Blockchain Applications to Broker Dealers
Posted by Laura Anthony, Esq. on September 25, 2017
Blockchain Applications to Broker Dealers- In addition to general information, during this LawCast series I have been summarizing a report issued by FINRA in January, 2017 discussing the implications of DLT for the securities industry, including FINRA member broker dealer firms. In the report, FINRA specifically discussed some major areas of consideration. In these last two LawCasts in this series, I am going through each of those topics as summarized in the FINRA report.
Related to Customer Funds and Securities – DLT will create new ways to hold customer funds and securities and thus custodial changes. Broker-dealers that hold funds and securities must generally comply with Exchange Act Rule 15c3-3, which generally requires the broker to maintain physical possession or control over the customer’s fully paid and excess margin securities. Where funds and securities are purely digital, such as cryptosecurities, consideration will need to be made over how they are accounted for and who has the obligation. In addition, certain activities and access levels could amount to “receiving, delivering, holding or controlling customer assets” such as having access to a private key code for a customer.
Also potentially implicated in this area are Exchange Act Rule 15c3-1 related to net capital requirements, FINRA Rule 4160 on verification of assets and Exchange Act Rule 17a-13 related to quarterly security accounts.
Related to Broker-Dealer Net Capital – Exchange Act Rule 15c3-1 requires a firm to maintain a minimum level of net capital at all times. The FINRA Rule 4100 series sets forth the rules and requirements for complying with net capital requirements including calculations and which assets are allowable or non-allowable within those calculations. Regulations need to address how cryptosecurities, digital currency, and tokens in general will be accounted for, for purposes of net capital calculations.
Related to Books and Records Requirements – Exchange Act Rule 17a-3 and 17a-4 and FINRA Rule 4511 regulate book and record requirements for broker-dealers. DLT allows books and records to be maintained on the network itself, though consideration must be made as to how this will comply with regulations, and what changes need to be made with the regulations to update for the new technology.
Related to Clearance and Settlement – It is my view that DLT could have the biggest impact on clearance and settlement from a pure industry disruption viewpoint. FINRA notes, “Depending on how trade execution and settlement is ultimately structured, broker-dealers and other market participants may wish to consider whether any of their activities in the DLT environment meet the definition of a clearing agency and whether corresponding clearing agency registration requirements under Section 17A of the Exchange Act would be applicable.”
DLT has the potential to eliminate the distinction between introducing and clearing brokers and the corresponding carrying agreement rules.