Firms admit to wrongdoing and agree to pay penalties in SEC’s ongoing recordkeeping initiative
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged HSBC Securities (USA) Inc. and Scotia Capital (USA) Inc. for widespread and longstanding failures by both firms and their employees to maintain and preserve electronic communications. To settle the charges, HSBC and Scotia acknowledged that their conduct violated recordkeeping provisions of the federal securities laws and agreed to pay penalties of $15 million and $7.5 million, respectively.
The SEC’s investigation of HSBC Securities and Scotia Capital, both registered broker dealers, uncovered pervasive and longstanding use of off-channel communications at both firms. As described in the SEC’s orders, the firms admitted that their employees often communicated “off-channel” about securities business matters on their personal devices, using messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp. Neither firm maintained or preserved the substantial majority of these communications, in violation of the federal securities laws. The failings involved employees at multiple levels of authority, including supervisors and senior executives. Both HSBC Securities and Scotia Capital cooperated with the SEC’s investigation by, among other things, self-reporting the recordkeeping failures after gathering communications from the personal devices of a sample of the firms’ personnel.
“Today’s actions should not only remind firms of the importance of following SEC recordkeeping requirements, but also the value of disclosing violations when they do occur,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “Both HSBC and Scotia Capital self-reported and self-remediated their recordkeeping violations, and the reduced penalties in these cases reflect their efforts and cooperation. As we continue our efforts to ensure compliance with the Commission’s essential recordkeeping requirements, we encourage other firms to take note and likewise self-report.”
Both firms were charged with violating certain recordkeeping provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and with failing to reasonably supervise with a view to preventing and detecting those violations. In addition to the financial penalties, each firm was ordered to cease and desist from committing violations of the relevant recordkeeping provisions and was censured. The firms also agreed to retain compliance consultants to, among other things, conduct comprehensive reviews of their policies and procedures relating to the retention of electronic communications found on personal devices and their respective frameworks for addressing non-compliance by their employees with those policies and procedures.
Separately, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced settlements with the firms for related conduct.
The SEC’s investigation, which is ongoing, is being conducted by Zachary Sturges and Alison R. Levine. The case is being supervised by Thomas P. Smith Jr. and Osman Nawaz.