and other resources the MSRB provides.

MSRB REMINDS FIRMS OF THEIR SALES PRACTICE AND DUE DILIGENCE OBLIGATIONS WHEN SELLING MUNICIPAL SECURITIES IN THE SECONDARY MARKET - September 20, 2010

Executive Summary

Brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (dealers or firms) must fully understand the bonds they sell in order to meet their disclosure, suitability and pricing obligations under the rules of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) and federal securities laws. These obligations are not limited to firms involved in primary offerings. Dealers must also obtain, analyze and disclose all material facts about secondary market transactions that are known to the dealer, or that are reasonably accessible to the market through established industry sources.

Those sources include, among other things, official statements, continuing disclosures, trade data, and other information made available through the MSRB’s Electronic Municipal Market Access system (EMMA). Firms may also have a duty to obtain and disclose information that is not available through EMMA, if it is material and available through other public sources. The public availability of material information, through EMMA or otherwise, does not relieve a firm of its duty to disclose that information. Firms must also have reasonable grounds for determining that a recommendation is suitable based on information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise. Firms must also use this information to determine the prevailing market price of a security as the basis for establishing a fair price in a transaction with a customer. To meet these requirements, firms must perform an independent analysis of the bonds they sell, and may not rely solely on a bond’s credit rating.

Continuing disclosures made by issuers to the MSRB via EMMA are part of the information that dealers must obtain, disclose and consider in meeting their regulatory obligations. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has recently approved amendments to Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12, governing continuing disclosures. Firms that sell municipal securities should review and, if necessary, update their procedures to reflect the amendments, which have a compliance date of December 1, 2010.  

Background and Discussion

MSRB Disclosure, Suitability and Pricing Rules

MSRB Rule G-17 provides that, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, each dealer must deal fairly with all persons and may not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice. The MSRB has interpreted Rule G-17 to require a dealer, in connection with any transaction in municipal securities, to disclose to its customer, at or prior to the sale, all material facts about the transaction known by the dealer, as well as material facts about the security that are reasonably accessible to the market.[1] This includes the obligation to give customers a complete description of the security, including a description of the features that likely would be considered significant by a reasonable investor and facts that are material to assessing the potential risks of the investment.

Such disclosures must be made at the “time of trade,” which the MSRB defines as at or before the point at which the investor and the dealer agree to make the trade. Rule G-17 applies to all sales of municipal securities, whether or not a transaction was recommended by a broker-dealer.[2] This means that municipal securities dealers must disclose all information required to be disclosed by the rule even if the trade is self-directed.[3]

MSRB Rule G-19 requires that a dealer that recommends a municipal securities transaction have reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable for the customer based upon information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise and the facts disclosed by, or otherwise known about, the customer.[4]

MSRB Rule G-30 requires that dealers trade with customers at prices that are fair and reasonable, taking into consideration all relevant factors.[5] The MSRB has stated that the concept of a “fair and reasonable” price includes the concept that the price must “bear a reasonable relationship to the prevailing market price of the security.” The impetus for the MSRB’s Real-time Transaction Reporting System (RTRS), which was implemented in January 2005, was to allow market participants to monitor market price levels on a real-time basis and thus assist them in identifying changes in market prices that may have been caused by news or market events.[6] The MSRB now makes the transaction data reported to RTRS available to the public through EMMA.

In meeting these disclosure, suitability and pricing obligations, firms must take into account all material information that is known to the firm or that is available through “established industry sources,” including official statements, continuing disclosures, and trade data, much of which is now available through EMMA. Resources outside of EMMA may include press releases, research reports and other data provided by independent sources. Established industry sources can also include material event notices and other data filed with former nationally recognized municipal securities information repositories (NRMSIRs) before July 1, 2009.[7] Therefore, firms should review their policies and procedures for obtaining material information about the bonds they sell to make sure they are reasonably designed to access all material information that is available, whether through EMMA or other established industry sources. The MSRB has also noted that the fact that material information is publicly available through EMMA does not relieve a firm of its duty to specifically disclose it to the customer at the time of trade, or to consider it in determining the suitability of a bond for a specific customer.[8] Importantly, the dealer may not simply direct the customer to EMMA to fulfill its time-of-trade disclosure obligations under Rule G-17.[9]

Amendments to Rule 15c2-12 Concerning Continuing Disclosure

Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12 requires underwriters participating in municipal bond offerings that are subject to that rule[10] to receive, review, and distribute official statements of issuers of primary municipal securities offerings, and prohibits underwriters from purchasing or selling municipal securities covered by the rule unless they have first reasonably determined that the issuer or an obligated person[11] has contractually agreed to make certain continuing disclosures to the MSRB, including certain financial information and notice of certain events. The MSRB makes such disclosure public via EMMA.

