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Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
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"FAQs regarding the Use of Social Media under MSRB Rule G-21, on Advertising by Brokers, Dealers or Municipal Securities Dealers, and MSRB Rule G-40, on Advertising by Municipal Advisors"

 

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) provides these answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) to enhance market participants’ understanding of permissible and impermissible uses of social media as part of their municipal securities business or municipal advisory activities under MSRB Rule G-21, on advertising by brokers, dealers or municipal securities dealers (collectively, “dealers”), and under MSRB Rule G-40, on advertising by municipal advisors (Rule G-21, together with Rule G-40, the “advertising rules”). These FAQs can assist dealers and municipal advisors (collectively, “regulated entities”) with their compliance with the MSRB’s advertising rules.

In developing these FAQs, the MSRB has been mindful of the potential burden on a regulated entity if there were to be unnecessary inconsistencies between any adopted MSRB social media guidance and similar guidance issued by other regulators that may be applicable to other aspects of the regulated entity’s business. To that end, and to the extent practicable, the MSRB has endeavored to align these FAQs with the social media guidance published by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (FINRA).[1]

The FAQs discuss compliance with MSRB rules; regulated entities are reminded that they also may be subject to the rules of other financial regulators, including state regulators. Further, a regulated entity’s use of social media to conduct municipal securities or municipal advisory activities is optional, and the responsibilities that follow from that social media usage are not new here. In particular, a regulated entity should consider its ability to comply with the existing recordkeeping requirements under the federal securities laws and incorporated into MSRB rules when determining whether to use social media to conduct municipal securities or municipal advisory activities and whether to permit its associated persons to use social media to conduct municipal securities or municipal advisory activities.

Background

Amended Rule G-21 and new Rule G-40, effective as of the date of these FAQs, set forth general provisions, address professional advertisements by the relevant regulated entity and require principal approval, in writing, for advertisements by regulated entities before their first use.

During the development of the amendments to Rule G-21 and of new Rule G-40, the MSRB received requests for guidance regarding the use of social media by a regulated entity under those rules. These FAQs provide the requested guidance.

 

Consistent with MSRB Rule D-11, references in the FAQs to a dealer, municipal advisor or regulated entity generally include the associated persons of such dealer, municipal advisor or regulated entity.[2]

Use of Social Media

1.     Is social media use by a regulated entity relating to its municipal securities business or municipal advisory activities considered advertising under the MSRB’s advertising rules?

Yes, depending on the facts and circumstances. With limited exceptions, any material that relates to (i) the products or services of the dealer, (ii) the services of the municipal advisor, or (iii) the engagement of a municipal advisory client by the municipal advisor, may constitute an advertisement under the MSRB’s advertising rules, if it is:

 

  • published or used in any electronic or other public media; or
  • written or electronic promotional literature distributed or made generally available to either customers or municipal entities, obligated persons, municipal advisory clients or the public.

To the extent that the use of social media, including blogs, microblogs and social and professional networks, by a regulated entity is deemed advertising based on its content and distribution, that advertising would be subject to all applicable provisions of Rules G- 21 and G-40. Those provisions include content standards and a requirement that an advertisement be pre-approved by a principal before its first use.

Further, dealers and municipal advisors should bear in mind that “posts” or “chats” on social media, including those deemed advertising, are subject to all other applicable MSRB rules.

Those rules include:

 

  • MSRB Rule G-17, on conduct of municipal securities and municipal advisory activities;
  • MSRB Rule G-27, on supervision;
  • MSRB Rule G-44, on supervisory and compliance obligations of municipal advisors;
  • MSRB Rule G-8, on books and records to be made by brokers, dealers, municipal securities dealers, and municipal advisors; and
  • MSRB Rule G-9, on retention of records.    

2.     Can an associated person’s personal social media use be deemed “advertising” that is subject to the MSRB’s advertising rules?

Potentially, yes. An associated person’s personal social media use would not per se be advertising that is subject to the MSRB’s advertising rules. Whether an associated person’s personal social media use is advertising depends on whether the content of the social media relates to (i) the products or services of the dealer, (ii) the services of the municipal advisor, or (iii) the engagement of a municipal advisory client by the municipal advisor, as relevant.

 

  • For example, an associated person of a regulated entity “posts” the following on his personal social media that is viewable by the public rather than a selected audience:

Let’s help our children! ABC Youth Group is having a car wash to raise funds for a new basketball court on May 18th at 3:00 pm at XYZ address. Get your car washed and help out.

     

    The content in the “post” in the above example does not relate to (i) the products or services of the dealer, (ii) the services of the municipal advisor, or (iii) the engagement of a municipal advisory client by the municipal advisor. Even though the “post” is publicly available, the “post” would not be advertising that is subject to the MSRB’s advertising rules.

     

    Similarly, an associated person may hyperlink from his or her personal social media to content on his or her dealer’s or municipal advisor’s social media. The “hyperlinking” by the associated person to the regulated entity’s social media would not constitute an advertisement if that hyperlinked content does not relate to the matters referenced in the preceding paragraph.[3]

     

    • For example, a “post” from associated person FGH’s personal social media contains a hyperlink to an article on municipal advisor ABC’s website about an animal shelter rebuilding after recent flooding. The “post” is viewable by the public.

