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October 16, 2019

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) and Uniform Grants to Minors Act (UGMA) Accounts

Regulatory Obligations

FINRA Rule 2090 (Know Your Customer) requires member firms and their associated persons to use reasonable diligence to determine the “essential facts” about every customer and “the authority of each person acting on behalf of such customer.” Regulatory Notice 11-02 (SEC Approves Consolidated FINRA Rules Governing Know-Your-Customer and Suitability Obligations) advised that firms verify the essential facts about a customer “at intervals reasonably calculated to prevent and detect any mishandling of a customer’s account that might result from the customer’s change in circumstances.”

Noteworthy Examination Findings

Generally, when UTMA or UGMA accounts (UTMA/UGMA Accounts) are established, the beneficiary (a minor) becomes the owner of the property at the time of the gift; however, the custodian manages and invests the property on the beneficiary’s behalf until the beneficiary reaches the age of majority, at which point the custodian is required to transfer the custodial property to the beneficiary.

FINRA noted that some firms did not establish, maintain or enforce a supervisory system reasonably designed to achieve compliance with their continuing obligation to know the essential facts of their UTMA/UGMA Account customers. Specifically, the circumstances concerning the authority of a person acting on behalf of a customer will change in UTMA/UGMA Accounts when the account beneficiary reaches the age of majority.

FINRA found that many firms were aware of the need to transfer responsibility for the account at a future date because they had policies and procedures addressing this topic, such as noting the date of majority when setting up the account. However, even though they were aware of the need to transfer the account at a future date, some firms did not take any steps to track or monitor when beneficiaries would reach the age of majority, while other firms had procedures for their registered representatives to follow, but did not require any supervisory oversight. Further, in some instances, firms permitted custodians to effect transactions in, and withdraw, journal and transfer money from UTMA/UGMA Accounts months, or even years, after the beneficiaries reached the age of majority, and ignored red flags of such activity (e.g., customer complaints relating to such transactions).

Effective Practices

Some firms implemented a number of effective practices for verifying the authority of custodians of UTMA/UGMA Accounts.

  • Age of Majority – Some firms maintained supervisory systems and used automated tools to track when each UTMA/UGMA Account beneficiary reached the age of majority.
  • Notification to Custodians – Some firms issued letters or provided notifications to custodians to advise them that beneficiaries were approaching the age of majority and informed them about upcoming transfers of custodial property in their UTMA/UGMA Accounts, as well as any restrictions to the custodians’ trading authority after the beneficiaries reached the age of majority.
  • Notification to Registered Representatives – Some firms maintained systems to provide registered representatives with automated alerts when beneficiaries reached the age of majority and required them to communicate with the custodian about the transfer of custodial property.