February 2, 2016 Kevin

Advisors: Is Your Texting Compliant?

Text messaging has become an extremely popular way to communicate. According to Pew Research, the average person receives 41.5 text messages a day compared to just 12 phone calls. Young adults are much more avid texters, sending an average of 109.5 messages per day, which suggests that this form of communication will only become more widespread.

Financial advisors can’t ignore text messaging as a critical form of communication with clients, but compliance can be a lot more challenging since texting is harder to supervise, monitor, and archive. After all, text messages can take place via traditional SMS or via phone-specific platforms like Apple’s (AAPL) iMessage and Google (GOOG) Android’s Hangouts. These messages can also be sent across different devices, such as from a laptop or desktop computer to a mobile phone.

Let’s take a look at how the law reads and check some steps that financial advisors can take in order to ensure that they’re in compliance. (For related reading, see: Top Compliance Headaches for Financial Advisors.)

Interpreting the Law
NASD Conduct Rule 3110 and Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 require brokers and financial advisors to establish and maintain a system to supervise the activities of its associates that is responsibly designed to achieve compliance with applicable securities laws.

In particular, Rule 3110 mandates the review of incoming and outgoing electronic correspondence and internal communications relating to the member’s investment banking or securities business. Section 17(a) further mandates that broker-dealers maintain records for at least three years, including original communications received and copies of all communications sent by members, brokers, or dealers relating to his or her business.

In 2014, the SEC charged several affiliated brokerage firms with failing to retain and supervise text messages sent or received by certain associated persons. The errors resulted from a faulty configuration of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and the firm ended up paying a $275,000 fine. These problems could have been avoided by having the proper systems in place to ensure that text messages were securely archived for future reference. (For related reading, see: Compliance: The Price Companies Pay.)

Technology Solutions
The easiest way to ensure compliance with these laws is to manually archive all electronic communications by using company-approved devices. Some business smartphone makers such as BlackBerry provide enterprise software solutions to archive communications. The problem is that these solutions require that employees use a company smartphone to conduct work; many workers would rather use—and do use—their personal phone.

There are a growing number of technology solutions designed to make mobile compliance a lot easier for businesses. By archiving messages, financial advisors can ensure that they’re complying with Rule 3110 and proactively ensuring that e-discovery is easier in the event that problems occur. Many of these solutions also support bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies and operate across multiple platforms, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft (MSFT).

MobileGuard and MobileIron are just two of many companies that offer SMS archiving, mobile voice recording, and secure messaging services delivered as a cloud-based or on-premises service. While these solutions can be somewhat expensive and time consuming to implement, they are significantly less than the fines that would be incurred for non-compliance, as well as any added costs associated with discovery during a lawsuit requiring text information.

The Bottom Line
Text messaging as a way to communicate between clients and financial professionals is growing in popularity, especially among the younger generation, which makes compliance even more important. With numerous securities regulations mandating the review and archiving of text messages, financial advisors should have the processes in place to ensure that they’re in compliance and following best practices. The good news is that there’s a lot of software out there that can help make the process easier for financial advisory firms. (For related reading, see: SEC Audits: What Financial Advisors Should Look Out For.)

This article was written by Justin Kuepper for investopedia.com

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