    The “post” would not be advertising that is subject to the MSRB’s advertising rules. The “post,” although it contains a hyperlink to a regulated entity’s website, links to content that does not relate to the services of the municipal advisor or the engagement of a municipal advisory client by a municipal advisor.

     

    By contrast, to the extent that an associated person of a municipal advisor engages in advertising, as defined by Rules G-21 and G-40, on his or her personal social media, that advertising would be subject to the requirements of the MSRB’s advertising rules.

     

    • For example, an associated person of ABC municipal advisor posts the following on his or her personal social networking page that is viewable by the general public:

    I’m happy to be part of the team! ABC municipal advisor was rated the best in XYZ state for airport financings during 2017 according to DEF rating service. ABC municipal advisor has great experience in airport financings, and can help you with your next project.

    The “post” would be an advertisement, as defined in Rule G-40(a)(i). The content of the electronically distributed “post” (i) promotes the expertise and experience of ABC municipal advisor and solicits inquiries about its services and (ii) is generally available to municipal entities, obligated persons, municipal advisory clients or the public. As such, even though the advertisement was “posted” on the associated person’s personal social networking page, the “post” would be subject to the requirements of Rule G-40 as well as all other applicable MSRB rules. See question 1.

     

    3.    Do the MSRB’s advertising rules apply to hyperlinked content on an independent third-party website from a regulated entity’s website?

    The MSRB’s advertising rules would apply to hyperlinked content on an independent third-party’s website from a regulated entity’s website in those instances where the regulated entity either:

    • involved itself in the preparation of content on that third-party website— this is known as entanglement;[4]; or
    • implicitly or explicitly approved or endorsed the content on that third-party website —this is known as adoption.[5]

    Accordingly, if a regulated entity either becomes entangled with or adopts the hyperlinked content, the regulated entity has obligations under MSRB’s advertising rules for that content.

    • For example, on its website, ABC dealer states that XYZ municipal entity has a great article about the financing for its new school (ABC dealer was the underwriter for that financing), and ABC dealer provides a hyperlink to that article.

    In this case, ABC dealer, by stating it was a great article, would have adopted the article on XYZ’s website, and the content of that article would be subject to Rule G-21. Further, depending on the facts and circumstances, ABC may have adopted the article by linking to its specific content even without stating that the article was a great article. See question 4. A regulated entity should consider whether the context of the hyperlink and the content of the hyperlinked information together create a reasonable inference that the regulated entity has approved or endorsed the hyperlinked information.[6]

    Similarly, a regulated entity may become entangled with hyperlinked content.

    • For example, CDE municipal advisor assists XYZ issuer with the preparation of a press release about a financing to build a new school. The press release discusses how the financing method will save taxpayer dollars, but does not mention CDE municipal advisor. CDE municipal advisor then posts a hyperlink on its website to the press release on XYZ issuer’s website.

    In this case, CDE municipal advisor, because it helped prepare the press release, would have become entangled with the press release, and the hyperlinked content would be an advertisement subject to Rule G-40.

    See Question 7 for discussion regarding third-party posts.

    4.    What factors are relevant for a regulated entity to consider as it determines whether it has adopted the hyperlinked content on an independent third-party’s website?

    While non-exclusive, some factors to consider are:[7]

    • Does the context suggest that the regulated entity has approved or endorsed the hyperlinked content? The regulated entity may want to consider its disclosure about the hyperlink and what a reader may imply by the location and presentation of the hyperlink. For example:
      • Does the regulated entity state that it approves or endorses the prominently-featured hyperlinked content (in which case, the regulated entity would have adopted the hyperlinked content), or does the regulated entity have a portion of its website that links to recent general news articles and provides hyperlinks to the websites of various newspapers or magazines (depending on the facts and circumstances, in most cases, the regulated entity would not have adopted such content)?[8]

      • Does the hyperlinked content indicate a degree of selective choice by the regulated entity, such as a hyperlink to a specific news article that is laudatory of the regulated entity, as compared to a hyperlink to the website of the newspaper?[9]

      • Does the regulated entity provide an explanation about the source of a hyperlinked article and why the regulated entity is hyperlinking to it in order to avoid the inference that the regulated entity is adopting the hyperlinked content?[10]

      Although a regulated entity’s hyperlink to specific independent third-party content may indicate adoption of that content, if the hyperlinked content itself is not an advertisement, the regulated entity’s hyperlink to that content would not be an advertisement under Rules G-21 and G-40.

      • For example, ABC dealer includes a hyperlink on its website to an article regarding the importance of saving for college on an independent third- party’s website. The article does not identify any particular 529 savings plan, any dealer, or any municipal security.

      In this case, ABC dealer hyperlinks to an article that is purely educational. Because the hyperlinked content does not address ABC dealer or a municipal security offered through ABC dealer, the hyperlinked content would not be an advertisement, and ABC dealer’s hyperlink to that content would not be an advertisement that is subject to Rule G-21.

    • Does the hyperlink create customer or municipal advisory client confusion? The regulated entity may want to consider whether a customer or municipal advisory client would be confused and not fully appreciate that the hyperlink is to third-party content. Does the regulated entity provide disclosure to explain that the hyperlink is to third-party content?[11]

    • Is the hyperlink to content that is not controlled by the regulated entity and is the hyperlink ongoing? When a regulated entity links to content that is hosted by an independent third-party that is not controlled or influenced by the regulated entity, that content may not be advertising subject to the MSRB’s advertising rules if the hyperlink is “ongoing.”

