WASHINGTON — The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it has fined Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith Inc. $2.8 million for systemic trade reporting, Order Audit Trail System (OATS) reporting, books and records, and related supervisory violations that occurred over a period of several years.
FINRA uses trade reporting and OATS data as an integral part of its automated market surveillance program to detect manipulative activity and other potential violations of FINRA rules and the federal securities laws. FINRA relies on the accuracy of a firm’s books and records to conduct adequate policing of the securities markets.
FINRA found that a system configuration error caused Merrill Lynch to, among other things, inaccurately report millions of trades to a FINRA Trade Reporting Facility in which purchases were reported as principal sales and agency crosses. Merrill Lynch also reported millions of trades it was not required to report. In addition, over the course of almost five years, the firm encountered a number of separate system errors that caused it to report millions of inaccurate reportable order events to OATS, including inaccurate timestamps, broker-dealer orders reported as customer orders and a failure to report millions of execution reports. Moreover, FINRA found that, for approximately three years, Merrill Lynch failed to record certain special handling instructions, as well as the correct receipt and route timestamps on order tickets, which caused millions of records to be inaccurate.
Thomas Gira, FINRA Executive Vice President and Head of Market Regulation, said, “A critical component of market integrity is the ability of regulators to rely on the accuracy of the information reported by broker-dealers. The failure to report accurate audit trail information adversely affects not only FINRA, but other market participants and the investing public.”
FINRA also found that the scope of Merrill Lynch’s supervisory system with respect to, among other things, trade reporting, OATS reporting, and books and records, was not reasonably designed.
In concluding this settlement, Merrill Lynch neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.
Investors can obtain more information about, and the disciplinary record of, any FINRA-registered broker or brokerage firm by using FINRA’s BrokerCheck. FINRA makes BrokerCheck available at no charge. In 2015, members of the public used this service to conduct 71 million reviews of broker or firm records. Investors can access BrokerCheck at www.finra.org/brokercheck or by calling (800) 289-9999. Investors may find copies of this disciplinary action as well as other disciplinary documents in FINRA’s Disciplinary Actions Online database. Investors can also call FINRA’s Securities Helpline for Seniors at (844) 57-HELPS for assistance or to raise concerns about issues they have with their brokerage accounts and investments.
FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity through effective and efficient regulation and complementary compliance and technology-based services. FINRA touches virtually every aspect of the securities business – from registering and educating all industry participants to examining securities firms, writing rules, enforcing those rules and the federal securities laws, and informing and educating the investing public. In addition, FINRA provides surveillance and other regulatory services for equities and options markets, as well as trade reporting and other industry utilities. FINRA also administers the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and firms. For more information, please visit www.finra.org.