Financial information to be disclosed under the rule consists of the following:

  • Annual financial information updating the financial information in the official statement;
  • Audited financial statements, if available and not included within the annual financial information; and
  • Notices of failure to provide such financial information on a timely basis.

Currently, the rule enumerates the following as notice events, if material:

  • Principal and interest payment delinquencies;
  • Non-payment related defaults;
  • Unscheduled draws on debt service reserves reflecting financial difficulties;
  • Unscheduled draws on credit enhancements reflecting financial difficulties;
  • Substitution of credit or liquidity providers or their failure to perform;
  • Adverse tax opinions or events affecting the tax-exempt status of the security;
  • Modifications to rights of security holders;
  • Bond calls;
  • Defeasances;
  • Release, substitution or sale of property securing repayment of the securities; and
  • Rating changes.

Rule 15c2-12(c) also prohibits any dealer from recommending the purchase or sale of a municipal security unless it has procedures in place that provide reasonable assurance that it will receive prompt notice of any event notice reported pursuant to the rule. Firms should review any applicable continuing disclosures made available through EMMA and other established industry sources and take such disclosures into account in undertaking its suitability and pricing determinations. 

On May 26, 2010, the SEC amended the rule’s disclosure obligations, with a compliance date of December 1, 2010, to: (1) apply continuing disclosure requirements to new primary offerings of certain variable rate demand obligations (VRDOs); (2) add four new notice events;[12] (3) remove the materiality standard for certain notice events;[13] and (4) require that event notices be filed in a timely manner but no later than 10 business days after their occurrence. With respect to the tax status of the security, the rule has been broadened to require disclosure of adverse tax opinions, issuance by the IRS of proposed or final determinations of taxability and other material notices, and determinations or events affecting the tax status of the bonds (including a Notice of Proposed Issue). Firms that deal in municipal securities should familiarize themselves with these amendments, and, if necessary, modify their policies and procedures to incorporate this additional disclosure accordingly. 

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) noted in its Regulatory Notice 09-35 that, if a firm discovers through its Rule 15c2-12 procedures or otherwise that an issuer has failed to make filings required under its continuing disclosure agreements, the firm must take this information into consideration in meeting its disclosure obligations under MSRB Rule G-17 and in assessing the suitability of the issuer’s bonds under MSRB Rule G-19.

Credit Ratings

In order to meet their obligations under MSRB Rules G-17 and G-19, firms must analyze and disclose to customers the risks associated with the bonds they sell, including, but not limited to, the bond’s credit risk. A credit rating is a third-party opinion of the of the credit quality of a municipal security. While the MSRB generally considers credit ratings and rating changes to be material information for purposes of disclosure, suitability and pricing, they are only one factor to be considered, and dealers should not solely rely on credit ratings as a substitute for their own assessment of a bond’s credit risk. [14]  Moreover, different agencies use different quantitative and qualitative criteria and methodologies to determine their rating opinions.  Dealers should familiarize themselves with the rating systems used by rating agencies in order to understand and assess the relevance of a particular rating to the firm’s overall assessment of the bond.[15]. With respect to credit or liquidity enhanced securities, the MSRB has stated that material information includes the following, if known to the dealer or if reasonably available from established industry sources: (i) the credit rating of the issue or lack thereof; (ii) the underlying credit rating or lack thereof, (iii) the identity of any credit enhancer or liquidity provider; and (iv) the credit rating of the credit provider and liquidity provider, including potential rating actions (e.g., downgrade).[16]  Additionally, material terms of the credit facility or liquidity facility should be disclosed (e.g., any circumstances under which a standby bond purchase agreement would terminate without a mandatory tender).