      An “ongoing” link is one which: (i) is continuously available to visitors to the regulated entity’s website; (ii) visitors to the regulated entity’s site have access to even though the independent third-party site may or may not contain favorable material about the regulated entity; and (iii) visitors to the regulated entity’s website have access to even though the independent third-party’s website may be revised.[12] A regulated entity may not have adopted the content on the independent third-party’s website if the link is “ongoing.”

    However, where a regulated entity has become entangled with the hyperlinked content on a third-party website (to the extent that hyperlinked content otherwise meets the definition of an advertisement), that hyperlinked content would be an advertisement under Rules G-21 and G-40 and the regulated entity must consider all applicable provisions of the MSRB’s advertising rules, including with respect to the hyperlinked content.[13] Therefore, a regulated entity should not include hyperlinked content on its website if there are any red flags that indicate that the hyperlinked content contains false or misleading material.[14]

    5.    May a regulated entity use a disclaimer alone to disclaim potential MSRB rule violations for hyperlinked content on an independent third-party website?

    No, the MSRB generally would not view a disclaimer alone as sufficient to insulate a regulated entity from potential MSRB rule violations related to hyperlinked content on an independent third-party website that the regulated entity knows or has reason to know is materially false or misleading. A regulated entity that hyperlinks to content that the regulated entity knows or has reason to know is materially false or misleading may violate Rules G-17, G-21 and/or G-40.[15]

    6.    Do the MSRB’s advertising rules apply to linked content within independent third- party content to which a regulated entity hyperlinked?

    No, Rules G-21 and G-40, in general, would not apply to linked content within content to which the regulated entity linked (“secondary links”). However, to avoid triggering the application of Rules G-21 and G-40:

    • The regulated entity must not have adopted or become entangled with the content in the secondary link – See question 3;
    • The regulated entity must have no influence or control over the content in the secondary links – See question 4;
    • The original linked content must not be a mere vehicle for the secondary links or not rely completely on the information available in the secondary links; and
    • The regulated entity must not know or have reason to know that the information contained in the secondary links contains any untrue statement of material fact or is otherwise false or misleading.[16] A regulated entity should not include a link on its website if there are any red flags that indicate that the hyperlinked website contains false or misleading content.[17]

    Third-Party Posts

    7.    Do Rules G-21 and G-40 apply to posts by a customer, municipal entity client or another third-party (collectively, “third-party posts”) on a regulated entity’s or its associated person’s social networking page?

    In general, no. Rules G-21 and G-40 generally would not apply to posts by a third-party on a regulated entity’s or its associated person’s social networking page. The post would not be considered material that is published, distributed or made available by the dealer or municipal advisor.

    Notwithstanding, Rules G-21 and G-40 may apply to such third-party posts under certain circumstances. For example, Rules G-21 and G-40 would apply to such posts if the dealer or municipal advisor becomes entangled with or adopts the content of such posts. See also question 3.

    • Entanglement. A regulated entity becomes entangled with a post by a third-party on the regulated entity’s social networking page if the regulated entity has involved itself with the preparation of the third-party content.[18] For example, a regulated entity or its associated person may become entangled with a third-party post if the regulated entity or its associated person pays for or solicits a third-party to post certain comments on the regulated entity’s social networking page.

    • Adoption. A regulated entity adopts the content of the third-party post if the regulated entity explicitly or implicitly approves or endorses the content.[19] A regulated entity or its associated person may adopt a third- party post if it “likes,” “shares,” or otherwise indicates approval or endorsement of the content.

    See question 3 above for a discussion of hyperlinked content on an independent third- party website; see question 4 above for a discussion of the non-exclusive factors to consider when determining whether a regulated entity or its associated person has adopted third-party content.

    8.    May a municipal advisory client post positive comments about its experience with the municipal advisor on the municipal advisor’s social media page without such post being a testimonial under Rule G-40?

    As with question 7 above, if a municipal advisory client posts positive comments on a municipal advisor’s social media page and the municipal advisor does not become entangled with or adopt that content, the municipal advisor could allow such content on its social media page. This would be true even if the municipal advisory client’s comments were to include a testimonial.

    However, if the municipal advisor paid for or solicited a municipal advisory client to post positive comments about its experience with the municipal advisor on the municipal advisor’s social media page, that post would be deemed to be an advertisement by the municipal advisor that contains a testimonial within Rule G-40.

    Specifically, by paying for or soliciting positive comments from a third-party, the municipal advisor would become entangled with those comments, and the posting of those third-party comments on the municipal advisor’s social media page would be deemed to be an advertisement by the municipal advisor that contains a testimonial within Rule G-40(a)(iv)(G). See question 7. As such, the municipal advisor’s use of that testimonial content would be prohibited.[20] Similar considerations would prohibit the municipal advisor from “liking” the municipal advisory client’s post or by forwarding the municipal advisory client’s post to others, thereby adopting the content.

    Recordkeeping

    9.    Must regulated entities retain records of “posts,” “chats,” text messages or messages sent through messaging applications related to the regulated entity’s business conducted through social media?

    Yes, the MSRB’s recordkeeping and record retention requirements apply to all written, including electronic, communications sent or received as well as records of advertisements under the MSRB’s advertising rules.

