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Make Your Voice Heard: FINRA's Regional Committees

September 07, 2021

As a Self-Regulatory Organization, FINRA benefits from the expertise and industry knowledge of member firms to react more quickly to emerging challenges and write more effective and efficient regulations. FINRA’s Regional Committees play an important role in this process, supplying FINRA with real-time insights that help us fulfill our mission of investor protection and market integrity.

On this episode, FINRA’s Deputy Corporate Secretary Jennifer Piorko Mitchell and Regional Committee Member Trinity Lee join the podcast to discuss the benefits of participating on FINRA’s Regional Committees and how you can get involved.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

FINRA’s Regional Committees

Regional Committee Election Notice

SFAC Election Notice

Indication of Interest in FINRA Service Form

2021 Election Process Overview

2021 Advisory Committee Overview and Engagement Notice

Listen and subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Below is a transcript of the episode. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human editors and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. 


00:01 – 00:35

Kayte Toczylowski: As a self-regulatory organization, FINRA benefits from the expertise and industry knowledge of member firms to react more quickly to emerging challenges and write more effective and efficient regulations. FINRA's Regional Committees play an important role in this process, supplying FINRA with real time insights that help us fulfill our mission of investor protection and market integrity. Today, we're joined by a member of one of FINRA's Regional Committees and FINRA's deputy corporate secretary to learn more.

00:35 – 00:45

Intro Music

00:45 - 01:16

Kayte Toczylowski: Welcome to FINRA Unscripted. I'm your guest host, Kayte Toczylowski from FINRA's Member Relations and Education Department. Kaitlyn's taking some time off, but she'll be back with us in the fall. Today, I'm pleased to welcome to the show for the first time Trinity Lee, chief compliance officer at Heim, Young and Associates. Also joining us as a returning guest is Jennifer Piorko Mitchell, vice president of corporate governance and deputy corporate secretary. Trinity, Jen, thanks for joining us.

01:17 - 01:17

Trinity Lee: Thanks, Kayte.

01:18 - 01:18

Jennifer Piorko Mitchell: Thanks for having me.

01:19 - 01:28

Kayte Toczylowski: Trinity, this is your first time on FINRA Unscripted, and we're excited that you're here with us. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your current role?

01:28 - 01:53

Trinity Lee: Sure. I just want to thank you for the opportunity to join you today. I'm really excited about it. I've been in the industry for about 10 or 15 years, and my background is operations and accounting, primarily. In the last probably eight years or so has been compliance focused. So, we have a broker dealer and an investment advisor, and I serve as the chief compliance officer for both, as well as the FinOp.

01:54 - 02:10

Kayte Toczylowski: Excellent. And Jennifer, you are a returning guest. You joined us not long ago on episode 85 where you discussed our efforts to increase board diversity. Can you remind our listeners about the Office of Corporate Secretary and the role that you play at FINRA?

02:11 - 02:43

Jennifer Piorko Mitchell: Sure. So, the Corporate Secretary's Office is part of FINRA's Board and External Relations team. And the OCS, as I call it, does a number of things. So, we support our Board of Governors. And in addition to getting them information, onboarding them, we facilitate all of the FINRA board meetings. We also support our board and committee recruitment efforts. And we run all of FINRA's corporate elections, including the board election, Regional Committees, Small Firm Advisory Committee and the National Adjudicatory Council.

02:44 - 03:01

Kayte Toczylowski: Fantastic, thanks for that great overview. Now let's dive into Regional Committees and let's give our listeners a little bit of Regional Committee 101. So, Jen, can you tell us a bit about how FINRA's Regional Committees are structured and how they operate?

03:01 - 03:37

Jennifer Piorko Mitchell: Sure. So, the Regional Committees actually came into existence... They were formed a few years ago back in 2018. They replaced FINRA's former district committee structure. There are five Regional Committees: the West region, Midwest region, South, North and New York region. And each Regional Committee has representatives from the districts within its geographical area. And the New York Region Committee comprises just the New York district office. So, it just comprises that area. Regional Committees to meet twice a year. And FINRA hosts member forums, which are one day conferences for firms, in conjunction with those biannual meetings.

