Finra will publish budget for first time in 2018

Broker-dealer regulator's effort to be more transparent about finances stems from ongoing self-evaluation

Dec 20, 2017 @ 1:59 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Finra will publish its 2018 budget early next year, marking the first time that the broker-dealer self-regulator has made the document public, the organization announced on Wednesday.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority board approved releasing the spending blueprint at its Dec. 13-14 meeting in New York, where it finalized the document.

In a Wednesday announcement, Finra said that it is planning to release an "overview" of the 2018 budget as well as an "updated set of financial guiding principles."

Finra board chairman William H. Heyman promised that the budget document will contain "a fair amount of granular data and commentary" in fewer than 10 pages.

"Anybody who reads that will emerge with a very good understanding of what our economics are, what our constraints are and why we do what we do," Mr. Heyman, vice chairman and chief investment officer at The Travelers Cos., said in a video posted on the Finra website.

Each year, Finra releases an annual report that provides information about its finances. But that document doesn't show the details of how Finra spends its funds, which are generated from membership fees, fines and other revenue streams.

Finra has been criticized by its member firms, some lawmakers, policy experts, investor advocates and others for a lack of transparency about its finances and operations. The topic was prominent in an in-depth InvestmentNews analysis of Finra published in September.

"The fact that they're releasing the budget is a very big step in the right direction," said Christopher Iacovella, chief executive of the Equity Dealers of America, a trade association of regional broker-dealers.

The regulator's promise to be more open is sparking cautious optimism from critics.

"It's a step in the right direction, obviously," said David Burton, a senior fellow in economic policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "It may be significant. It may not be. You can't tell until you see it."

David Tittsworth, counsel at Ropes & Gray, said that in the past, Finra financial data has lacked details.

"We have to wait and see to what degree transparency will be attained," Mr. Tittsworth said. "This is a work in progress."

In a statement, Finra said that the decision to reveal more about the organization's finances stems from an ongoing listening tour conducted by Finra chief executive Robert W. Cook as well as from the Finra 360 self-examination he launched earlier this year.

"Robert Cook is serious about trying to make things better," Mr. Burton said. "Until you see what's actually there [in the budget release], it's difficult to see how successful he's being."

In addition to deciding to release the budget, the Finra board also approved the release of rule proposals on outside business activities, suitability and other topics.

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