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J.P. MORGAN CUTS BONUSES AND TERMINATES BROKERS FOR USING WHATSAPP MESSENGER IN VIOLATION OF FIRM POLICIES; FINRA SUSPENDS AND FINES BROKER FOR USING WHATSAPP MESSENGER IN VIOLATION OF FINRA RULES

In January 2020, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. announced that it would be placing one of its senior credit traders, Edward Koo, on administrative leave pending its investigation into his use of WhatsApp Messenger for “market chatter” with other J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. employees. This month, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. fired Mr. Koo and cut the bonus payments for more than a dozen other J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. employees who used WhatsApp Messenger during the course of their business. On February 4, 2020, Paul Falcon, a broker with Aegis Capital Corp., signed a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent, agreeing to a fine of $5,000 and 30 day suspension for using WhatsApp Messenger to “conduct securities-related business with three Firm customers.” FINRA found that “Aegis was not able to capture the communications Falcon sent and received through WhatsApp Messenger” and that “[b]y virtue of the foregoing, Falcon violated FINRA Rules 4511 and 2010.”

FINRA Rule 4511 states: “(a) Members shall make and preserve books and records as required under the FINRA rules, the Exchange Act and the applicable Exchange Act rules; (b) Members shall preserve for a period of at least six years those FINRA books and records for which there is no specified period under the FINRA rules or applicable Exchange Act rules; and (c) All books and records required to be made pursuant to the FINRA rules shall be preserved in a format and media that complies with SEA Rule 17a-4.” FINRA Rule 2010 states: “A member, in the conduct of its business, shall observe high standards of commercial honor and just and equitable principles of trade.”

Member firms typically include provisions in their written supervisory procedures that require electronic communications between employees and customers be conducted on firm-systems using firm-issued electronic devices in an effort to comply with these rules. These policies have allowed firms to monitor employees’ phone calls, emails and instant messages for potential violations of securities laws, including insider trading and money laundering, and retain this information for their records. However, WhatsApp Messenger’s encryption of its platform has made traditional monitoring and retention methods more difficult. Its prevalence among both employees and customers for social purposes has also made complete prohibition challenging.

The attorneys at Lax & Neville LLP have extensive experience with employment law in the financial services industry, and representing clients in inquiries and investigations conducted by the SEC and FINRA. If you are a financial advisor or broker-dealer with a prospective regulatory issue, please contact Lax & Neville LLP today at (212) 696-1999 to schedule a consultation.

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