Distributed Ledger Technology for the Securities Industry




Posted by on September 27, 2017

Distributed Ledger Technology for the Securities Industry- 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 have been going through each of those topics as summarized in the FINRA report.

Related to Anti-Money Laundering and Customer Identification Programs – DLT allows for global and anonymous participation, and accordingly practices and regulations will need to address anti-money laundering (AML) and customer identification obligations (CIP). The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 requires controls and procedures to detect and prevent money laundering. FINRA Rule 3310 addresses AML obligations.

In addition, FINRA Rule 2090, the Know Your Customer (KYC) rule, requires firms to “use reasonable diligence, in regard to the opening and maintenance of every account, to know (and retain) the essential facts concerning every customer and concerning the authority of each person acting on behalf of such customer.” Technology is already being explored to centralize identity management functions such that once a customer identity is verified, the information can be shared with all network participants. Obviously this would greatly streamline processes for broker-dealers and customers alike.

It is likely that DLT technology will surpass regulatory changes in the AML/CIP/KYC sectors. The FINRA report notes that the current rules allow a firm to outsource functions to third parties, but not overall responsibility. Accordingly, a firm could utilize DLT technology for these functions now if they can fashion internal controls and procedures that comply with the ultimate rule responsibilities.

Related to Customer Data Privacy -Broker-dealers have an obligation to protect personal customer information as specified in Regulation S-P. The rules also require that a firm provide an annual notice to customers related to the protection, and sharing, of their personal information. DLT by nature will include customer information and transaction histories that will be available to network participants. Regulations, as well as internal controls and procedures, will need to adapt for DLT technology.

Related to Trade and Order Reporting Requirements – FINRA regulates the trading and order reporting requirements for the over-the-counter (OTC Markets) and requires certain reports to a centralized Securities Information Processor for listed securities. DLT may be soon be used for the facilitation of OTC Markets equity transactions. This may involve tokenizing existing securities and trading on a different network. FINRA Rule 6100 Series (Quoting and Trading in NMS Stock), Rule 6400 Series (Quoting and Trading on OTC Equity Securities), Rule 4550 Series (Alternative Trading Systems) and Rule 5000 Series governing offering and trading standards and practices would all be implicated.

Related to Supervision and Surveillance – DLT networks will present new and unique challenges related to maintaining supervisory rules and procedures as well as surveillance systems themselves. This area includes the ability to review customer accounts and correct order errors. Like other areas of DLT technology, centralized systems available to all network participants are being developed that can perform some of these functions.

Related to Fees and Commissions – Certain additional fees may be necessary for a DLT network, such as wallet management, key management and on-boarding, whereby other areas may reduce fees as centralization brings economies. In addition, consideration must be given to the payment of fees to third parties that are not registered broker-dealers but that provide DLT outsource functions.

Related to Customer Confirmations and Account Statements – Exchange Act Rule 10b-10 requires firms to provide customers with certain records including trade confirmations and account statements. DLT technology will change the flow and availability of information.

Related to Material Impact on Business Operations – NASD Rule 1017(a)(5) requires broker-dealers that undergo a material change in business operations to file a Continuing Membership Application (CMA) prior to implementing the material change. Many of the aspects of DLT technology may result in a material change and broker-dealers need to consider the need to file 1017 applications.

Finally, related to Business Continuity Plans – FINRA Rule 4370 requires broker-dealers to maintain business continuity plans. Firms must consider the impact of DLT technology on their plans and update accordingly.