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A Mere Two Months Away – FINRA Rule Requiring Website Hyperlinks to BrokerCheck

With all the buzz circulating these days on the impending DOL fiduciary rule, a recent FINRA rule change deserves a specific mention so firms are not caught by surprise. Effective on June 6, a mere two months from now, a new amendment to Rule2210 (the Communications with the Public Rule) will require retooling of all retail broker-dealer initial website landing pages to include a “readily apparent reference and hyperlink” to BrokerCheck.

Which Firm Webpages are Required to Post This?

In addition to the main retail landing page (usually the home page), New FINRA Rule 2210(d)(8)(A) requires any other webpage that includes a professional profile of one or more registered persons who conduct business with retail investors to have their own separate, but “readily apparent reference and hyperlink” to BrokerCheck. This part of the requirement will be of particular importance to independent reps and rep firms that host or sponsor rep-specific webpages or websites. Each such page will require its own “readily apparent reference and hyperlink.”

What is a “Readily Apparent Reference and Hyperlink” to BrokerCheck?

The FINRA Notice uses this phrase repeatedly and on purpose. It will require some careful thought and planning on the part of web designers and developers. On page three of the adopting notice RN 15-50, FINRA says to determine what they mean by this phrase, members should adopt “the perspective of a reasonable retail investor” and pay attention to placement, font size and font color. Are the reference and hyperlink visible as soon as a person lands on the website or only after significant scrolling down the page or below the screen? If they are below the screen, is notice provided that more follows below? Are they buried in a long paragraph or easily seen by an offset on the page? Are the reference and hyperlink in the same font size as the body text or hard to read micro type? How about the colors? Do the colors contrast or blend in with the background colors making them difficult to see? While FINRA doesn’t give an exhaustive list, they do state in no uncertain terms that putting the reference and hyperlink in a footer would not satisfy the “readily apparent” standard set out by this rule. Therefore, it wouldn’t be appropriate to place it in the footer with the Member FINRA/SIPC hyperlink, business continuity and order routing disclosures, privacy notice, or other disclosures that one typically finds there.

Exceptions and Exclusions

The only two exceptions to the requirements of the rule are: 1) firms that do not provide products or services to retail investors; and 2) a directory or list of registered representatives limited only to names and contact information. Anything beyond contact information triggers the “readily apparent reference and hyperlink” requirement. See FINRA Rule 4512(c) for who is not considered a “retail investor.”

Also excluded from the rule are communications appearing on third-party social networking sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn. These were specifically mentioned in the Notice announcing the approval of the rule. However, the Notice leaves the door open to further rule changes for social media by qualifying the exclusion with an “At this time,” clause. It also leaves unanswered questions about firm or rep sponsored Facebook pages specifically set up to promote a rep or a firm’s business. Firms and reps could be proactive now and place the “readily apparent reference and hyperlink” on those kinds of third-party social media pages.

Examples of “Readily Apparent References and Hyperlinks”

FINRA indicates that either a simple hyperlink to the BrokerCheck home page or a rep-specific “deep-link” will satisfy the hyperlinking requirement, though by itself, a mere hyperlink might not provide the “readily apparent reference.” However, FINRA is making a page of icons and other resources available to members to use for hyperlinking purposes. You can find them by clicking here.

Remember, June 6 is the date when the rule takes effect. If you’d like to discuss your particular advertising questions, please feel free to contact me at 616-752-2526 or ddawe@wnj.com.