Other Material Information 

In addition to a bond’s credit quality, firms must obtain, analyze and disclose other material information about a bond, including but not limited to whether the bond may be redeemed prior to maturity in-whole, in-part or in extraordinary circumstances,[17] whether the bond has non-standard features that may affect price or yield calculations,[18] whether the bond was issued with original issue discount or has other features that would affect its tax status,[19] and other key features likely to be considered significant by a reasonable investor.  For example, for VRDOs, auction rate securities or other securities for which interest payments may fluctuate, firms should explain to customers the basis on which periodic interest rate resets are determined.[20] The MSRB has stated that firms should take particular care with respect to new products that may be introduced into the municipal securities market, existing products that may have complex structures that can differ materially from issue to issue, and outstanding securities that may trade infrequently, may be issued by less well-known issuers, or may have unusual features.[21]

Supervision

Firms are reminded that MSRB Rule G-27 requires firms to supervise their municipal securities business, and to ensure that they have adequate policies and procedures in place for monitoring the effectiveness of their supervisory systems. Specifically, firms must:

  • Supervise the conduct of the municipal securities activities of the firm and associated persons to ensure compliance with all MSRB rules, the Exchange Act and the rules there under;
  • Have adequate written supervisory procedures; and
  • Implement supervisory controls to ensure that their supervisory procedures are adequate.

Rule G-27 requires that a firm’s supervisory procedures provide for the regular and frequent review and approval by a designated principal of customer accounts introduced or carried by the dealer in which transactions in municipal securities are effected, with such review being designed to ensure that transactions are in accordance with all applicable rules and to detect and prevent irregularities and abuses. Although the rule does not establish a specific procedure for ensuring compliance with the requirement to provide disclosures to customers pursuant to Rule G-17, firms should consider including in their procedures for reviewing accounts and transactions specific processes for documenting or otherwise ascertaining that such disclosures have been made.  

Questions to Consider

Before selling any municipal bond, dealers should make sure that they fully understand the bonds they are selling in order to make adequate disclosure to customers under Rule G-17, to ensure that recommendations are suitable under Rule G-19, and to ensure that they are fairly priced under Rule G-30. Among other things, dealers should ask and be able to answer the following questions: 

  • What are the bond’s key terms and features and structural characteristics, including but not limited to its issuer, source of funding (e.g., general obligation or revenue bond), repayment priority, and scheduled repayment rate? (Much of this information will be in the Official Statement, which for many municipal bonds can be obtained by entering the CUSIP number in the MuniSearch box at www.emma.msrb.org). Be aware, however, data in the Official Statement may have been superseded by the issuer’s on-going disclosures.
  • Does information available through EMMA or other established industry sources indicate that an issuer is delinquent in  its material event notice and other continuing disclosure filings?  Delinquencies should be viewed as a red flag.
  • What other public material information about the bond or its issuer is available through established industry sources other than EMMA?
  • What is the bond’s rating? Has the issuer of the bond recently been downgraded? Has the issuer filed any recent default or other event notices, or has any other information become available through established industry sources that might call into question whether the published rating has been revised to take such event into consideration?
  • Is the bond insured, or does it benefit from liquidity support, a letter of credit or is it otherwise supported by a third party? If so, check the credit rating of the bond insurer or other backing, and the bond’s underlying rating (without third party support). If supported by a third party, review the terms and conditions under which the third party support may terminate.
  • How is it priced? Be aware that the price of a bond can be priced above or below its par value for many reasons, including changes in the creditworthiness of a bond's issuer and a host of other factors, including prevailing interest rates.
  • How and when will interest on the bond be paid? Most municipal bonds pay semiannually, but zero coupon municipal bonds pay all interest at the time the bond matures. Variable rate bonds typically will pay interest more frequently, usually on a monthly basis in variable amounts.
  • What is the bond’s tax status, under both state and federal laws? Is it subject to the Federal Alternate Minimum Tax? Is it fully taxable (e.g., Build America Bonds)?
  • What are its call provisions? Call provisions allow the issuer to retire the bond before it matures. How would a call affect expected future income?

[1] MSRB Rule G-17 applies to all transactions in municipal securities, including those in both the primary and secondary market. MSRB Rule G-32 specifically addresses the delivery of the official statement in connection with primary offerings.

[2] See MSRB Notice 2009-42 (July 14, 2009).

[3] A dealer’s specific investor protection obligations, including its disclosure, fair practice and suitability obligations under Rules G-17 and G-19, may be affected by the status of an institutional investor as a Sophisticated Municipal Market Professional (“SMMP”). See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Notice Regarding the Application of MSRB Rules to Transactions with Sophisticated Municipal Market Professionals (April 30, 2002).

[4] See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2.