03:38 - 03:52

Kayte Toczylowski: Thanks for that overview. So, Trinity, you've served on our Midwest Region Committee since 2019. Can you talk about how you first heard about FINRA's Regional Committees and what compelled you to join?

03:52 - 04:30

Trinity Lee: That's a good question. I actually heard about the Regional Committee and the concept of the Regional Committee through the weekly FINRA newsletter that is sent out. They had published a call to action about the Regional Committees and that elections would be opening up. And I thought at the time I didn't really know a lot about what the committee did. So, I was able to link to the FINRA website that had all of the committee information on there. And so I read quite a bit about what they did, and I just thought it sounded like such a great opportunity to get to know the people more locally to us and really gain a little bit of experience about how FINRA committees work.

04:31 - 04:51

Kayte Toczylowski: Well, that's great to hear and so glad that you found this within the FINRA weekly update email and that you use to find more information. So, take us inside a typical committee meeting. What types of issues are you talking about on the FINRA Regional Committee? And what about the time commitment and are there any travel commitments?

04:51 - 05:59

Trinity Lee: Yeah, I think it's a pretty fascinating process. The committee does a great job of putting together a kit ahead of time. They'll do a call out to the committee members to ask for areas and topics that are of interest to us, we'll submit those back to the committee that goes into the kit and into an agenda. And then they'll put together information and items that really help us understand new rules and regulations, initiatives that are affecting member firms. And it really gives us an opportunity to prepare for the committee so that by the time we go into meet, we're actually able to have a really great discussion with both FINRA representatives, anybody who has an area of expertise is usually there, and other member firms and what they're seeing and how they feel about a particular topic. So, it's a really great process. It probably takes a couple of hours to prepare for a meeting. If it's in-person, it's usually a day and a half, maybe two days all told, between travel, but it's really worthwhile.

05:59 - 06:09

Kayte Toczylowski: I know you've participated both ways, in person and virtually. Anything you want to mention about the virtual meetings that you've been participating in with this committee?

06:10 - 07:06

Trinity Lee: You know, going into a virtual environment, I think, for a lot of us was really unusual. It's an unusual format. You're not really sure if the meetings are going to flow or be as beneficial. But I was really surprised about how informative they still were. Even in a virtual environment, we did social gatherings where we had time to talk and discuss things in a less formal structure. And then during the committees, FINRA did such a great job of putting together the format, and it felt really natural. And I felt like it was just as informative. And we got a lot of work done in those meetings, certainly in person are great. I really miss those. I can't wait to get back to them. It offers you an opportunity to be able to have those one on one discussions that I think we miss a little bit in the virtual environment. But overall, I think the committees have kept moving and kept on top of a lot of the issues out there.

07:07 - 07:32

Kayte Toczylowski: Thank you so much for that great overview of the process and a little bit of a view into what it's like to attend a Regional Committee meeting. Jen, switching over to you. Can you dig a little deeper for us - why FINRA has Regional Committees? You gave a great overview of how they're structured. But can you talk to us about why we even have these at FINRA?

07:32 - 08:57

Jennifer Piorko Mitchell: Sure. Happy to. So, as you and I'm sure all the listeners know, FINRA is a self-regulatory organization. The Regional Committees actually play a really important part of informing FINRA's regulatory programs by alerting FINRA to industry trends that could present regulatory concerns and consulting with FINRA on proposed policies and rule changes. So, they really do play an important part of the self-regulatory organization process. In addition to consulting with and advising FINRA staff, the Regional Committee members also are eligible to serve on hearing panels through our Office of Hearing Officers. This is another opportunity for Regional Committee members to play an active role in the SRO process so they can actually play a role in that disciplinary process as well. And just one other thing about Regional Committees is that they've been used by a number of individuals as steppingstones to move on to engaging with FINRA in other capacities. Some members have moved on to joining some of FINRA's other Advisory Committees, and some have later gone on to serve on the NAC. There even a number of current and former board members that started out as Regional Committee members. So, if someone's interested in getting involved in FINRA and providing feedback and getting involved in the process, starting with the Regional Committee is really a great way to do so.

