UPDATE 1-Wall Street regulator to consider mandating broker background checks

Wed Apr 16, 2014 2:33pm EDT

(Recasts throughout to add background, details)

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) - Wall Street's self-funded regulator said on Wednesday it will consider proposing mandatory background checks for brokers after critics pointed to gaps in disclosures by some with checkered histories.

The announcement by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) comes at a time when the regulator is facing heightened scrutiny from legal groups and the media over the quality of its online disclosure system.

FINRA's BrokerCheck service is a free tool meant to help investors carefully choose a broker.

The database contains information about each registered broker's employment history. It also gives details about legal troubles such as whether a broker is facing any criminal or civil investigations into potential misconduct.

Last month, the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association released a critical analysis which found that BrokerCheck does not provide as much disclosure as some state regulators about employees with prior legal troubles.

The association's report came out about the same time that the Wall Street Journal raised deeper concerns. The newspaper revealed that the records of more than 1,600 stockbrokers failed to disclose critical information about bankruptcy, criminal charges and other red flags.

Such information is supposed to be disclosed in FINRA's online database.

In an announcement on Wednesday, FINRA said its board would convene an April 24 meeting to consider "requiring firms to adopt written procedures that are reasonably designed to verify the accuracy and completeness of the information" that is disclosed in BrokerCheck.

A FINRA spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the public announcement which can be found here: here

In addition to reviewing a proposal to require background checks of brokers, FINRA said its board will consider expanding the categories of who is eligible to serve as an arbitrator to help make decisions in disciplinary proceedings, among other matters. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch Editing by W Simon and Tom Brown)