1. Common stock
2. Preferred stock
3. Bond fundamentals
4. Corporate debt
5. Municipal debt
6. US government debt
7. Investment companies
8. Alternative pooled investments
9. Options
10. Taxes
11. The primary market
12. The secondary market
13. Brokerage accounts
14. Retirement & education plans
15. Rules & ethics
15.1 The regulators
15.2 Public communications
15.2.1 General standards
15.2.2 Types
15.2.3 Investment company communications
15.3 Social media
15.4 Regulation BI
15.5 Registered representative rules
15.6 Protecting vulnerable investors
15.7 Regulation S-P
15.8 Code of procedure
15.9 Recordkeeping
16. Suitability
17. Wrapping up
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15.2.2 Types
Achievable Series 7
15. Rules & ethics
15.2. Public communications


FINRA categorizes communications into specific categories, typically based on the audience. This system allows audience-specific rules to be imposed. Generally, communications to less knowledgeable and larger audiences are regulated by strict rules (and vice versa). Let’s dive into the specifics!


A written or electronic communication sent to 25 or fewer retail investors within a 30-day period is considered correspondence. This typically includes personal letters, e-mails, or letters sent to small groups of investors. Due to the small audience size, correspondence is low on FINRA’s watch list. Accordingly, correspondence is not required to be filed* with FINRA and does not require any internal pre-approval by a principal (supervisor). Regardless, correspondence should be actively monitored by the firm and is always subject to review by FINRA**.

*Filing with FINRA essentially means sending them a copy of the communication. This provides easy access to the communication in case the regulators are suspicious or receive an investor complaint.

**“Subject to review” means FINRA can request a copy of the communication.

Retail communications

A written or electronic communication sent to more than 25 retail investors within a 30-day period is considered a retail communication. FINRA is more concerned about these communications because of the volume of non-institutional (retail) investors that may see them. Websites, commercials, newspaper ads, and billboards all fall into the definition of retail communications. To properly regulate and enforce their laws, FINRA generally requires* firms to file copies of these communications with them. Additionally, firm principals (supervisors) must pre-approve these communications before sending them.

*Not all retail communications are required to be filed with FINRA. The filing exclusions are detailed below.

Sometimes retail communications make comparisons of securities or investment products. For example, look at Charles Schwab’s broker comparison on their website. FINRA requires retail communications with comparisons like this to include disclosures of all material differences, including:

  • Investment objectives
  • Costs and/or expenses
  • Liquidity
  • Safety
  • Guarantees or insurance (if they exist)
  • Fluctuations of principal or returns
  • Tax implications

Additionally, retail communications must always prominently disclose the member firm’s name and any relationship between the member and any non-members named in the communication. A testimonial is an example of a situation in which a non-member would be named in a retail communication. For example, a famous athlete endorses the trading capability of a registered broker-dealer (the celebrity is a non-member). If a testimonial is used, FINRA requires these guidelines to be followed:

  • The person providing the testimonial must have the knowledge and experience necessary to make the endorsement
  • The member firm must state:
    • Testimonial may not be representative of the experience of other customers
    • Testimonial is no guarantee of future success
    • Testimonial has been paid for if the endorser has been paid more than $100*

*The payment for the testimonial may not necessarily involve cash. For example, a broker-dealer gives a watch valued at $100,000 to a celebrity providing a testimonial. Although no cash traded hands, the celebrity was paid well over $100 in value. The testimonial must be identified as “paid for.”

Many retail communications must be filed with FINRA. Depending on the circumstance, retail communications may be required to be pre or post-filed. Here’s the breakdown of what you need to know:

Filed 10 business days prior to first use

  • Any retail communication from a firm in its 1st year of business
  • Material relating to investment companies if containing performance rankings or comparisons
  • Material relating to security futures

Filed 10 business days after first use

Not all retail communications are required to be filed. FINRA specifically identifies these as excluded from filing requirements:

  • Previously filed communications that have not changed
  • Previously filed communication templates, where only statistics are updated
  • Communications with no mention of products, services, or recommendations
  • Communications that only mention the member’s ticker symbol
  • Communications that only mention the securities the member acts as a market maker for
  • Disclosure-related documents (e.g., a prospectus, shareholder reports)
  • Press releases only made available to the media
  • Reprints or excerpts of articles made by publishers (e.g., a newspaper)
  • Communications made on online interactive forums (e.g., a member replies to a comment on Instagram)

Institutional communications

Institutional communications are precisely what they sound like; they’re written or electronic communications with institutions. Because institutions can generally care for themselves and spot fraud when they see it, FINRA does not impose strict rules on this form of communication. Like correspondence, firms are not required to file their institutional communications or have them pre-approved by principals. These communications should still be supervised by the firm and are always subject to FINRA review. Institutions include banks, broker-dealers, underwriters, and insurance companies.

When institutional becomes retail

Sometimes, institutional communications are forwarded to retail investors. For example, assume ABC Broker-Dealer sends a marketing pamphlet to XYZ Bank about some new products. XYZ Bank then forwards the communication to hundreds of retail investors.

If a member learns retail investors are receiving their communications sent to institutional investors, FINRA no longer allows those communications to be treated as institutional communications. Using the example above, ABC Broker-Dealer would treat the pamphlet and any future communications to XYZ Bank as retail communications (upon learning it was being forwarded to retail investors).

Public appearances

Let’s explore FINRA’s definition of a public appearance:

When sponsoring or participating in a seminar, forum, radio or television interview, or when otherwise engaged in public appearances or speaking activities that are unscripted

The key word here is ‘unscripted.’ If a registered representative were to give a seminar in which their presentation was scripted, it would be defined as a form of retail communication (if there were more than 25 attendees). Due to the unscripted nature of public appearances, obtaining principal pre-approval or pre-filing these communications with FINRA is impossible. FINRA requires firms to establish written supervisory procedures for representatives to follow when engaging in this type of communication:

Such procedures must provide for the education and training of associated persons who make public appearances as to the firm’s procedures, documentation of such education and training, and surveillance and follow-up to ensure that such procedures are implemented and adhered to. Evidence that these supervisory procedures have been implemented and carried out must be maintained and made available to FINRA upon request.

Additionally, representatives must have a reasonable basis for making any recommendations in a public appearance. Another way of saying - “don’t shoot from the hip.” For example, FINRA would likely punish a representative saying, “I recommend everyone put all their money into meme stocks” during a live TV broadcast, as there is no reasonable basis for this recommendation.

Key points


  • Written communication sent to 25 or fewer retail investors in 30 days
  • Not filed with FINRA
  • No principal pre-approval is required
  • Subject to review

Retail communications

  • Written communication sent to more than 25 retail investors in 30 days
  • Generally filed with FINRA (some exceptions)
  • Principal pre-approval required

Institutional communications

  • Written communications with institutions
  • Not filed with FINRA
  • No principal pre-approval is required
  • May not be treated as institutional communications if received by retail investors

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