The NASD is showing its pride over the popularity of its 10-month old online regulation and compliance educational programs. Still, from the student prospective, it’s tough to tell how much of an impact the programs are really having.
Called the E-learning Exchange, the NASD created the online education tool for reps and firms last May in order to help securities firms head off compliance and regulatory problems before they start. It’s a program born partly out of a “screaming demand for information” from the frontline, says Cathy Mattax, NASD’s senior vice president of services. So far, according to a press release today, compliance courses created by the E-learning Exchange have been purchased by more than 550 member firms—11 percent of total membership—for roughly 100,000 individuals.
Nevertheless, it appears that while the programs may be welcomed, they may have a lot more ground to cover. David Bellaire, the general counsel for the Financial Services Institute (FSI), an Atlanta-based lobbying organization for independent broker-dealers and advisors, says he hasn’t done a thorough enough examination of the programs to provide a detailed assessment of them. “But we support any attempt by the NASD to educate the industry,” he says.
One Raymond James rep contacted had gone through one of the courses, but thought it’s value was rather limited. “It’s good for the industry, but for me it was too basic,” he says. “It would be appropriate for newer reps.”
A quick poll by the Securities Industry Association of some of its members revealed that the reception of the program is good and members are using it.
The online educational programs are available in two ways: via webcast or structured online courses. The webcasts, which are free, are usually 5 to 7 minutes long, and designed to highlight certain “hot” compliance issues of the day. The online courses run longer, between 25 and 30 minutes, but go into greater detail. “We understand that reps don’t have two hours to donate to a course,” says Mattax. Currently, six e-learning courses are available. Generally, the course cost $12.50 per course, per person. Some are what might be called “refresher” courses, covering perrenial topics like anti-money laundering, while others are more attuned to recent spates of scandals and regulatory investigations such as variable annuity suitability and disclosure and supervisory considerations for retail branch offices. Ten new courses are scheduled to be released later in the year also focusing on timely topics like hedge fund sales, 529 College Savings Plan sales, mutual fund sales and fixed income suitability.
There are six video webcasts currently available covering some of the same topics in addition to mutual fund share classes and breakpoint discounts, variable annuities exchange issues and fee-based accounts. Eight more webcasts are on the way this year, looking at equity indexed annuities sales, ethics, margin accounts and broker communications with the public. Says Mattax: “We’re in a position to help reps identify problems and issues, help them understand how best to deal with them, and do it in an easily digestible, affordable format.”