[5] Rule G-18 requires that a dealer effecting an agency trade with a customer make a reasonable effort to obtain a price for the customer that is fair and reasonable in relation to prevailing market conditions.

[6] See MSRB Notice 2004-3 (January 26, 2004).

[7] Since July 1, 2009, material event notices are required to be filed through EMMA, which has replaced Bloomberg Municipal Repository; DPC DATA Inc.; Interactive Data Pricing and Reference Data, Inc.; and Standard & Poor’s Securities Evaluations, Inc. as the sole NRMSIR.

[8] The MSRB has also stated that providing adequate disclosure does not relieve a firm of its suitability obligations. See MSRB Notice 2007-17 (March 30, 2007).

[9] Rule G-32 does allow a dealer to satisfy its obligation to deliver an official statement to its customer during the primary offering disclosure period no later than the settlement of the transaction by advising the customer of how to obtain it on EMMA, unless the customer requests a paper copy.  The delivery obligation under Rule G-32 is distinct from the duty to disclose material information under Rule G-17, which applies to all primary and secondary market transactions.

[10] Certain limited offerings, variable rate demand obligations, and small issues are exempt from Rule 15c2-12.

[11] “Obligated person” is defined as “any person, including an issuer of municipal securities, who is either generally or through an enterprise, fund or account of such person committed by contract or other arrangement to support payment of all, or part of the obligations of the municipal securities to be sold in the offering (other than providers of municipal bond insurance, letters of credit, or other liquidity facilities).”

[12] The new notice events are (1) tender offers, (2) bankruptcy, insolvency, receivership, or similar events, (3) consummation of mergers, consolidations, acquisitions, or asset sales, or entry into or termination of a definitive agreement related to do the same, if material, and (4) appointment of a successor or additional trustee or a change in the name of the trustee, if material.

[13] The amendments removed the materiality standard and require notices for the following events: (1) principal and interest payment delinquencies with respect to the securities being offered ; (2) unscheduled draws on debt service reserves reflecting financial difficulties; (3) unscheduled draws on credit enhancements reflecting financial difficulties; (4) substitution of credit or liquidity providers, or their failure to perform; (5) defeasances: and (6) rating changes. The amendments retained the materiality standard for the following events: (1) non-payment related defaults; (2) modifications to rights of security holders; (3) bond calls; and (4) release, substitution, or sale of property securing repayment of the securities.

[14] See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2. Ratings changes are reportable events under Rule 15c2-12.

[15]
 Not all municipal bonds are rated. While an absence of a credit rating is not, by itself, a determinant of low credit quality, it is a factor that the dealers should consider, and may warrant additional due diligence of the bond and its issuer by the dealer. In addition, MSRB Rule G-15 requires confirmation statements for customer trades in unrated municipal securities to disclose that the securities are not rated.

[16] See MSRB Notice 2009-42.  The SEC has approved the MSRB’s proposal to require dealers to submit copies of credit enhancement and liquidity facility documents to EMMA pursuant to amended MSRB Rule G-34(c), which may increase the availability of such information to dealers.  See Securities Exchange Act Release No. 62755, August 20, 2010 (File No. SR-MSRB-2010-02).

[17] See Notice Concerning Disclosure of Call Information to Customers of Municipal Securities, MSRB Interpretation of March 4, 1986.

[18] See Transactions in Municipal Securities With Non-Standard Features Affecting Price/Yield Calculations, MSRB Interpretation of June 12, 1995.

[19] See MSRB Notice 2005-01 (January 5, 2005); MSRB Notice 2009-41 (July 10, 2009).

[20] See MSRB Notice 2008-09 (February 19, 2008).

[21] See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2.

SUPERVISORY PROCEDURES FOR THE REVIEW OF CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE PUBLIC - March 24, 2000

On March 16, 2000, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved amendments to rules G-8, on books and records, G-9, on preservation of records, and G-27, on supervision.[1] The amendments will become effective on September 19, 2000. The amendments will allow brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers ("dealers") to develop flexible supervisory procedures for the review of correspondence with the public. This notice is being issued to provide guidance to dealers on how to implement these rules.

Background

Technology has greatly expanded how communications between dealers and their customers take place. These new means of communication (e.g., e-mail, Internet) will continue to significantly affect the manner in which dealers and their associated persons conduct their business. While these changes allow timely and efficient communication with customers, prospective customers, and others, the significant changes in communications media and capacity raise questions regarding supervision, review, and retention of correspondence with the public.