    Specifically, for dealers, Rule G-9(b)(viii)(C) requires that “all written and electronic communications received and sent, including inter-office memoranda, relating to the conduct of the activities of such municipal securities broker or municipal securities dealer with respect to municipal securities” be retained. Similarly, Rule G-9(h)(i) requires that a municipal advisor retain records, which include, among other things, originals or copies of all written and electronic communications received and sent, including inter-office memoranda, relating to municipal advisory activities.[21] Neither the technology used for the communication nor the distinction between a communication made through a device issued by the regulated entity or its associated person’s personal device is determinative for this analysis. See questions 10 and 11 regarding supervision.

    Supervision[22]

    10.    Should a regulated entity consider establishing policies and procedures as part of its supervisory system to address the use of social media by the regulated entity and its associated persons?

    Yes, given that recordkeeping requirements apply to electronic communications, a regulated entity should establish policies and procedures to address the use by the regulated entity and its associated persons of social media.[23] As a baseline, those policies and procedures would reflect the regulated entity’s permitted and/or prohibited practices. Such permitted practices may include restrictions on the use of certain technologies or the prohibition of the use of social media to engage in municipal securities business or municipal advisory activities. Further, the supervisory system for a regulated entity that permits the use of social media would address all applicable MSRB rules, including, but not limited to:

    • The MSRB’s advertising rules;
    • Rule G-17;
    • Rule G-8; and
    • Rule G-9.

    See question 1.

    11.    What are some factors that a regulated entity should consider as it develops policies and procedures about the use of social media?

    As with any policy and procedure, a regulated entity’s social media policies and procedures would be tailored to reflect, among other things, its size, organizational structure and the nature and scope of its municipal securities or municipal advisory activities. Social media policies and procedures are not expected to be “one size fits all.”

    Among the factors that a regulated entity should consider as it develops social media policies and procedures are:

    Usage Restrictions. While some regulated entities may prohibit an associated person from engaging in municipal securities business or municipal advisory activities through social media, other regulated entities may permit the use of social media for such purposes. A regulated entity that permits the use of social media by its associated persons, in whole or in part, should consider providing associated persons with a clear and concise list of permitted social media for the conduct of municipal securities business or municipal advisory activities. That list also may include any restrictions to the use of particular social media (for example, a regulated entity may permit certain messaging applications to be used only for internal communications among the regulated entity and its associated persons). If applicable, a regulated entity should consider making the list of permitted social media widely available and easily accessible to its associated persons.[24]

    Further, recognizing the need to have policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to ensure compliance with MSRB rules as well as with other applicable securities laws and regulations, and in light of the pace of technology innovations, a regulated entity that permits the use of social media should consider periodically reviewing its list of permitted social media. As part of that review, the regulated entity should determine whether any updates to the list of permitted social media would be warranted.[25]

    Along with the list of permitted social media, the regulated entity should consider addressing the consequences of non-compliance with its social media policies and procedures.[26]

    Training and Education. The regulated entity’s social media policies and procedures may address the training that the regulated entity will provide related to those policies and procedures. For example, will the training include an initial training as well as training that is required on a periodic basis? In addition, a regulated entity’s training on social media may address various topics likely to occur such as an explanation of the differences between business and personal social media use and how the lines between business and personal social media usage could be blurred. For example, an associated person could receive a request on his or her personal social media relating to municipal securities business or municipal advisory activities. A regulated entity may want to consider how the associated person should respond to such a request.

    Recordkeeping and Record Retention. As noted in question 1, it is possible that social media posts relating to the regulated entity’s municipal securities business or municipal advisory activities would be subject to the MSRB’s recordkeeping and record retention rules. A regulated entity should consider its recordkeeping and record retention obligations as it designs its social media compliance policies and procedures.[27]

    Monitoring. As a regulated entity develops its social media policies and procedures, the regulated entity should consider how it will monitor for compliance with those policies and procedures. For example, a regulated entity may determine to more frequently monitor various social media activities based on the potential risks that the regulated entity has determined may be associated with those activities. See question 12 below for a discussion of various factors that the regulated entity may want to consider as it develops its policies and procedures. As a reminder, a regulated entity’s supervisory procedures concerning social media should address not only the MSRB’s advertising rules, but all applicable MSRB rules and other applicable federal securities laws and regulations.

    12.    What factors may be important in determining the effectiveness of policies and procedures concerning social media?

    As noted in question 10, MSRB Rules G-27 and G-44 generally require that a regulated entity establish, implement and maintain a supervisory system that is reasonably designed to achieve compliance with MSRB rules as well as with other applicable federal securities laws and regulations. To help test whether that goal is being met with regard to its social media compliance policies and procedures, a regulated entity may want to consider the following non-exclusive factors:

