Suitability obligations are critical to ensuring investor protection and promoting fair dealings with customers and ethical sales practices. FINRA Rule 2111 governs general suitability obligations, while certain securities are covered under other rules that may contain additional requirements.
FINRA Rule 2111 requires that a firm or associated person have a reasonable basis to believe a recommended transaction or investment strategy involving a security or securities is suitable for the customer. This is based on the information obtained through reasonable diligence of the firm or associated person to ascertain the customer’s investment profile.
The rule states that the customer’s investment profile “includes, but is not limited to, the customer’s age, other investments, financial situation and needs, tax status, investment objectives, investment experience, investment time horizon, liquidity needs [and] risk tolerance,” among other information. A broker’s “recommendation,” which is based on the facts and circumstances of a particular case, is the triggering event for application of the rule.
Brokers must have a firm understanding of both the product and the customer, according to Rule 2111. The lack of such an understanding itself violates the suitability rule.
Rule 2111 lists the three main suitability obligations for firms and associated persons.
- Reasonable-basis suitability requires a broker to have a reasonable basis to believe, based on reasonable diligence, that the recommendation is suitable for at least some investors. Reasonable diligence must provide the firm or associated person with an understanding of the potential risks and rewards of the recommended security or strategy.
- Customer-specific suitability requires that a broker, based on a particular customer’s investment profile, has a reasonable basis to believe that the recommendation is suitable for that customer. The broker must attempt to obtain and analyze a broad array of customer-specific factors to support this determination.
- Quantitative suitability requires a broker with actual or de facto control over a customer’s account to have a reasonable basis for believing that a series of recommended transactions, even if suitable when viewed in isolation, is not excessive and unsuitable for the customer when taken together in light of the customer’s investment profile.