In May 1996, the SEC issued an Interpretive Release on the use of Electronic Media by Broker-Dealers, Transfer Agents, and Investment Advisors for Delivery of Information.[2] That release expressed the views of the SEC with respect to the delivery of information through electronic media in satisfaction of requirements in the federal securities laws, but did not address the applicability of any self-regulatory organization ("SRO") rules. In its release the SEC did, however, strongly encourage the SROs to work with broker/dealer firms to adapt SRO supervisory review requirements governing communications with customers to accommodate the use of electronic communications.[3]

On December 31, 1997, the SEC approved proposed rule changes filed by the National Association of Securities Dealers ("NASD")[4] and the New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE")[5] to update rules governing supervision of communication with the public. NASD Notice to Members 98-11 announced approval of the proposed rule change, provided guidance to firms on how to implement these rules and stated that the amendments to NASD Rules 3010 and 3110 would be effective on February 15, 1998. Over the next year, further amendments were made to NASD Rules 3010 and 3110. NASD Regulation received final SEC approval of amendments to Rule 3010 on November 30, 1998.[6] The rule amendments were effective on March 15, 1999.[7]

As amended, NASD Rule 3010(d)(1) provides that procedures for review of correspondence with the public relating to a member's investment banking or securities business be designed to provide reasonable supervision for each registered representative, be described in an organization's written supervisory procedures, and be evidenced in an appropriate manner. NASD Rule 3010(d)(2) requires each member to develop written policies and procedures for review of correspondence with the public relating to its investment banking or securities business tailored to its structure and the nature and size of its business and customers. These procedures must also include the review of incoming, written correspondence directed to registered representatives and related to the member's investment banking or securities business to properly identify and handle customer complaints and to ensure that customer funds and securities are handled in accordance with firm procedures.

The Board has determined to adopt substantially similar rule changes. The Board believes that conforming its rule language to the language in the NASD rules will help ensure a coordinated regulatory approach to the supervision of correspondence.

Amended Rules

Rule G-27(d)(i), as revised, provides that procedures for review of correspondence with the public relating to a dealer's municipal securities activities be designed to provide reasonable supervision for each municipal securities representative, be described in the dealer's written supervisory procedures, and be evidenced in an appropriate manner.

Rule G-27(d)(ii) requires each dealer to develop written policies and procedures for review of correspondence with the public relating to its municipal securities activities, tailored to its structure and the nature and size of its business and customers. The rule requires that any dealer that does not conduct either an electronic or manual pre-use review will be required to:

  • develop appropriate supervisory procedures;

  • monitor and test to ensure these policies and procedures are being implemented and complied with;

  • provide education and training to all appropriate employees concerning the dealer's current policies and procedures governing correspondence, and update this training as policies and procedures are changed; and

  • maintain records documenting how and when employees are educated and trained.

The rule change states that these procedures must also include the review of incoming, written correspondence directed to municipal securities representatives and related to the dealer's municipal securities activities to properly identify and handle customer complaints and to ensure that customer funds and securities are handled in accordance with the dealer's procedures.

It is the understanding and view of the Board that dealers possess the legal capacity to insist that mail addressed to their offices be deemed to be related to their businesses, even if marked to the attention of a particular associated person, if they advise associated persons that personal correspondence should not be received at their firms. Dealers, other than non-NASD member bank dealers, are reminded that SEC Rule 17a-4(b)(4) requires that "originals of all communications received . . . by such member, broker or dealer, relating to its business as such . . ." must be preserved for not less than three years.

The retention requirements of the amendments to rule G-27 cross reference rules G-8(a)(xx) and G-9(b)(viii) and (xiv) and state that the names of persons who prepared, reviewed and approved correspondence must be readily ascertainable from the retained records. The records must be made available, upon request, to the appropriate enforcement agency (i.e., NASD or federal bank regulatory agency).

Guidelines For Supervision And Review

In adopting review procedures pursuant to rule G-27(d)(i), dealers must:

  • specify, in writing, the dealer's policies and procedures for reviewing different types of correspondence;

  • identify how supervisory reviews will be conducted and documented;

  • identify what types of correspondence will be pre- or post-reviewed;

  • identify the organizational position(s) responsible for conducting review of the different types of correspondence;

  • specify the minimum frequency of the reviews for each type of correspondence;

  • monitor the implementation of and compliance with the dealer's procedures for reviewing public correspondence; and

  • periodically re-evaluate the effectiveness of the dealer's procedures for reviewing public correspondence and consider any necessary revisions.