    • Content standards. A regulated entity should consider whether there are certain risks associated with content created by the regulated entity for its social media and whether that content may create regulatory issues. For example, non-solicitor municipal advisors owe a fiduciary duty to their municipal entity clients. Is the social media content consistent with that duty (e.g., such as content that contains information on specific municipal advisory activity or a recommendation regarding that activity)? Further, is the social media content consistent with the testimonial restrictions set forth in the MSRB’s advertising rules?
    • Monitoring of third-party sites. To the extent that the regulated entity permits the use of social networking sites, a regulated entity should consider how it will monitor for compliance with the regulated entity’s social media policies and procedures on those sites.
    • Criteria for approving participation in social networking sites. A regulated entity should consider whether to develop standards relating to social networking participation. For example, at a minimum, a regulated entity must ensure compliance with record retention requirements. As the regulated entity develops its criteria for approving the use of certain sites, the regulated entity also should address whether it has a process in place for revoking approval to participate in a particular social networking site should certain circumstances change.
    • Personal social networking sites. A regulated entity should address whether the regulated entity or its associated persons may engage in municipal securities business or municipal advisory activities on personal social networking sites.
    • Enterprise-wide sites. A regulated entity that is a part of a larger financial services organization should consider whether it needs to develop usage guidelines reasonably designed to prevent the larger financial services organization in organizational-wide advertisements from violating the MSRB’s advertising rules including, for municipal advisors, the prohibition on the use of testimonials in municipal advisor advertising.

    Additional Resources

    SR-MSRB-2018-01 (January 24, 2018)

    Letter from Pamela K. Ellis, Associate General Counsel, Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, dated April 30, 2018

    Self-Regulatory Organizations; Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board; Order Granting Approval of a Proposed Rule Change, Consisting to Amendments to Rule G-21, on Advertising, Proposed New Rule G-40, on Advertising by Municipal Advisors, and a Technical Amendment to Rule G-42, on Duties of Non-Solicitor Municipal Advisors

    MSRB Notice 2018-08 SEC Approves Advertising Rule Changes for Dealers and Municipal Advisors

    MSRB Notice 2018-32 Application of Content Standards to Advertisements by Municipal Advisors under MSRB Rule G-40

     

     

    [1] See, e.g., IM Guidance Update, No. 2014-04, Division of Investment Management, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (Mar. 2014) (“2014 IM Guidance Update”); National Examination Risk Alert, Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (Jan. 4, 2012) (“2012 Risk Alert”); Exchange Act Release No. 58288 (Aug. 1, 2008); FINRA Regulatory Notice 17-18 (Apr. 2017). These materials are identified for reference and such reference is not intended to suggest that regulated entities that are not subject to the guidance issued by the SEC or FINRA are responsible for compliance with that guidance. In addition, the MSRB does not intend for the guidance provided by these FAQs to modify or otherwise affect the guidance contained in the any of the referenced materials published by the SEC or FINRA.

    [2] Rule D-11 provides that:

     

    Unless the context otherwise requires or a rule of the Board otherwise specifically provides, the terms “broker,” “dealer,” “municipal securities broker,” “municipal securities dealer,” “bank dealer,” and “municipal advisor” shall refer to and include their respective associated persons. Unless otherwise specified, persons whose functions are solely clerical or ministerial shall not be considered associated persons for purposes of the Board’s rules.

    [3] For example, such hyperlinked content may include information about a charity event sponsored by the dealer or municipal advisor, a human interest article, an employment opportunity, or employer information covered by state and federal fair employment laws. See, e.g., FINRA Regulatory Notice 17-18 (Apr. 2017) at 4.

    [4] See, e.g., Exchange Act Release No. 58288 (Aug. 1, 2008) at 32, 73 FR 45862 (Aug. 7. 2008) at 45870 (the “2008 release”); Exchange Act Release No. 42728 (Apr. 28, 2000), 65 FR 25843 (May 4, 2000) at 25848 (the “2000 release”).

    [5] Id.

    [6] 2008 release at 34.

    [7] See 2008 release at 33; 2000 release at 25849.

    [8] See 2008 release at 34; 2000 release at 25849.

    [9] See 2008 release at 35.

    [10] Id.

    [11] See 2008 release at 36; 2000 release at 25849.

    [12] See FINRA Regulatory Notice 17-18 (Apr. 2017) at 5.

    [13] See MSRB Notice 2018-14 (Jun. 27, 2018).

    [14] See FINRA Regulatory Notice 11-39 (Aug. 2011) at 3.

    [15] See 2008 Release at 36-37; 2000 Release at 25849.

    [16] See FINRA Regulatory Notice 17-18 at Q:4; see Q:5.

    [17] See FINRA Regulatory Notice 11-39 (Aug. 2011) at 3.

    [18] See 2008 release at 32; 2000 release at 25848-49; FINRA Regulatory Notice 10-06 (Jan. 2010) at 7-8. The MSRB’s definition of the entanglement and adoption theories is consistent with the definition of those theories set forth by the SEC and FINRA in those materials.

    [19] Id.

    [20] See 2014 IM Guidance Update at 3.

    [21] Rule G-8(h)(i) requires municipal advisors to make and keep current all books and records described in Rule 15Ba1-8(a) under the Exchange Act. Particularly, Rule 15Ba1- 8(a)(1) requires that municipal advisors make and keep true, accurate, and current “originals or copies of all written communications received, and originals or copies of all written communications sent, by such municipal advisor (including inter-office memoranda and communications) relating to municipal advisory activities, regardless of the format of such communications.”

    [22] While many regulated entities may find the guidance in these FAQs useful when establishing their supervisory systems, each regulated entity should develop a supervisory system that is tailored to its own business model, recognizing that some considerations may not apply in the same manner for every firm and others may not apply at all.

