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Exemptions from Broker-Dealer Registration

Issuer’s Exemption (Rule 3a4-1)

Issuers generally are not “brokers” because they sell securities for their own accounts and not for the accounts of others. Moreover, issuers generally are not “dealers” because they do not buy and sell their securities for their own accounts. Issuers whose activities go beyond selling their own securities, however, need to consider whether they would need to register as broker-dealers. This includes issuers that purchase their securities from investors, as well as issuers that effectively operate markets in their own securities or in securities whose features or terms can change or be altered. The issuer’s exemption does not apply to the personnel of a company who routinely engage in the business of effecting securities transactions for the company or related companies (such as general partners seeking investors in limited partnerships). The employees and other related persons of an issuer who assist in selling its securities may be “brokers,” especially if they are paid for selling these securities and have few other duties.

Exchange Act Rule 3a4-1 provides that an associated person (or employee) of an issuer who participates in the sale of the issuer’s securities would not have to register as a broker-dealer if that person, at the time of participation: (1) is not subject to a “statutory disqualification,” as defined in Section 3(a)(39) of the Act; (2) is not compensated by payment of commissions or other remuneration based directly or indirectly on securities transactions; (3) is not an associated person of a broker or dealer; and (4) limits its sales activities as set forth in the rule.

Some issuers offer dividend reinvestment and stock purchase programs. Under certain conditions, an issuer may purchase and sell its own securities through a dividend reinvestment or stock purchase program without registering as a broker-dealer. These conditions, regarding solicitation, fees and expenses, and handling of participants’ funds and securities, are explained in Securities Exchange Act Release No. 35041 (December 1, 1994), 59 FR 63393 (“1994 STA Letter”). Although Regulation M1 replaced Rule 10b-6 and superseded the 1994 STA Letter, the staff positions taken in this letter regarding the application of Section 15(a) of the Exchange Act remain in effect. See 17 CFR 242.102(c) and Securities Exchange Act Release No. 38067 (December 20, 1996), 62 FR 520, 532 n.100 (January 3, 1997).

6. Foreign Broker-Dealer Exemption (Rule 15a-6)

The SEC generally uses a territorial approach in applying registration requirements to the international operations of broker-dealers. Under this approach, all broker-dealers physically operating within the United States that induce or attempt to induce securities transactions must register with the SEC, even if their activities are directed only to foreign investors outside of the United States. In addition, foreign broker-dealers that, from outside of the United States, induce or attempt to induce securities transactions by any person in the United States, or that use the means or instrumentalities of interstate commerce of the United States for this purpose, also must register. This includes the use of the internet to offer securities, solicit securities transactions, or advertise investment services to U.S. persons. See Securities Exchange Act Release No. 39779 (March 23, 1998) http://www.sec.gov/rules/interp/33-7516.htm.

Foreign broker-dealers that limit their activities to those permitted under Rule 15a-6 of the Act, however, may be exempt from U.S. broker-dealer registration. Foreign broker-dealers that wish to rely on this exemption should review Securities Exchange Act Release No. 27017 (effective August 15, 1989), 54 FR 30013, to determine whether they meet the conditions of Rule 15a-6. See also letters re: Securities Activities of U.S.-Affiliated Foreign Dealers (April 9 and April 28, 1997). In addition, in April 2005, the Division of Market Regulation staff issued responses to frequently asked questions concerning Rule 15a-6 in relation to Regulation AC. See http://www.sec.gov/divisions/marketreg/mregacfaq0803.htm#partb. (Regulation AC is discussed in Part V.B, below.)

E. Requirements Regarding Brokers and Dealers of Government and Municipal Securities, including Repurchase Agreements

Broker-dealers that limit their activity to government or municipal securities require specialized registration. Those that limit their activity to government securities do not have to register as “general-purpose” broker-dealers under Section 15(b) of the Act. General-purpose broker-dealers that conduct a government securities business, however, must note this activity on their Forms BD. (Form BD is discussed below.) All firms that are brokers or dealers in government securities must comply with rules adopted by the Secretary of the Treasury, as well as SEC rules.

Firms that limit their securities business to buying and selling municipal securities for their own account (municipal securities dealers) must register as general-purpose broker-dealers. If, however, these entities are banks or meet the requirements of the intrastate exemption discussed in Part II.D.2. above, they must register as municipal securities dealers. Municipal securities brokers must register as general-purpose broker-dealers.

Firms that run a matched book of repurchase agreements or other stock loans are considered dealers. Because a “book running dealer” holds itself out as willing to buy and sell securities, and is thus engaged in the business of buying and selling securities, it must register as a broker-dealer.

F. Special Rules That Apply to Banks and Other Financial Institutions

Note: Banks, thrifts, and other financial institutions should be aware that the Commission has proposed changes to rules that may affect them. See Proposed Regulation B, Securities Exchange Act Release No. 34-49879 (June 17, 2004), 69 FR 39681 (June 30, 2004), www.sec.gov/rules/proposed/34-49879.htm.

