Cryptocurrencies and ICOs
FINRA is monitoring developments in the digital asset marketplace and is undertaking efforts to ascertain the extent of FINRA member involvement related to digital assets. To supplement FINRA’s efforts to date, FINRA issued this Notice to encourage each firm to promptly notify FINRA if it, or its associated persons or affiliates, currently engages, or intends to engage, in any activities related to digital assets, such as cryptocurrencies and other virtual coins and tokens. In addition, until July 31, 2019, FINRA encourages each firm to keep its Regulatory Coordinator abreast of changes in the event the firm, or its associated persons or affiliates, determines to engage in activities relating to digital assets not previously disclosed. If a firm recently has provided notice to its Regulatory Coordinator in response to a direct request, has provided this information by way of the 2018 Risk Control Assessment Survey, or has submitted a continuing membership application regarding its involvement in activities related to digital assets, FINRA does not request additional notification pursuant to this Notice unless a change has occurred.
• FINRA Regulatory Notice 18-20 (July 6, 2018): FINRA Encourages Firms to Notify FINRA if They Engage in Activities Related to Digital Assets
FINRA issued an alert to warn investors to be cautious when considering the purchase of shares of companies that tout the potential of high returns associated with cryptocurrency-related activities without the business fundamentals and transparent financial reporting to back up such claims. According to the SEC, there is substantially less investor protection in cryptocurrency markets than in traditional securities markets, with correspondingly greater opportunities for fraud and manipulation. The SEC has issued investor alerts, bulletins and statements on initial coin offerings and cryptocurrency-related investments, including with respect to the marketing of certain offerings and investments by celebrities and others.
• NASAA Reminds Investors to Approach Cryptocurrencies, Initial Coin Offerings and Other Cryptocurrency-Related Investment Products with Caution (January 4, 2018)
• FINRA Investor Alert December 21, 2017: Don’t Fall for Cryptocurrency-Related Stock Scams
• SEC Public Statement (December 11, 2017): Statement on Cryptocurrencies and Initial Coin Offerings by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton
Alternative Mutual Funds
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy is issuing this Investor Bulletin to inform you about features, and some potential risks, of alternative mutual funds.
• SEC Investor Bulletin (February 3, 2017): Alternative Mutual Funds
Volatility-Linked Exchange-Traded Products
Volatility-linked exchange-traded products (ETPs) are designed to track Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX) futures, rather than the VIX itself. For the reasons explained in the Notice, many volatility-linked ETPs are highly likely to lose value over time. Accordingly, volatility-linked ETPs may be unsuitable for certain retail investors, particularly those who plan to use them as traditional buy-and-hold investments. This Notice reminds firms of their sales practice obligations in connection with volatility-linked ETPs as discussed more generally in Regulatory Notice 12-03, including, without limitation, that recommendations to customers must be based on a full understanding of the terms, features and risks of the product recommended, sales materials must be fair and accurate, and firms must have reasonable supervisory procedures in place to ensure that these obligations are met.
• FINRA Regulatory Notice 17-32 (October, 2017): FINRA Reminds Firms of Sales Practice Obligations for Volatility-Linked Exchange-Traded Products
FINRA published guidance to firms about the supervision of complex products, which may include a security or investment strategy with novel, complicated or intricate derivative-like features, such as structured notes, inverse or leveraged exchange-traded funds, hedge funds and securitized products, such as asset-backed securities. These features may make it difficult for a retail investor to understand the essential characteristics of the product and its risks.
Regulatory Notice 12-03 identifies characteristics that may render a product “complex” for purposes of determining whether the product should be subject to heightened supervisory and compliance procedures and provides examples of heightened procedures that may be appropriate.
• FINRA Regulatory Notice 12-03 (January 2012): Heightened Supervision of Complex Products