Washington, D.C., June 27, 2008 (LAWFUEL) – The Securities and Exchange Commission today published for public comment proposed rule amendments to increase the range of services foreign broker-dealers are allowed to offer in the United States. The proposed amendments also would maintain a regulatory structure designed to protect investors and the public interest.
The Commission voted unanimously on June 25, 2008, to issue the proposed rule amendments for public comment. The SEC’s proposals would modify the requirement that any contact by a foreign broker-dealer with a U.S. institution must be chaperoned by a person registered with a U.S. broker-dealer.
“In practice, this chaperoning requirement has proven unwieldy as investors face significant inconvenience caused by differences in time zones and limitations on when investors can be contacted,” said SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. “Further difficulties for U.S. investors arise because U.S. registered personnel have to be available for communications with foreign broker-dealers. Taken together, these limitations seriously hamper the service of U.S. investors, while making them pay for brokerage services twice. They also effectively limit U.S. investors’ access to certain foreign investments.”
Erik Sirri, Director of the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets, added, “While the Commission has provided a useful framework for U.S. investors to access foreign broker-dealers for almost two decades, ever increasing market globalization suggests that it is time to revisit that framework to consider whether it could be made more workable.”
In general, the SEC’s proposed amendments would expand and streamline the conditions under which a foreign broker-dealer could operate without triggering the registration, reporting and other requirements of the Exchange Act and related rules that apply to broker-dealers that are not registered with the Commission. Among other things, foreign broker-dealers would continue to be subject to the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.
Public comments on today’s proposed amendments must be received by the Commission within 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register.
The full text of the rule proposal has been posted to the SEC Web site.
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The current rule provides an exemption for foreign broker-dealers that induce or attempt to induce securities transactions by certain institutional investors, if a U.S. registered broker-dealer intermediates certain aspects of the transactions. The proposed rule would modify the conditions under which a foreign broker-dealer could solicit U.S. investors and reduce the role of the U.S. broker-dealer, while maintaining key investor protections.
The category of U.S. investors with which a foreign broker-dealer would be permitted to interact would expand under the proposed rule. Foreign broker-dealers would be able to interact with U.S. institutional investors with $25 million or more in investments, or natural persons who own or control investments of more than $25 million. Currently, such foreign broker-dealers may only interact with institutions with financial assets of more than $100 million.
In addition, the U.S. registered broker-dealer would play a more limited role in transactions involving foreign broker-dealers. U.S. broker-dealer personnel would no longer have to “chaperone” foreign broker-dealer personnel. The current chaperoning requirements have been criticized as impractical and as imposing unnecessary operational and compliance burdens, particularly for investors communicating with broker-dealers in time zones outside the United States.
To maximize flexibility for U.S. investors, foreign broker-dealers could rely on the proposed rule under two approaches:
Under the first approach, a foreign broker-dealer could effect all aspects of a transaction with a qualified investor, including maintaining custody of funds and assets, provided it makes certain disclosures and conducts a “foreign business.” The proposed rule would define “foreign business” to mean the business of a foreign broker-dealer with qualified investors and foreign resident clients where at least 85 percent of the aggregate value of the securities purchased or sold in transactions conducted pursuant to the proposed rule by the foreign broker-dealer is derived from transactions in foreign securities. A U.S. registered broker-dealer, however, would have to maintain copies of all books and records relating to any resulting transactions, although the books and records could be kept with the foreign broker-dealer.
Under the second approach, a foreign broker-dealer could effect all aspects of a transaction with a qualified investor in both U.S. and foreign securities, provided that a U.S. registered broker-dealer maintains custody of the qualified investor’s funds and securities in connection with any resulting transactions and maintains books and records relating to any resulting transactions. There would be no foreign business test under the second approach.
The proposed rule also would retain the conditions in the current rule related to the provision of research reports by foreign broker-dealers, but would expand the category of investors to which a foreign broker-dealer could directly provide research reports.
In addition, the proposed rule would provide:
A new exemption for transactions by foreign broker-dealers with any U.S. person that acts as a fiduciary of a foreign resident client, subject to certain conditions designed to protect U.S. investors.
A new exemption to allow foreign options exchanges to engage in limited efforts to familiarize qualified investors with their markets without triggering additional obligations for their foreign broker-dealer members under U.S. law.