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Use of Electronic Signatures

Use of electronic signatures.  This is in response to your letter and a number of subsequent telephone conversations regarding your dealer department's proposed use of a bond trading system. The system is an online, realtime system that integrates all front and back office functions. The system features screen input of customer account and trading information which would allow the dealer department to eliminate the paper documents currently in use. The signature of the representative introducing a customer account, required to be recorded with customer account information by rule G-8, and the signature of the principal signifying approval of each municipal securities transaction, required by rule G-27, would be performed electronically, i.e., by input in a restricted datafield. The signature of the principal approving the opening of the account, required by rule G-8, will continue to be performed manually on a printout of the customer information.[1]

Rule G-8(a)(vi) and (vii) require dealers to make and keep records for each agency and principal transaction. The records may be in the form of trading tickets or similar documents. In addition, rule G-8(a)(xi), on recordkeeping of customer account information, requires, among other things, the signature of the representative introducing the account and the principal indicating acceptance of the account to be included on the customer account record. Rule G-27(c)(ii)[*] requires, among other things, the prompt review and written approval of each transaction in municipal securities. In addition, the rule requires the regular and frequent examination of customer accounts in which municipal securities transactions are effected in order to detect and prevent irregularities and abuses. The approvals and review must be made by the designated municipal securities principal or the municipal securities sales principal. Rule G-9(e), on preservation of records, allows records to be retained electronically provided that the dealer has adequate facilities for ready retrieval and inspection of any such record and for production of easily readable facsimile copies.

The Board recognizes that efficiencies would be obtained by the replacement of paper files with electronic data bases and filing systems and generally allows records to be retained in that form.[2] Moreover, as dealers increasingly automate, there will be more interest in deleting most physical records. Electronic trading tickets and automated customer account information satisfy the recordkeeping requirements of rule G-8 as long as such information is maintained in compliance with rule G-9(e).

The Board and your enforcement agency are concerned, however, that it may be difficult to verify a representative's signature on opening the account or a principal's signature approving municipal securities transactions or periodically reviewing customer accounts if the signatures are noted only electronically. Your enforcement agency has advised us of its discussions with you. Apparently, it is satisfied that appropriate security and audit procedures can be developed to permit the use of electronic signatures of representatives and principals and ensure that such signatures are verifiable. Thus, the Board has determined that rules G-8 and G-27 permit the use of electronic signatures when security and audit procedures are agreed upon by the dealer and its appropriate enforcement agency. Whatever procedures are agreed upon must be memorialized in the dealer's written supervisory procedures required by rule G-27. MSRB Interpretation of February 27, 1989.

[1] In addition, you noted in a telephone conversation that the periodic review of customer accounts required by rule G-27(c)(ii)[*] also will be handled electronically using the principal's electronic signature to signify approval.

[2] See rule G-9(e).

[*] [Currently codified at Rule G-27(c)(i)(G)(2)]