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July 30 — With its caseload of customer complaints at its lowest since 2010, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is turning its attention to improving its online processes for filing cases and customer service efforts.
This year's filings are down approximately 25 percent in comparison to the 2014 figures, Laura McNamire, FINRA Dispute Resolution's Western Regional Director, said at a July 30 PLI gathering.
So far this year, a little over 1,500 claims have been filed in FINRA's arbitration forum, McNamire said. She also remarked that overall turnaround times for closing cases or issuing awards have declined about 5 percent from last year.
Technology, including FINRA's online portal for filing and receiving cases and related documents, is at the top of the list to receive some of the authority's extra time and attention. The portal, initially launched about two years ago on a voluntary basis, is expected to streamline case processing for FINRA staff if it becomes mandatory, McNamire said.
As of July 20, the portal has been available for all new cases that are filed, McNamire said. As such, FINRA now invites claimants and respondents to take advantage of the system for efficiency purposes.
FINRA also is considering making use of the online forum mandatory for parties, McNamire told the gathering. She said the proposal already has been cleared by the National Arbitration and Mediation Committee and will be submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission in September. Meanwhile, approximately 70 percent of FINRA's arbitrators have already willingly registered to use the portal, McNamire said.
She also said that in cases where the parties have agreed to use the online portal, an unregistered arbitrator assigned to the case will usually agree to register at that point. FINRA has “administered approximately 2,500 cases” through the online portal since its inception, she said.
As of now, FINRA doesn't plan to require pro se investors to use the online portal to file their cases, even though they make up the majority of the portal's current users, McNamire said.
“The big takeaway is that parties can now give courtesy copies of case-related documents filed with FINRA to all parties involved in the case” simultaneously, McNamire explained. Case-related documents will be stored in one central location for arbitrators and parties to view. Additional benefits of the online system include the ability to immediately access pertinent case information, rank or strike arbitrators, and schedule hearings, McNamire said.
Jeffrey Kaplan, a partner at Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein PA, Miami, commented that while the system is still fairly new and has its share of “kinks” to be worked out, it is “the wave of the future.”
Ellyn Roth, a FINRA arbitrator, said the self-regulatory organization should make at least some details about closed cases available through the portal, such as whether there was a settlement or whether an award was made. The system also could be made more user-friendly, the panelists suggested.
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