The move to merge the U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) independent arbitration division with the regulatory body should be reconsidered, the Washington, D.C.-based Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association (PIABA) announced on Monday.
In a statement, the PIABA, a non-profit group of lawyers that often represent investors in FINRA arbitrations, calls for “a slowing down of this process so that there is sufficient time for the public to weigh in on this step that appears to completely contradict previous FINRA and Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) statements about the need for independence, fairness and neutrality.”
According to the PIABA, the SEC approved FINRA’s merger proposal on Oct. 6, and the public comment period on the idea ends Nov. 3.
“What is the rush here? Why leave the impression that this is being slammed through before the public can get wind of this change? Why would the SEC even consider taking further chances with investor confidence in the already troubled FINRA arbitration system?” says Hugh Berkson, president of PIABA, in a statement.
“We call for more time to be allowed for public analysis of and comment on this important change,” Berkson adds. “After all, FINRA (then NASD) said in 2000 that the spin-off of the Dispute Resolution system was needed to make it independent and for there to be a perception of fairness. The SEC agreed at the time. If anything, we currently face a situation in which investors question the fairness and independence of the system more than ever. Why would we make it worse by contradicting the original FINRA/SEC assumptions and merging the FINRA arbitration system back into the main FINRA regulatory organization?”
Berkson says that the SEC got it right when it first approved the spin off of FINRA Dispute Resolution. “Real concerns exist today about the fairness and neutrality of FINRA-run arbitration,” he says. “As such, the proposed rule change would be a huge step backward to, in essence, put the chicken coop back into the fox den. At a minimum, the SEC should open up this comment period to allow more time for public views and concerns to be expressed. The unseemly haste with which this is being pushed through only furthers the impression that FINRA arbitration is run by the industry and for the industry. We hope that isn’t truly the case, and accordingly call for more time for the public to analyze the proposal.”