    [23] In part, Rules G-27(b) and Rule G-44(a) require that a regulated entity establish a supervisory system to supervise the municipal securities and municipal advisory activities of the regulated entity and its associated persons. In general, a supervisory system includes:

    1. compliance policies and procedures that describe the practices that associated persons must adhere to in order to meet the standards of conduct established by the regulated entity consistent with applicable securities laws and regulations, including MSRB rules; and
    2. written supervisory procedures that describe the practices that the supervisory personnel follow in order to reasonably ensure that associated persons meet the standards of conduct and the regulated entity can evidence a supervisory system.

    [24] See, e.g., 2012 Risk Alert at 3; FINRA Regulatory Notice 07-59 (Dec. 2007) at 7.

    [25] See, e.g., 2012 Risk Alert at 4.

    [26] See FINRA Regulatory Notice 07-59 (Dec.2007) at 7; see also National Exam Program Risk Alert, Observations from Investment Adviser Examinations Relating to Electronic Messaging, Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (modified Dec. 14, 2018) available at https://www.sec.gov/ocie/announcement/ocie-risk-alert-electronic-messaging (“2018 Risk Alert”) at 4.

    [27] See FINRA Regulatory Notice 07-59 (Dec. 2007) at 6-7; 2018 Risk Alert at 3-4.

    Notice 2019-07 - Informational Notice
    Publication date:
    Compliance Resource
    Publication date:
    Notice 2019-03 - Informational Notice
    Publication date:
    Information for:

    Bank Dealers, Dealers, Municipal Advisors

    Rule Number:

    Rule G-21, Rule G-40

    Notice 2018-19 - Request for Comment
    Publication date: | Comment due:
    Information for:

    Bank Dealers, Dealers, Municipal Advisors

    Rule Number:

    Rule G-21, Rule G-40

    1. Bond Dealers of America: Letter from Mike Nicholas, Chief Executive Officer, dated September 14, 2018

    2. National Association of Municipal Advisors: Letter from Susan Gaffney, Executive Director, dated September 17, 2018

    3. Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association: Letter from Leslie M. Norwood, Managing Director and Associate General Counsel, dated September 14, 2018

    4. Wells Fargo Advisors: Letter from Robert J. McCarthy, Director of Regulatory Policy, dated September 14, 2018

    Notice 2018-08 - Approval Notice
    Publication date:
    Information for:

    Bank Dealers, Dealers, Municipal Advisors

    Rule Number:

    Rule G-21, Rule G-40

    Notice 2017-16 - Approval Notice
    Publication date:
    Notice 2017-04 - Request for Comment
    Publication date: | Comment due:
    Information for:

    Bank Dealers, Dealers, Municipal Advisors

    Rule Number:

    Rule G-21

    1.  Acacia Financial Group, Inc.: Letter from Noreen P. White, Co-President, and Kim M. Whelan, Co-President, dated April 7, 2017

    2.  Bond Dealers of America: Letter from Mike Nicholas, Chief Executive Officer, dated March 24, 2017

    3.  Fidelity Investments: Letter from Norman L. Ashkenas, Chief Compliance Officer, Fidelity Brokerage Services, LLC, Richard J. O'Brien, Chief Compliance Officer, National Financial Services, LLC, and Jason Linde, Chief Compliance Officer, Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Company, LLC, dated March 24, 2017

    4.  Financial Services Institute: Letter from David T. Bellaire, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, dated March 24, 2017

    5.  Lewis Young Robertson & Burningham, Inc.: Letter from Laura D. Lewis, Principal, dated March 24, 2017

    6.  National Association of Municipal Advisors: Letter from Susan Gaffney, Executive Director, dated March 24, 2017

    7.  PFM: Letter from Leo Karwejna, Chief Compliance Officer, Cheryl Maddox, General Counsel, and Catherine Humphrey-Bennett, Municipal Advisory Compliance Officer, dated March 23, 2017

    8.  Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association: Letter from Leslie M. Norwood, Managing Director and Associate General Counsel, dated March 24, 2017

    9.  Strategic Insight: Letter from Paul Curley, Director of College Savings Research, dated May 16, 2017

    10.  Third Party Marketers Association: Letter from Donna DiMaria, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chair of the 3PM Regulatory Committee, dated March 23, 2017

    11.  Wells Fargo Advisors: Letter from Robert J. McCarthy, Director of Regulatory Policy, dated March 24, 2017

    Notice 2011-41 - Request for Comment
    Publication date: | Comment due:
    Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
    Publication date:
    General Advertising Disclosures, Blind Advertisements and Annual Reports Relating to Municipal Fund Securities Under Rule G-21

    Rule G-21, on advertising, establishes specific requirements for advertisements by brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) of municipal fund securities, including but not limited to advertisements for 529 college savings plans (“529 plans”).  This notice sets forth interpretive guidance under Rule G-21 with respect to time-limited broadcast advertisements, blind advertisements, and annual reports or other similar information required to be distributed under state mandates.

    General Disclosures in Time-Limited Broadcast Advertisements

    Rule G-21(e)(i)(A) requires certain basic disclosures to be provided in product advertisements for municipal fund securities. These disclosures are not legends requiring the inclusion of specific language. Rather, these disclosure requirements may be complied with if the substance of such information is effectively conveyed, regardless of the specific language used in the advertisement. In general, the context in which the information is provided is an important factor in determining whether the information is effectively conveyed.