08:58 - 09:13

Kayte Toczylowski: Really, a lot of why FINRA has Regional Committees sounds like a lot of benefit to both FINRA and to the Regional Committee members. So, Trinity, from your perspective, what are some of the benefits of serving on a FINRA committee?

09:14 - 10:08

Trinity Lee: Well, Kayte, there are a lot of benefits that as a member firm, as a compliance officer, maybe an operations person, that you can bring back to your own firm. When you meet with FINRA and participate in the Regional Committee you have an opportunity to understand, I think, a little bit better what rules and regulations are being formed and rolled out to the community, topics and areas that FINRA is really interested in hearing our feedback on. So, you have an opportunity to really share what you're seeing on the ground with them in the early stages. There's a lot of opportunity to share with others who are similar to you or even very different from you, and you can provide that feedback back to FINRA in order to help them understand how different rules and regulations and proposals can affect us.

10:09 - 10:23

Kayte Toczylowski: That's a huge benefit. Since you're having these dynamic conversations and sounds like very candid dialogue with FINRA staff at these meetings, is there a way that our member firms in your district can get in touch with you?

10:23 - 10:39

Trinity Lee: Yeah, through FINRA's website, they have a section that covers the various committees. And within each of those sections, we'll have all of the committee members and their contact information. So, you can reach out directly from FINRA's website to contact one of us.

10:39 - 10:47

Kayte Toczylowski: That's great. So, it sounds like a great way, if a member firm has an issue that they would like to bring in front of FINRA, they can utilize you as a resource to do so.

10:47 - 10:48

Trinity Lee: Yes, absolutely.

10:49 - 11:09

Kayte Toczylowski: Excellent. And you touched on this a little bit on these conversations that you're having with both FINRA staff and with other firms that are serving on the committee, both of like or different size and business model as yours. So how do these conversations inform your work as a compliance officer?

11:10 - 12:04

Trinity Lee: This is probably something I didn't expect as a committee member - the amount of impact it would have on me in order to be able to come back to my firm and talk in a very knowledgeable and informed way to my stakeholders, my partners or my owners. To be able to talk to my reps when we're doing training or changing a process and procedure to conform to new regulations or rules. In a way, I'm able to advocate in such a strong way now, because I have a really good understanding of not only what the rule and regulation is, but what's important from FINRA, what's important from our member firms in terms of how to establish good practices within our firm. And it's changed the way I've communicated inside my firm. And it's been a really positive aspect of serving on the committee.

12:05 - 12:34

Kayte Toczylowski: That is so great to hear. Thank you for sharing that experience. So now that we've covered what the committees are, how they're structured and these great benefits that our member firms can get out of serving on the committees, let's talk about how you can get elected to serve on a committee. So, Jen, seats on the five Regional Committees are filled through an election process. Can you help us understand who is eligible to be on the committees and the length of the terms?

12:34 - 13:10

Jennifer Piorko Mitchell: Sure. To be eligible to serve on a Regional Committee, you have to be associated with a FINRA member that's headquartered in the district that you're seeking to represent on that Regional Committee. So essentially, you serve as that district's representative to the Regional Committee. You also must be registered in the capacity of a branch manager or principal or be a corporate officer of the FINRA member to be eligible to run for that seat. And then with respect to term, those who were elected served three-year terms, and they can serve up to two consecutive three-year terms if elected.

13:10 - 13:33

Kayte Toczylowski: All great information. Thanks for breaking that down for us. Now, running for an election can sometimes have a little bit of a negative connotation and remind someone of an ill-fated run for class president in high school. Elections can seem scary or induce anxiety. Trinity, can you share your experience? Was it an anxiety filled experience?

13:34 - 14:38

Trinity Lee: I don't know if that I would say it was anxiety filled, although I will say it can be a little bit intimidating. When I first saw the Notice in the FINRA newsletter and thought about submitting my name, I think one of the things that I worried about was not having experience or anything to contribute to a committee. I worried that my background wasn't enough, or maybe I didn't have enough knowledge, or I was a small firm. Maybe I wasn't exposed enough to some of the more technical aspects of our industry. And I think you just have to jump in with both feet and the committees benefit so much from having a diversity of types of firms, whether or not your small firm or a large firm or you only participate in one type of business versus another. I think the committee really functions best when you have such a variety of voices around the table. So, when you see that election Notice come out and it's something that you're interested in. I would say absolutely, just go for it. Everybody, I think, has something to contribute.