In conducting reviews, dealers may use reasonable sampling techniques. As an example of appropriate evidence of review, e-mail related to the dealer's municipal securities activities may be reviewed electronically and the evidence of review may be recorded electronically.

In developing supervisory procedures for the review of correspondence with the public pursuant to rule G-27(d)(ii), each dealer must consider its structure, the nature and size of its business, other pertinent characteristics, and the appropriateness of implementing uniform firm-wide procedures or tailored procedures (i.e., by specific function, office/location, individual, or group of persons).

In adopting review procedures pursuant to rule G-27(d)(ii), dealers must, at a minimum:

  • specify procedures for reviewing municipal securities representatives' recommendations to customers;

  • require supervisory review of some of each municipal securities representative's public correspondence, including recommendations to customers;

  • consider the complaint and overall disciplinary history, if any, of municipal securities representatives and other employees (with particular emphasis on complaints regarding written or oral communications with clients); and

  • consider the nature and extent of training provided municipal securities representatives and other employees, as well as their experience in using communications media (although a dealer's procedures may not eliminate or provide for minimal supervisory reviews based on an employee's training or level of experience in using communications media).

Although dealers may consider the number, size, and location of offices, as well as the volume of correspondence overall or in specific areas of the organization, dealers must nonetheless develop appropriate supervisory policies and procedures in light of their duty to supervise their associated persons. The factors listed above are not exclusive and dealers must consider all appropriate factors when developing their supervisory procedures and implementing their supervisory reviews.

Supervisory policy and procedures must also:

  • provide that all customer complaints, whether received via e-mail or in written form from the customer, are kept and maintained;

  • describe any dealer standards for the content of different types of correspondence; and

  • prohibit municipal securities representatives' and other employees' use of electronic correspondence to the public unless such communications are subject to supervisory and review procedures developed by the dealer. For example, the Board would expect dealers to prohibit correspondence with customers from employees' home computers or through third party systems unless the dealer is capable of monitoring such communications.

The method used for conducting reviews of incoming, written correspondence to identify customer complaints and funds may vary depending on the dealer's office structure. Where the office structure permits review of all correspondence, dealers should designate a municipal securities representative or other appropriate person to open and review correspondence prior to use or distribution to identify customer complaints and funds. The designated person must not be supervised or under the control of the municipal securities representative whose correspondence is opened and reviewed. Unregistered persons who have received sufficient training to enable them to identify complaints and funds would be permitted to review correspondence.

Where the office structure does not permit the review of correspondence prior to use or distribution, appropriate procedures that could be adopted include the following:

  • forwarding opened incoming written correspondence related to the dealer's municipal securities activities to a designated office, or supervising branch office, for review on a weekly basis;

  • maintenance of a separate log for all checks received and securities products sold, which is forwarded to the supervising branch office on a weekly basis;

  • communication to clients that they can contact the dealer directly for any matter, including the filing of a complaint, and providing them with an address and telephone number of a central office of the dealer for this purpose; and

  • branch examination verification that the procedures are being followed.

Regardless of the method used for initial review of incoming, written correspondence, as with other types of correspondence, rule G-27 would still require review by a designated principal of some of each municipal securities representative's correspondence with the public relating to the dealer's municipal securities activities. Given the complexity and cost of establishing appropriate systems for effectively reviewing electronic communications, some members may determine to conduct a pre-use or distribution review of all incoming and outgoing correspondence (written or electronic).

Dealers must continually assess the effectiveness of these supervisory systems. Education and training must be timely (prior to or concurrent with implementation of the policies and procedures) and must include all appropriate employees. Dealers may incorporate the required education and training on correspondence into their Continuing Education Firm Element Training Program (see rule G-3(h) on continuing education requirements). The requirement for training regarding correspondence may also apply to employees who are not included under the Continuing Education requirements.


ENDNOTES

[1]See Exchange Act Release No. 42538 (March 16, 2000), 65 FR 15675 (March 23, 1999). �

[2] See Securities Act Release No. 7288, Exchange Act Release No. 37182, Investment Company Act Release No. 21945, Investment Advisor Act Release No. 1562 (May 9, 1996), 61 FR 24644 (May 15, 1996) (File No. S7-13-96).