    These required disclosures may present challenges in  the context of broadcast advertisements, such as traditional television or radio commercials with 30-second run-times or public service announcements with shorter run-times.  In the context of time-limited  broadcast  advertisements,  dealers  should  provide  such disclosures in a manner that appropriately balances the intended message with the required disclosures. Given the unique nature of broadcast  advertisements, where the oral presentation of more information can often result in a decreased likelihood that  the central message of such information will be understood and retained, somewhat abbreviated forms of the required  disclosures may be appropriate for such time-limited  broadcast advertisements, particularly if the disclosures are made with close attention paid to ensuring that they are presented with equal prominence to the remainder of the message.

    Thus, for example, in a time-limited broadcast  advertisement for a non-money market 529 plan, the following language, spoken in a manner consistent with the remaining oral presentation of information, generally would satisfy the disclosure requirements of Rule G-21(e)(i)(A): “To learn about [529 plan name], its investment objectives, risks and costs, read the official statement available from [source]. Check with your home state to learn if it offers tax or other benefits for investing in its own 529 plan.”  Further, in a time-limited television advertisement, the source for the official statement, together with a contact telephone number or web address, generally could be displayed on screen while other portions of the disclosures are spoken. This example is intended to be illustrative and is not intended to be exclusive or to necessarily establish a baseline for disclosure.

    Blind Advertisements

    Under Rule G-21(e)(i)(B)(2), certain product advertisements for municipal fund securities that promote an issuer and its public purpose without promoting specific municipal fund securities or identifying a dealer or its affiliates may omit the general disclosures otherwise required under Rule G-21(e)(i)(A). Among other things, such a blind advertisement may include contact information for the issuer or an agent of the issuer to obtain an official statement or other information, provided that if such issuer’s agent is a dealer or dealer affiliate, no orders may be accepted through such source unless initiated by the customer. Although the contact information may direct a potential customer to a dealer or its affiliate acting as agent of the issuer, the face of the advertisement may not identify such dealer or affiliate.

    For example, a blind advertisement may say “call 1-800-xxx-xxxx for more information” or “go to www.[state-name]-529plan.com for more information” but may not say “call [dealer name] at 1-800-xxx-xxxx for more information” or “go to www.[dealer-name]-529plan.com for more information.” This provision does not preclude the person who answers a phone inquiry, or the website to which the URL links, from identifying the dealer or its affiliate, so long as such dealer or affiliate is clearly disclosed to be acting on behalf of the issuer identified in the advertisement.

    If a potential customer initiates an order through the source identified in the advertisement, a distinct barrier between the providing of information and the seeking of orders must be maintained to qualify as a blind advertisement. For example, solely for purposes of Rule G-21(e)(i)(B)(2), a dealer may establish that the customer initiated the order by requiring, in the case of a telephone inquiry, that the customer be transferred from the initial dealer contact person to a different person before the customer provides any information used in connection with an order or, in the case of a web-based inquiry, that the customer navigate from the initial webpage referred to in the advertisement to another page on the same or different web site before entering any information used in connection with an order.[1]  Of course, the dealer must be mindful of its obligation under Rule G-17, on fair practice, to provide to the customer, at or prior to the time of trade, all material facts about the transaction known by the dealer as well as material facts about the security that are reasonably accessible to the market, regardless of whether the transaction was recommended or whether an order may be characterized as unsolicited.[2]  In addition, if the transaction is recommended, the dealer must fulfill its obligations with respect to suitability under Rule G-19, on suitability of recommendations and transactions.[3]

    Required Annual Reports Excluded from Definition of Advertisement

    In some cases, a dealer may be required, by state law or the rules and regulations adopted by the state or an  instrumentality thereof governing a particular 529 plan or other municipal fund security program, to prepare or distribute an annual financial re- port or other similar information regarding such plan or program. So long as a dealer provides any such required report or information with respect to a 529 plan or other municipal fund securities program solely in the manner required by such state law or rules and regulations, such report or information will not be treated as an advertisement for purposes of Rule G-21.[4] However, the dealer would remain subject to Rule G-17, which requires that the dealer deal fairly with all persons, prohibits the dealer from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice and requires the dealer to provide to its customer, at or prior to the time of trade, all material facts about a transaction known by the dealer or that are reasonably accessible to the market. In addition, if such information is used in any manner beyond what is narrowly required by such law, rules or regulation, such use of the information would become subject to Rule G-21 as an advertisement.[5]


    [1] These methods are not intended to be the exclusive means by which a dealer could establish that the customer initiated the order.

    [2] See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Interpretive Notice Regarding Rule G-17, on Disclosure of Material Facts, March 20, 2002, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

    [3] See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Interpretation on Customer Protection Obligations Relating to the Marketing of 529 College Savings Plans, August 7, 2006, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

    [4] If such information is distributed through the official statement, then it would not be considered an advertisement by virtue of the exclusion of official statements from the definition of “advertisement” in Rule G-21(a)(i).

    [5] This guidance is consistent with similar guidance provided by NASD with respect to its advertising rule, Rule 2210, as applied to certain performance information and hypothetical illustrations required by state laws to be provided by dealers in connection with retirement investments and variable annuity contracts. See letter dated November 29, 2004, to Therese Squillacote, Chief Compliance Officer, ING Financial Advisers,  LLC, from Philip A. Shaikun, Assistant General Counsel, NASD; letter dated September 30, 2002, to Sally Krawczyk, Esq., Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, LLP, from Mr. Shaikun; and letter dated February 5, 1999, to W. Thomas Conner, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, National Association of Variable  Annuities, from Robert J. Smith, Office of General Counsel,  NASD Regulation, Inc.