14:39 - 14:59

Kayte Toczylowski: Thanks for sharing that experience and glad to hear that there wasn't too much anxiety associated with the election process. I know for me, information around a topic helps alleviate some anxiety. So, Jen, hoping that you can walk us through in a bit more detail, the election process. What do our listeners need to know?

15:19 - 16:40

Jennifer Piorko Mitchell: Let me just say that FINRA tries to be really very transparent about our election process and provide multiple Notices to the industry to ensure that anyone who's interested in participating has an opportunity to do so. So early in the year before any of our annual elections kick off, we issue a special Notice that's an election process overview and it includes the seats that are coming vacant on all the various elected bodies. So, the board, the Regional Committees, the SFAC, the NAC, it provides an overview of all those elections throughout the course of the year.

And then at the beginning of each election, we do a targeted election Notice for each election. The annual Regional Committee elections kick off in early September each year. So, on September 1st of this year, we issued the Notice soliciting interested individuals to submit candidate profile forms to be included on the ballot for the different Regional Committee elections. That Notice provided an overview of what the Regional Committees are, the due dates, and anyone who's interested and eligible can fill out that candidate profile form, send it in to our office (there's actually a link on the website that will automatically submit it for you) and the corporate secretary's office just confirms that the individual who submitted it meets those requirements we talked about a little while ago, and then your name is automatically included as a candidate in the election. If you're interested in getting on the ballot, go take a look at that Notice we issued on September 1st and it walks you through the entire process.

16:41 - 16:57

Kayte Toczylowski: Great. We'll link to that Notice in the show notes. Now, as you mentioned earlier, Jen, FINRA also has other committees as well, like our advisory committees. Where can our listeners learn more about those groups and put their names in the hat for those committees?

16:58 - 18:07

Jennifer Piorko Mitchell: So, there is another Overview Notice that we issue early in the year. We issued it in March this year, and it was the 2021 Advisory Committee Overview and Engagement Notice. It includes an overview of the purpose of each of those committees and discusses how to put your name in the hat to be considered for vacancies on those committees. We also include that information on our governance webpage, where we list all of our advisory committees, our ad hoc committees, and we have a link on that page to an indication of interest form. So you can take a look at those committees listed on that page, and if you have an interest in serving on any of those committees, you fill out an indication of interest form, and that is routed to the committee liaison for that committee. Also, I just wanted to mention that the Small Firm Advisory Committee, their election process runs at the same time as the Regional Committee election process. On September 1st, we also issued the SFAC Annual Election Notice. So, if anyone who's listening is interested in that one, it was also issued in September. So, you can take a look if you're interested in being considered for that committee.

18:08 - 18:29

Kayte Toczylowski: All fantastic information and so many opportunities for our member firms to get involved with FINRA. So unfortunately, our time is coming close to an end. And I wanted to finish up asking Trinity, what is your favorite part about being on a Regional Committee? What do you want to leave our listeners with today?

18:30 - 19:06

Trinity Lee: I think for me personally, it's been connecting and building a relationship with other CCOs. Prior to being and serving on the committees, I didn't really know for myself, small firm CCOs. And now when I have a question or I'm bouncing around an idea about something, I have a community that I can reach out to and say, hey, what do you think about this? It's really improved how I go about gaining information and having others that are very knowledgeable to reach out to.

19:07 - 19:11

Kayte Toczylowski: Now, any words of wisdom for somebody interested in running?

19:12 - 19:20

Trinity Lee: I think be really genuine. Be yourself and put yourself out there. I think everybody has something to offer to the committee.

19:21 - 19:44

Kayte Toczylowski: Excellent. Well, Trinity. Jen, thanks for joining us today. That's it for this episode of FINRA Unscripted. If you don't already, listeners can subscribe to FINRA Unscripted wherever you listen to podcasts. If you have an idea for future episode, you can email us at [email protected]. Until next time.

19:44 – 19:50

Outro Music

19:50 - 20:12

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