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”), pursuant to section 19(b)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Act”)  and Rule 19b-4 thereunder, a proposed rule change 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.
The Commission published the proposed rule change for comment in the Federal Register on August 14, 2003. The Commission received no comments relating to the proposal. This order approves the proposed rule change.
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.
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 Start Printed Page 56662basis. 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).
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 fee 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 October 1, 2003.
The Commission finds 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. The Commission 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.
It is therefore ordered, pursuant to section 19(b)(2) of the Act, that the proposed rule change (SR-NASD-2003-122) is approved.Start Signature
For the Commission, by the Division of Market Regulation, pursuant to delegated authority.
Margaret H. McFarland,
3. See Securities Exchange Act Release No. 48294 (August 6, 2003), 68 FR 48653 (“Notice of Proposal”).Back to Citation
4. 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 Web site, Market Regulation page, at: http://www.sec.gov/pdf/arbconflict.pdf.Back to Citation
5. See Notice of Proposal, supra note 3.Back to Citation
6. Id.Back to Citation
7. Id.Back to Citation
[FR Doc. 03-24865 Filed 9-30-03; 8:45 am]
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