FINRA and Finder Fees; Broker Dealers by Laura Anthony, Palm Beach
Posted by Laura Anthony, Esq. on August 02, 2017
FINRA and Finder Fees; Broker Dealers by Laura Anthony, Palm Beach- Broker-dealers lack an incentive to engage in small private capital-raising transactions. In addition to regulatory and liability concerns, the amount of a capital raise by small and emerging companies is often small (less than $5 million) and accordingly, the potential commission for a broker-dealer is limited as compared to the time and risk associated with the transaction. Most small and middle market bankers have base-level criteria for acting as a placement agent in a deal, which includes the minimum amount of commission they would need to collect to become engaged.
From a regulatory perspective, when acting as placement agent in a private offering, broker-dealers must consider FINRA filing rules, general know-your-customer and suitability requirements as well as statutory liability under Dodd-Frank and the SEC antifraud provisions.
Even when a broker agrees to act as placement agent, it can often be difficult to locate investors for small companies. It would be helpful if unlicensed individuals could refer investors to such a broker-dealer, who would then ensure that proper disclosure has been made to the investor, and that the investment is suitable for such investor. However, FINRA Rule 2040 prohibits the payment of transaction-based compensation by member firms to unregistered persons. FINRA Rule 2040 expressly correlates with Section 15(a) of the Exchange Act and prohibits the payment of transaction-related compensation unless a person is licensed or properly exempt from such licensing.
Rule 2040 prohibits member firms from directly or indirectly paying any compensation, fees, concessions, discounts or commissions to:
(1) any person that is not registered as a broker-dealer under SEA Section 15(a) but, by reason of receipt of any such payments and the activities related thereto, is required to be so registered under applicable federal securities laws and SEA rules and regulations; or
(2) any appropriately registered associated person, unless such payment complies with all applicable federal securities laws, FINRA rules and SEA rules and regulations.
FINRA guidance on the Rule states that a member firm can (i) rely on published releases, no-action letters or interpretations from the SEC staff; (ii) seek SEC no-action relief; or (iii) obtain a legal opinion from an independent, reputable U.S. licensed attorney knowledgeable in the area. This list is not exclusive and FINRA specifically indicates that member firms can take any other reasonable inquiry or action in determining whether a transaction fee can be paid to an unlicensed person.
FINRA Rule 2040 specifically allows the payments of finders’ fees to unregistered foreign finders where the finder’s sole involvement is the initial referral to the member firm of non-U.S. customers and certain conditions are met, including but not limited to that (i) the person is not otherwise required to be registered as a broker-dealer in the U.S.; (ii) the compensation does not violate foreign law; (iii) the finder is a foreign national domiciled abroad; (iv) the customers are foreign nationals domiciled abroad; (v) the payment of the finder’s fee is disclosed to the customer; (vi) the customers provide written acknowledgment of receipt of the notice related to the payment of the fee; (vii) proper records regarding the payments are maintained; and (viii) each transaction confirm indicates that the finder’s fee is being paid.