October 20, 2008
I represent customers in disputes against FINRA member firms. It is a forum where the customer loses 100% of the time. That's not a pure 100% there is the odd customer win on occassion, but customer losses round to 100%. All the arbitration hearing decides is how badly the customer will lose. "Winning" the return of 30% of a customer's damages minus outrageous forum fees is considered a major victory. Statutory damages according to state law are almost non-existent. This rule, as proposed, will make it worse. Raising the dollar amount for a single arbitrator is good. Restricting the arbitrators eligible to serve is a further erosion of investor rights. Single arbitrator cases should not be limited to chair qualified arbitrators who earned that status by consisstently finding for member firms and against customers regardless of the facts or the law.
FINRA favors chair qualified arbitrators over all others and now gives that select group three times as many chances to serve on an arbitration panel as non-chair qualified arbitrators. This rule would further restrict the cases on which a non-chair arbitrator could serve to those over $100,000. Cases under $100,000 would be available only to chair qualilfied arbitrators.
Not everyone can become chair qualified. FINRA has to appoint an arbitrator to a sufficient number of cases to qualify. It is notable that FINRA doesn't even provide statistics on what percentage of cases filed are over or under $100,000. What percentage of cases will this effect? How long will it take for a new arbitrator to have a chance to be appointed to a case? What are the chances that a customer's choice for a single arbitrator will be limited to only those who have never awarded a customer anything, ever?
If the Commission approves this rule to further limit the number of cases to which new arbitrators may be appointed, it could take ten years or more for an otherwise qualified neutral arbitrator to become chair qualified. This would further restrict the pool to the "most experienced arbitrators" a group which is very likely to always find for the member firms and against the customer.