For the second year in a row, alleged advertising violations topped the list of key enforcement issues at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, according to the annual review of the agency's disciplinary actions by the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP.
The review found the number of disciplinary actions filed by Finra against financial securities firms rose 14 percent in 2011, to 1,488 cases, while the dollar amount in fines jumped to $68 million, or 51 percent more than the prior year.
The rise marked the third straight year of growth in the number of Finra disciplinary actions. The authority posted an 8 percent increase in reported incidents in 2009 and double-digit increases for both 2010 and 2011, approximately 13 percent each year.
The rising number of actions taken during the past couple of years resulted from credit crisis cases working their way through the system, says a Finra spokeswoman, who adds that it can take two to three years for disciplinary actions to be filed.
Finra statistics show that a total of 475 individuals were suspended in 2011, an 11 percent increase over the prior year. Meanwhile, no firms were suspended last year. That was the second time that happened during the past five years--one firm was suspended each in 2009 and 2010, and five were suspended in 2007.
According to Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, Finra's top five enforcement issues in 2011 were advertising, short selling, auction rate securities, suitability and improper filing of forms U4, U5 and Rule 3070 (respectively, the registration form used for individuals when they join the industry or switch firms; the form used by firms when they terminate someone's employment; and a rule governing reporting requirements for written customer complaints).
Among the trend's spotted by the law firm's analysis, Finra has placed greater emphasis that member firms get a better understanding of the municipal securities that they sell and their associated regulatory requirements. Other trends include fewer numbers of so-called supersized fines of $1 million or more, and a declining number of fines for violations related to electronic communications.