Banks. Prior to the enactment of the “Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act” (“GLBA”) in 1999, U.S. banks were excepted from the definitions of “broker” and “dealer” under the Act. The GLBA amended the Exchange Act, and banks now have certain targeted exceptions and exemptions from broker-dealer registration. Currently, as a result of Commission rulemaking, banks are undergoing a phase-in period for compliance with the new law. Since October 1, 2003, banks that buy and sell securities must consider whether they are “dealers” under the federal securities laws. The Division of Market Regulation has issued a special compliance guide for banks, entitled “Staff Compliance Guide to Banks on Dealer Statutory Exceptions and Rules,” which is available on the SEC’s website at: http://www.sec.gov/divisions/marketreg/bankdealerguide.htm. Bank brokerage activity will be discussed in a separate publication.

The bank exemptions only apply to banks, and not to related entities. It is important to note that exemptions applicable to banks under the Exchange Act, as amended by the GLBA, are not applicable to other entities, including bank subsidiaries and affiliates, that are not themselves banks. As such, subsidiaries and affiliates of banks that engage in broker-dealer activities are required to register as broker-dealers under the Act. Also, banks that act as municipal securities dealers or as government securities brokers or dealers continue to be required to register under the Act.

Thrifts. The SEC has granted thrifts (savings associations) the same status as banks through its rules. As such, thrifts now have certain targeted exceptions and exemptions from broker-dealer registration. (For further information, see the “Staff Compliance Guide to Banks on Dealer Statutory Exceptions and Rules,” noted above.) As with banks, it is important to note that exemptions applicable to thrifts are not applicable to other entities, including subsidiaries and affiliates that are not thrifts. As such, subsidiaries and affiliates of thrifts that engage in broker-dealer activities are required to register as broker-dealers under the Act.

Credit Unions and Financial Institution “Networking” Arrangements. The exemptions applicable to banks under the Exchange Act (and thrifts under Commission rules) do not apply to other kinds of financial institutions, such as credit unions. The SEC staff, however, has permitted certain financial institutions, such as credit unions, to make securities products available to their customers without registering as broker-dealers. This is done through “networking” arrangements, where an affiliated or third-party broker-dealer provides brokerage services for the financial institution’s customers, according to conditions stated in no-action letters and NASD Rule 2350.

Under a networking arrangement, financial institutions can share in the commissions generated by their referred customers, under certain conditions. The financial institution engaging in such networking must be in strict compliance with applicable law and Commission staff guidance. See, for example, letter re: Chubb Securities Corporation (November 24, 1993) and NASD Rule 2350 (applicable to broker-dealers that enter into networking arrangements with banks, thrifts, and credit unions).

G. Insurance Agency Networking

The SEC staff has permitted insurance agencies to make insurance products that are also securities (such as variable annuities) available to their customers without registering as broker-dealers under certain conditions. This again is done through “networking” arrangements, where an affiliated or third-party broker-dealer provides brokerage services for the insurance agency’s customers, according to conditions stated in no-action letters. These arrangements are designed to address the difficulties of dual state and federal laws applicable to the sale of these products. Through networking arrangements, insurance agencies can share in the commissions generated by their referred customers under certain conditions. Insurance agencies engaging in such networking must be in strict compliance with applicable law and Commission staff guidance. Insurance companies should consult the letter re: First of America Brokerage Services, Inc. (September 28, 1995). Those interested in structuring such an arrangement should contact private counsel or the SEC staff for further information.

Notably, insurance networking arrangements are limited to insurance products that are also securities. They do not encompass sales of mutual funds and other securities that do not present the same regulatory difficulties. See letter re: Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. (February 20, 1998).

H. Real Estate Securities and Real Estate Brokers/Agents

The offer of real estate as such, without any collateral arrangements with the seller or others, does not involve the offer of a security. When the real estate is offered in conjunction with certain services, however, it may constitute an investment contract, and thus, a security. See generally Securities Act Release No. 5347 (Jan. 4, 1973) (providing guidelines as to the applicability of the federal securities laws to offers and sales of condominiums or units in a real estate development).

There is no general exception from the broker-dealer registration requirements for licensed real estate brokers or agents who engage in the business of effecting transactions in real estate securities. In the past, the Division staff has granted no-action relief from the registration requirements to licensed real estate personnel that engage in limited activities with respect to the sale of condominium units coupled with an offer or agreement to perform or arrange certain rental or other services for the purchaser. The relief provided in these letters is limited solely to their facts and should not be relied upon for activities relating to sales of other types of real estate securities, including tenants-in-common interests in real property. See generally NASD Notice to Members 05-18, http://www.nasd.com/web/groups/rules_regs/documents/
notice_to_members/nasdw_013455.pdf
(addressing tenants-in-common interests in real property).

I. Broker-Dealer Relationships with Affinity Groups

Broker-dealers may enter into arrangements to offer services to members of certain non-profit groups, including civic organizations, charities, and educational institutions that rely upon private donations. These arrangements are subject to certain conditions to ensure that the organizations, or “affinity groups,” do not develop a salesman’s stake with respect to the sale of securities. See, for example, letter re: Attkisson, Carter & Akers (June 23, 1998).