FINRA fined Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. $500,000 for supervisory failures that caused deficiencies in filing hundreds of required reports.  FINRA alleged that Merrill Lynch failed to report approximately 1,200 required filings of customer complaints, certain arbitration proceedings, and related U-4 and U-5 filings.  FINRA found that Merrill Lynch failed to adequately train and supervise personnel responsible for customer complaint tracking and reporting.

Under FINRA rules, securities firms must ensure that information on a broker’s registration application (Form U-4) is updated and kept current on the Central Registration Depository (CRD) system.  In addition, firms are required to update that information whenever a reportable event occurs.  A reportable event includes any regulatory investigation against the broker, specific customer complaints, settlements involving the broker, and certain felony charges and convictions.  Reportable events must be filed within 30 days of the event.  A firm is also required to notify to FINRA within 30 days of the termination of a registered person’s association with a member firm by filing a notice known as Form U-5.  Furthermore, the firm must notify FINRA within 30 days if the firm learns that the information disclosed on a Form U-5 becomes inaccurate.

FINRA’s investigation found that from 2005 until August 2011, between 23% and 63% of customer complaints and related Form U-4 and U-5 filings were either untimely or not reported at all.  In addition, from 2007 until 2011, Merrill Lynch failed to file or timely file more than 650 required reports, including customer complaints and customer settlements.  Lastly, FINRA found that the firm failed to file or timely file approximately 300 non-NASD/FINRA arbitrations, criminal, and civil complaints that it received from on or about July 2007 through 2009.

FINRA found that the firm failed to establish and implement supervisory systems and procedures to adequately review, monitor and ensure compliance with its obligations to timely file required reports and timely acknowledge customer complaints.   Merrill Lynch’s failures may have concealed significant risks and potential investor harm.  The firm’s violations, which went undetected for several years, may have hampered investors’ ability to access the background of certain brokers via FINRA’s Broker’s Check, a public disclosed program.  Brad Bennett, FINRA’s Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement, said, “Firms that fail to file important regulatory information on a timely manner can compromise the integrity of CRD and BrokerCheck.  In this instance, Merrill Lynch failed to report critical information that regulators and investors rely upon.  Without timely and accurate reporting by firms, investors only have part of the picture when researching and making decision about their brokers.”