[3]  Id.

[4] See Exchange Act Release No. 39510 (December 31, 1997), 63 FR 1131 (January 8, 1998).

[5] See Exchange Act Release No. 39511 (December 31, 1997), 63 FR 1135 (January 8, 1998).

[6] See Exchange Act Release No. 40723 (November 30, 1998), 63 FR 67496 (December 7, 1998).

[7] See Notice to Members 99-03 (January 1999).



Review and approval of customer accounts - August 7, 1996

Review and approval of customer accounts.  This is in response to your letter dated July 24, 1996, requesting an interpretation of rule G-27(c)(iii) on written supervisory procedures.

Rule G-27(c)(iii) requires that each municipal securities dealer adopt, maintain and enforce written supervisory procedures ensuring the "regular and frequent" review and approval by a designated principal of customer accounts introduced or carried by the dealer in which transactions in municipal securities are effected. The rule further states that such review shall be designed to ensure that such transactions are in accordance with all applicable rules and to detect and prevent irregularities and abuses.

Because circumstances vary from dealer to dealer, the Board has not specified a time period to define "regular and frequent" for purposes of rule G-27(c)(iii).  As you can see, however, the purpose of this provision is to detect and prevent irregularities and abuses that may occur in customer accounts. The Board expects dealers to establish procedures that effectively obtain this objective and that are capable of compliance. While the Board has never specifically addressed "risk-focussed" methods for determining periodic account review, the Board has stated that, in determining when an account must be reviewed, a dealer might look to the volume and frequency of trading and the nature of the securities traded. The Board noted that account review guidelines based on these factors would be appropriate if they are articulated clearly in a dealer's written supervisory procedures.[1] MSRB interpretation of August 7, 1996.


[1] Supervision Requirements, MSRB Reports, Vol. 10, No. 2 (May 1990) at 6.


Review and approval of transactions - June 20, 1994

Review and approval of transactions.  This is in response to your letter in which you ask several questions concerning Board rules.

[One paragraph deleted.][*]

With respect to your second question, someone qualified as both a municipal securities representative and as a municipal securities principal may review and approve his or her own transactions effected in the capacity as a representative.

With respect to your final question, rule G-27(c)(vii)(B), on supervision, requires the prompt review and written approval by a designated principal of each transaction in municipal securities on a daily basis.  MSRB interpretation of June 20, 1994.


[*] [The deleted paragraph concerned an unrelated question regarding a different Board rule and appears elsewhere in the MSRB Rule Book.]


Review and approval of transactions - July 26, 1989

Review and approval of transactions.  This is in response to your letter requesting an interpretation of rule G-27(c)(ii)(B)[*] which requires that a [designated] principal promptly review and approve, in writing, each transaction in municipal securities. You state that your firm proposes to use a system of exception reports to review the firm's municipal securities transactions each day. Each trade will be reviewed by computer pursuant to parameters established by the Compliance Department. These parameters include the size of the order (in terms of dollars as well as a percentage of the customer's net worth), the customer's income, investment objectives and age. These parameters can be changed and fine-tuned as the situation dictates. Currently, the exception report will contain all purchases in excess of $25,000 or 10 percent of the customer's stated net worth and all sales in excess of $10,000. A review of the exception report would be conducted by a municipal securities principal. Oversight of the review process, and any required follow-up, would be conducted.

Rule G-27, on supervision, requires a dealer to supervise the municipal securities activities of its associated persons and the conduct of its business. In particular, rule G-27(c)(ii)(B)[*] requires that a [designated] principal promptly review and approve, in writing, each transaction in municipal securities. The Board believes that the requirement for written approval of each transaction by a [designated] principal is reasonable and necessary to promote proper supervision of the activities of municipal securities representatives. Among other purposes, these procedures enable [designated] principals to keep abreast of the firm's daily trading activity, to assess the appropriateness of mark-ups and mark-downs, and to assure that provisions for the prompt delivery of securities are being met. The exception reporting you propose would not comply with rule G-27(c)(ii)(B)[*] because it would not result in review and approval of each municipal securities transaction by a [designated] principal.[1]  MSRB interpretation of July 26, 1989.


[1] While exception report review is not appropriate in complying with rule G-27(c)(vii)(B),[*] we understand that certain dealers, with the approval of their enforcement agencies, use exception reports in their periodic review of customer accounts required by rule G-27(c)(iii).

