Investor Bulletin: How to Check Out Your Financial Professional
Aug. 18, 2014
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy is issuing this investor bulletin to provide investors with resources to check out a financial professional’s background.
Even if a close friend or family member recommends a financial professional, you should still check out that person for signs of potential problems. Before becoming a customer, take the time to look at the registration status and background of any firm or financial professional you are considering. You should also be able to find out whether the individual is currently registered or licensed, or has been suspended, as well as the individual’s qualifications and employment history. These records are available through the SEC, FINRA, and/or state securities regulators.
FINRA’s BrokerCheck Program
For an individual broker or a brokerage firm, background information is available through FINRA’s BrokerCheck report. BrokerCheck reports are free and investment professionals or firms are not made aware of any search conducted.
A FINRA BrokerCheck report for an individual includes a listing of the broker’s registrations or licenses, industry exams that the broker has passed, and information on a broker’s previous employment, customer disputes, and regulatory or disciplinary events. A FINRA BrokerCheck report for a firm includes, among other things, the firm’s history (including any mergers, acquisitions or name changes), a listing of the firm’s active licenses and registrations, arbitration awards against the firm, and regulatory or disciplinary events.
A potential red flag for financial professional misconduct is previous employment at one or more firms that have been expelled from the securities industry. To determine whether this red flag applies to an individual broker, review the BrokerCheck report for the individual broker and review the firms listed under the “Registration History” section. Then, run a separate BrokerCheck report for each of those firms listed.
A BrokerCheck report may be obtained from FINRA in any of the following ways:
- Visiting BrokerCheck at www.finra.org/brokercheck;
- Calling FINRA’s BrokerCheck toll-free Hotline at (800) 289-9999;
Submitting a request to FINRA via U.S. mail or fax. The BrokerCheck mailing address and fax number are:
P.O. Box 9495
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-9495
Fax: (240) 386-4750
Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) Website
Certain firms or financial professionals, such as money managers, investment consultants, and financial planners may be required to register with the SEC or your state’s securities regulator as investment advisers.
- For SEC-registered investment advisers or their representatives, background information such as a description of the adviser’s business practices, fees, conflicts of interest, and disciplinary history, is generally available at the SEC’s IAPD website: www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.
- For state-registered investment advisers or their representatives, background information such as a description of the adviser’s business practices, fees, conflicts of interest, and disciplinary history, is generally available from your state securities regulator. You may find information on how to contact your state securities regulator in the “State Securities Regulators” section of this investor bulletin.
State Securities Regulators
State securities regulators also have background information on brokers and state-registered investment advisers. Notably, state securities regulators may, in certain instances, provide information in addition to what may be found in a FINRA BrokerCheck report or on the SEC’s IAPD website.
- To obtain contact information for your state securities regulator, you can either call the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) at (202) 737-0900 or visit the NASAA website at http://www.nasaa.org/about-us/contact-us/contact-your-regulator/.
- SEC Investor Bulletin: “Top Tips for Selecting a Financial Professional” at: www.sec.gov/investor/alerts/ib_top_tips.pdf
- FINRA Publication: “Selecting Investment Professionals” at http://www.finra.org/Investors/SmartInvesting/GettingStarted/SelectingInvestmentProfessional/
- NASAA Alert: “Informed Investor Advisory: Financial Service Providers” at http://www.nasaa.org/22870/informed-investor-advisory-financial-service-providers/