    Notice 2007-18 - Informational Notice
    Publication date:
    Notice 2007-08 - Informational Notice
    Publication date:
    Notice 2006-32 - Informational Notice
    Publication date:
    Notice 2006-26 - Request for Comment
    Publication date: | Comment due:
    Notice 2006-13 - Informational Notice
    Publication date:
    Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
    Publication date:
    529 College Savings Plan Advertisements
    Rule Number:

    Rule G-17, Rule G-21

    529 college savings plan advertisements.  Thank you for your letter of April 21, 2006 in which you request interpretive guidance on the application of Rule G-21, on advertising, with respect to advertisements of 529 college savings plans.  Rule G-21 was amended in 2005 by adding new section (e) relating to advertisements by brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) of interests in 529 college savings plans and other municipal fund securities (collectively referred to as “municipal fund securities”).  These new provisions were modeled after the provisions of Securities Act Rules 482 and 135a relating to mutual fund advertisements, with certain modifications.

    The Board expects to undertake a detailed review of issues relating to the implementation of section (e) of its advertising rule in the coming months and your views will be instrumental in that review.  We appreciate your interest in the operation of the rule and the commitment of your organization and your individual members to assure that investors receive appropriate disclosures.  As you are aware, MSRB rules apply solely to dealers, not to issuers or other parties.  The MSRB has previously stated that Rule G-21 does not govern advertisements published by issuers but that an advertisement produced by a dealer as agent for an issuer must comply with Rule G-21.  Similarly, a dealer cannot avoid application of Rule G-21 merely by hiring a third party to produce and publish advertisements on its behalf.[1]  Pending our detailed review of section (e) of Rule G-21, I would like to address certain basic principles under the current rule language and existing interpretive guidance that may prove helpful in the context of some of the issues you raise in your letter.[2]

    Section (a) of the rule provides a broad definition of “advertisement.”[3]  Sections (b) through (e) of the rule establish requirements with respect to specific types of advertisements.  Section (b) establishes standards for professional advertisements, which are advertisements concerning the dealer’s facilities, services or skills with respect to municipal securities.  Section (c) establishes general standards for product advertisements, with additional specific standards relating to advertisements for new issue debt securities set forth in Section (d) and specific standards relating to advertisements for municipal fund securities set forth in Section (e).  In addition, all advertisements are subject to the MSRB’s basic fair dealing rule, Rule G-17,[4] and are subject to approval by a principal pursuant to Section (f) of Rule G-21.

    Where an advertisement does not identify specific securities, specific issuers of securities or specific features of securities, but merely refers to one or more broad categories of securities with respect to which the dealer provides services, the MSRB would generally view such advertisement as a professional advertisement under Section (b) rather than as a product advertisement.  For example, if an advertisement simply states that the dealer provides investment services with respect to 529 college savings plans – without identifying any specific 529 college savings plan, specific municipal fund securities issued through a 529 college savings plan, or specific features of any such municipal fund securities – the advertisement would be subject to Section (b) of Rule G-21, rather than to Sections (c) and (e).

    On the other hand, advertisements that identify specific securities, specific issuers of securities or specific features of securities generally are viewed as product advertisements under Rule G-21 and therefore would be subject to Section (c), as well as Section (d) or (e), if applicable.  However, in some circumstances, an advertisement that identifies an issuer of securities without identifying its securities or specific features of such securities effectively may not constitute an advertisement of such issuer’s securities and therefore would not be treated as a product advertisement under the rule, particularly if the dealer or any of its affiliates is not identified.  For example, if an advertisement identifies the state or other governmental entity that operates a 529 college savings plan without identifying its municipal fund securities, the specific features of such securities or the dealer and its affiliates that may participate in the marketing of its municipal fund securities, the MSRB generally would not view such advertisement as a product advertisement subject to Sections (c) and (e) of Rule G-21.[5] MSRB Interpretation of May 12, 2006.


     

    [1] The MSRB expresses no opinion at this time as to the applicability of MSRB rules to advertisements relating to municipal fund securities produced and published by issuers with funds provided directly or indirectly by a dealer.

    [2] Other issues you raise in your letter will be considered during the upcoming review of Rule G-21.

    [3] An advertisement is defined as any material (other than listings of offerings) published or designed for use in the public, including electronic, media, or any promotional literature designed for dissemination to the public, including any notice, circular, report, market letter, form letter, telemarketing script or reprint or excerpt of the foregoing. The term does not apply to preliminary official statements or official statements (including program disclosure documents), but does apply to abstracts or summaries of official statements, offering circulars and other such similar documents prepared by dealers.  The MSRB expresses no opinion at this time as to whether the specific communications or promotional materials described in your letter would constitute advertisements under this definition.

    [4] Rule G-17 requires each dealer, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, to deal fairly with all persons and prohibits the dealer from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.

    [5] The advertisement may, in addition to or instead of identifying the state or other governmental entity that operates the 529 college savings plan, include the state’s marketing name for such plan so long as such name does not identify the dealer or any dealer affiliates that may participate in the marketing of its municipal fund securities.  Further, any contact information (such as a telephone number or Internet address) included in the advertisement should be for the state or other governmental entity and must not be for the dealer or its affiliates.