[*] [Currently codified at rule G-27(c)(vii)(B).]

NOTE: Revised to reflect subsequent amendments.


Supervisory structure - March 11, 1987

Supervisory structure.  This is in response to your letter of December 31, 1986 and our subsequent telephone conversation. You note that there has been a recent reorganization within your bank. As a consequence, you, as the head of the dealer department, now will report to the bank officer who also is in charge of the trust department and the bank's investment portfolio, rather than directly to the bank's president as had been the case. You ask whether this arrangement might constitute a conflict of interest under trust regulations or otherwise under Board rules.

Board rule G-27 places an obligation upon a dealer to supervise its municipal securities activities. It requires a dealer to accomplish this objective by designating individuals with supervisory responsibility for municipal securities activities and requires the dealer to adopt written supervisory procedures to this end. The rule does not specify how a dealer should structure its supervisory procedures, provided that the dealer adopts an organizational structure which meets the intent of the rule. You should review your dealer's written supervisory procedures to ensure that they provide for the appropriate delegation of supervisory responsibilities, given the reorganization within the bank.

You noted that the individual to whom you will be reporting is presently qualified as a municipal securities representative but not as a municipal securities principal. Board rule G-3(a)(i)[*] defines a municipal securities principal as an associated person of a securities firm or bank dealer who is directly engaged in the management, direction or supervision of municipal securities activities. If, under the new reorganization, this individual will be designated with day-to-day responsibility for the management, direction or supervision of the municipal securities activities of the dealer, then he must be qualified as a municipal securities principal.

Finally, trust regulations are governed by the appropriate banking law and not by Board rules. Consequently, any concerns that you may have with respect to possible conflicts of interest with trust regulations should be directed to the appropriate bank regulatory agency. MSRB interpretation of March 11, 1987.


[*] [Currently codified at rule G-3(b)(i).]


NOTICE CONCERNING SUPERVISORY RESPONSIBILITY OF MUNICIPAL SECURITIES PRINCIPALS AND MUNICIPAL SECURITIES SALES PRINCIPALS - December 15, 1981

The Board has received questions concerning the appropriate allocation of supervisory responsibility between municipal securities principals and the new category of municipal securities sales principals. The Board recently amended its rule G-3 to permit a person associated with a securities firm whose activities with respect to municipal securities are limited to supervising sales to and purchases from customers to qualify as a "municipal securities sales principal" ("sales principal"). The Board also amended rules G-8 on recordkeeping, G-26 on the administration of customer accounts, and G-27 on supervision to permit securities firms to designate sales principals as responsible for certain supervisory functions insofar as they relate directly to transactions in municipal securities with customers.

In particular, rule G-27 concerning supervision requires municipal securities dealers to designate at least one municipal securities principal as responsible for supervising its municipal securities activities, including the municipal securities activities of branch offices or similar locations. In addition, rule G-27 permits the municipal securities dealer to designate a sales principal (e.g., a branch office manager) as responsible for the "direct supervision of sales to and purchases from customers." The rule also requires that a dealer adopt written supervisory procedures which, among other matters, reflect the delegation of supervisory authority to these personnel.

As a result of these amendments, in designating under rule G-27 one or more municipal securities principals as responsible for supervising the business and activities of the firm’s associated persons, a securities firm may choose to designate a qualified sales principal with limited responsibility for the direct supervision of sales to and purchases from customers. If so, the firm’s written supervisory procedures may allocate responsibility to a sales principal for reviewing and approving (to the extent that they relate to sales to and purchases from customers) the suitability of the opening of, and transactions in, customer accounts, the handling of customer complaints and other correspondence, and other matters permitted by Board rule to be reviewed or approved by a sales principal. A municipal securities principal, however, must be responsible for directly supervising the firm’s other municipal securities activities such as underwriting, trading, and pricing of inventories.

With respect to the relationship between a sales principal and the designated municipal securities principal, Board rule G-27 provides that a branch office manager who acts as the sales principal for his office will be responsible for the municipal securities sales activities under his direct supervision. Rule G-27 also provides that a designated municipal securities principal will be responsible for all municipal securities activities of the branch office including those that may be under the direct supervision of a sales principal. However, the branch office manager, under the particular organizational structure of a firm, may be responsible to some other designated supervisor for the discharge of his other duties.