Member Firms Subject to Increased Oversight & Compliance Responsibilities
In early December the National Futures Association (“NFA”) submitted two proposed amendments proposed amendments to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) regarding NFA Member Firms and their use of the internet and social media networks. The amendments focus on communications by firms over the internet in various capacities including blogs, chat rooms, forums, and various social media websites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc). While these amendments will increase the oversight responsibilities for Member Firms, it makes sense for the NFA to alert members to their responsibilities with regard to these growing forms of communication. This post describes the two amendments, application to forex managers, the NFA social media podcast and the impact these amendments are likely to have on all NFA Member firms. The NFA’s Notice to Members on this issue is also reprinted at the end of this post.
Overview of Amendments
Amendment to Rule 2-29
Rule 2-29 was broadened by the following changes (underline and strikethrough):
(h) Radio and Television Advertisements.
No Member shall use or directly benefit from any radio or television advertisement or any other audio or video advertisement distributed through media accessible by the public if the advertisement that makes any specific trading recommendation or refers to or describes the extent of any profit obtained in the past that can be achieved in the future unless the Member submits the advertisement to NFA’s Promotional Material Review Team for its review and approval at least 10 days prior to first use or such shorter period as NFA may allow in particular circumstances.
By broadening the rule the NFA effectively is requiring Member Firms to make sure all audio and video internet advertising (i.e. podcasts, youtube, voiceover presentations, etc) be reviewed prior to use. Effectively groups who have used these channels to market their services will need to (i) have all such media reviewed by the NFA or (ii) take all media off of the internet.
Interpretive Notice: Internet Communication & Social Media
This interpretive notice is not so much an amendment of an existing Interpretive Notice as it is simply the creation of a new notice. The full Interpretive Notice can be found in the proposed amendments link above, but I have also reprinted some of the more interesting parts of the notice:
The form of communication does not change the obligations of Members and Associates who host or participate in these groups, and electronic communications must comply with Compliance Rules 2-9, 2-29, 2-36, and 2-39.
Therefore, content generated by the Member or Associate is subject to the requirements of NFA Compliance Rules 2-29, 2-36, or 2-39. The same is true for futures, options, or forex content written by a Member or Associate and posted on a third party’s site.
Members should have policies regarding employee conduct. These policies could require employees to notify the employer if they participate in any on-line trading or financial communities and provide screen names so that the employer can monitor employees’ posts periodically. Alternatively, the policy could simply prohibit participation in such communities. The Member must, of course, take reasonable steps to enforce whatever policies it adopts.
The issue becomes more complicated for user-generated comments responding to a Member or Associate’s blog and for Members and Associates who host chat rooms or forums. What is their responsibility for posts from customers or others over whom the Member or Associate has no direct control? When inadequately monitored, social networking sites may contain misleading information, lure customers into trades that they would not normally make, or be used in an attempt to manipulate prices.
The biggest take-away is that the NFA is expecting NFA Members to integrate a social media awareness into their current compliance program. Accordingly, compliance programs (especially those parts dealing with Compliance Rules 2-9, 2-29, 2-36, and 2-39) will need to be updated appropriately to reflect the requirements of the Interpretive Notice. Member Firms will also need to vigillantly follow their new/revised compliance procedures and monitor their employees – it will be very easy for the NFA to do simple internet searches and potentially “catch” firms who do not adequately comply the Interpretive Release.
Issues for Forex Managers
Forex is specifically discussed throughout the Interpretive Notice so it is clear that the NFA’s intent is to make sure that forex communications, especially, are subject to monitoring and oversight. Currently this rule applies to those firms who are NFA Member Firms (currently registered) and, in the future, after the forex registration rules have been adopted, it will apply to all registered forex firms (CTAs, CPOs, IBs and FDMs/FCMs). The NFA has made it clear before that forex managers/traders are in the NFA’s regulatory cross-hairs and this Interpretive Notice reinforces that impression.
