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Pursuant to Section 19(b)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Act”) and Rule 19b-4 thereunder, notice is hereby given that on August 5, 2003, the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. (“NASD”), through its wholly owned subsidiary, NASD Dispute Resolution, Inc. (“NASD Dispute Resolution”) filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission”) the proposed rule change as described in Items I, II, and III below, which Items have been prepared by NASD Dispute Resolution. The Commission is publishing this notice to solicit comments on the proposed rule change from interested persons.
I. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement of the Terms of Substance of the Proposed Rule Change
NASD Dispute Resolution proposes to conduct background verification and charge an application fee for NASD neutral roster applicants. NASD does not propose any textual changes to the By-Laws or Rules of NASD.
II. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement of the Purpose of, and Statutory Basis for, the Proposed Rule Change
In its filing with the Commission, NASD Dispute Resolution included statements concerning the purpose of, and basis for, the proposed rule change and discussed any comments it received on the proposed rule change. The text of these statements may be examined at the places specified in Item IV below. NASD Dispute Resolution has prepared summaries, set forth in Sections A, B, and C below, of the most significant aspects of such statements.
A. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement of the Purpose of, and Statutory Basis for, the Proposed Rule Change
NASD Dispute Resolution proposes to begin conducting background verifications of all new arbitrator applicants, and to assess an application fee to cover the cost of the verifications.
NASD maintains a pool of approximately 7000 available arbitrators. Currently, arbitrator applicants submit biographical profile forms, together with two letters of reference. The biographical profile forms require applicants to provide detailed information on their business and employment histories, education, training, possible conflicts, experience, expertise, associations with industry members, and other matters. The application also requires a narrative background information statement in which applicants are asked to explain why they believe their experience and knowledge would benefit the process. Attorneys and accountants are further directed to provide specific details about their practices. A copy of the current NASD arbitrator application is attached as Exhibit 2 to the proposed rule change.
Arbitrator information is entered into NASD's database and is provided to parties in the form of a disclosure report during the arbitrator selection process. Arbitrators must update this biographical information on a regular basis. NASD sends frequent reminders to arbitrators about the importance of this obligation, especially after they are notified regarding possible service as an arbitrator. NASD requires arbitrators in each case to affirm that they have reviewed their disclosure report and that it is accurate, and to complete a disclosure checklist attached to the oath. NASD provides each arbitrator on a panel with the co-panelists' biographical profiles in order to facilitate peer reviews for accuracy.
In addition to gathering the above information, NASD currently checks records on the Central Registration Depository (CRD) for arbitrator applicants who have been registered with NASD, most of whom would be categorized as “non-public” arbitrators under NASD Rule 10308(a)(4). NASD currently does not verify any of the information provided by arbitrator applicants who do not have CRD records, most of whom would be classified as “public” arbitrators under NASD Rule 10308(a)(5).
Proposed Rule Change
NASD proposes to expand its verification of background information to cover all arbitrator applicants. NASD believes this will provide additional protection to parties using the Dispute Resolution forum, raise the standards of the neutral roster, and enhance investor confidence in the integrity of the forum.
Specifically, NASD Dispute Resolution has identified a vendor to provide the following verification services:
- Criminal check in the county of the applicant's residence;
- Federal criminal check;
- Employment verification; and
- Professional license verification.
The verification fee will be $80.00 per application. This fee will cover the vendor's expected charge for verification of each application, with the understanding that the actual work required to verify each application will vary. For example, some applicants will have only one employer over the past ten years, and some will have two or more. NASD believes that having a single, reasonable fee for background verification will be more practical administratively than charging different fees that vary depending on each applicant's background. For this amount, the vendor will perform county and federal criminal record checks; verify any professional licenses; and check the last employer or, if the applicant has been employed for fewer than ten years by the same employer, then the last two employers. To keep the Start Printed Page 48654fee reasonable, NASD will assume that verification of professional licenses provides an indirect check on the applicant's education, since licensing authorities generally verify an applicant's educational history. If the applicant does not have a professional license, however, then the vendor will substitute verification of the last degree awarded.
The background verification fee will be charged for new arbitrator applications that are received by NASD after the effective date of the proposed rule change. It will not apply to arbitrators currently on NASD's arbitrator roster who wish to update information they supplied previously. Applications received after the effective date will not be processed until NASD receives the proper fee.
NASD Dispute Resolution represents that the effective date of this proposal will be the first business day of the first month immediately following Commission approval of the proposal.
2. Statutory Basis
NASD Dispute Resolution believes that the proposed rule change is consistent with the provisions of Section 15A(b) of the Act, in general, and furthers the objectives of Section 15A(b)(6), in particular, which requires, among other things, that NASD's rules must be designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices, to promote just and equitable principles of trade, and, in general, to protect investors and the public interest. NASD believes that verifying background information and credentials for arbitrator applicants will protect investors and the general public and enhance the integrity of the arbitration process.
B. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement on Burden on Competition
NASD Dispute Resolution does not believe that the proposed rule change will result in any burden on competition that is not necessary or appropriate in furtherance of the purposes of the Act, as amended.
C. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement on Comments on the Proposed Rule Change Received from Members, Participants, or Others
Written comments were neither solicited nor received.
III. Date of Effectiveness of the Proposed Rule Change and Timing for Commission Action
Within 35 days of the date of publication of this notice in the Federal Register  or within such longer period (i) as the Commission may designate up to 90 days of such date if it finds such longer period to be appropriate and publishes its reasons for so finding or (ii) as to which the self-regulatory organization consents, the Commission will:
A. by order approve such proposed rule change, or
B. institute proceedings to determine whether the proposed rule change should be disapproved.
IV. Solicitation of Comments
Interested persons are invited to submit written data, views, and arguments concerning the foregoing, including whether the proposed rule change is consistent with the Act. Persons making written submissions should file six copies thereof with the Secretary, Securities and Exchange Commission, 450 Fifth Street, NW., Washington, DC 20549-0609. Copies of the submission, all subsequent amendments, all written statements with respect to the proposed rule change that are filed with the Commission, and all written communications relating to the proposed rule change between the Commission and any person, other than those that may be withheld from the public in accordance with the provisions of 5 U.S.C. 552, will be available for inspection and copying in the Commission's Public Reference Room. Copies of such filing will also be available for inspection and copying at the principal office of the NASD. All submissions should refer to File No. SR-NASD-2003-122 and should be submitted by September 4, 2003.Start Signature
For the Commission, by the Division of Market Regulation, pursuant to delegated authority.
Margaret H. McFarland,
3. For additional information on procedures designed to reveal potential conflicts of interest, see Professor Michael A. Perino, Report to the SEC Regarding Arbitrator Conflict Disclosure Requirements in NASD and NYSE Securities Arbitrations (Nov. 12, 2002), available on the Commission's Website, Market Regulation page, at: http://www.sec.gov/pdf/arbconflict.pdf.Back to Citation
6. The NASD withdrew its request for accelerated approval and a shortened comment period. Telephone call between Jean Feeney, NASD Dispute Resolution, and Florence Harmon, Senior Special Counsel, Division of Market Regulation, Commission, on August 6, 2003.Back to Citation
[FR Doc. 03-20697 Filed 8-13-03; 8:45 am]
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