NFA Podcast on Social Media
The NFA has produced a podcast titled “Use and Supervision of Online Social Networking Communication” and can be found with other NFA produced podcasts. This podcast is helpful to provide Member Firms with some helpful guidance on some of the major issues to consider when developing a social media policy to comply with the Interpretive Notice and Rule amendment. There are a number of considerations that firms will need to make and the social media policy must be tailored to the business practices of the firm. There are likely to be a number of hot button issues which will develop regarding Member Firms and this policy, especially concerning oversight of associated persons. The podcast also hints at one of the big compliance issues which managers should be aware of – the reposting of content. Because internet posts are routinely “scraped” from the original website and reposted on other websites, Member Firms should be aware of this issue and create appropriate procedures.
It is recommended that compliance officers listen to this podcast when developing their social media compliance policies and procedures.
Impact on NFA Members
I view these amendments as relatively major – because so many firms use the internet for marketing and because prior NFA rules essentially did not address the issues of social networks there has been a bit of a regulatory gap. However, I do think that the NFA is doing the right thing by publicly notifying Member Firms that this will be a compliance issue going forward – this is much better than a retroactive interpretation of existing NFA compliance rules. One thing I think that member firms should be especially concerned with is potential liability for what 3rd parties do with information which is posted online. On the podcast, the NFA specifically suggested that firms should be policing their content and actively follow how it might be used by 3rd parties which is obviously problematic given the way the internet works.
Because these amendments affect both a current NFA Rule as well as the NFA’s Interpretive Releases, these amendments may make their way (eventually) onto the various exams (Series 3, Series 30, Series 34 especially).
These rules are also likely to create a compliance nightmare for many firms which have utilized the internet previously (and social media specifically).
The safest approach to social media compliance for all NFA Member Firms is to not allow the use any social media websites or other means of internet communication which would subject the firm to have a robust social media policy (including record retention policy for such media). It will be much less costly to put a blanket prohibition on these types of activities than to develop and monitor such a policy. For those firms who are willing to spend the time and money to implement a policy, such firms should make sure that all major aspects of the amendments are included in the policy. Such items to consider will include: internet and social media content review, recordkeeping and storage, oversight of employees (including spot-checking internet posts and activity), and reposting review procedures, among other issues to consider. It will be absolutely critical to make sure the policy addresses all issues raised in the Interpretive Notice and podcast because the NFA has not minced words – this is going to be a hot-button issue and it will be something the NFA will actively pursue during examinations.
Of course we will be able to provide greater guidance over the next few months as we see how the NFA handles this issue during and outside of examinations.
Notice to Members I-10-01
January 5, 2010
Effective Dates of NFA Requirements Regarding On-Line Advertising and Social Networking Groups
NFA has received notice from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) that NFA may make effective certain proposed amendments regarding the use of internet and on-line social networking groups when communicating with the public. The Interpretive Notice entitled “Use of On-Line Social Networking Groups to Communicate with the Public” makes clear that on-line communications are subject to the same standards as other types of communications with the public and provides guidance to Members to meet their responsibilities in this area. The Interpretive Notice became effective on December 24, 2009.
A related amendment to Compliance Rule 2-29(h) requires that any audio or video distributed through media accessible by the public (e.g., through the internet) that makes any specific trading recommendation or refers to the extent of profit previously obtained or achievable in the future must be submitted to NFA for review and approval at least 10 days prior to first use. In this way the amendment subjects certain on-line advertising to the same requirements as similar television and radio advertising. To allow Members sufficient time to submit these types of advertisements to NFA for approval, the amendment becomes effective as of February 1, 2010. Accordingly, any audio or video advertisements that a Member posts on-line after January 31, 2010, must have been previously reviewed and approved by NFA.
NFA’s December 8, 2009, submission letter to the CFTC contains a more detailed explanation of the changes. You can access an electronic copy of the submission letter at: http://www.nfa.futures.org/news/PDF/CFTC/CR2-29_IntNotc_re_OnLine_Social_Networking_120209.pdf.
Questions concerning these changes should be directed to Sharon Pendleton, Director, Compliance (firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-781-1401) or Michael A. Piracci, Senior Attorney (email@example.com or 312-781-1419).
Other related hedge fund law blog articles include:
If you are a manager or firm that needs to register as a CTA or CPO, or if you are contemplating registration, please contact Bart Mallon, Esq. of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP at 415-868-5345.