SEC chairwoman Elisse Walter.

, Associated Press - Ap

SEC rule puts onus on brokers to deliver money

  • Article by: DINA ELBOGHDADY
  • Washington Post
  • December 27, 2012 - 10:56 PM

WASHINGTON - So the check's in the mail.

But did you get it?

A new rule adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission this month will require broker-dealers to take a more active role in making sure that the customers they have lost track of get dividend payments, interest payments and other distributions.

If a check for $25 or more is not cashed, broker-dealers will have to search for the securities holder and notify that person that the check is waiting, the SEC said. The notice would have to be mailed no later than seven months after the check was sent.

"It's a straightforward rule with a common-sense objective," SEC Chairwoman Elisse Walter said in a statement. "Among other things, it will make it more likely that investors will get the money that they may not have realized is owed to them."

Transfer agents have had to abide by a similar rule since 1997. These agents, typically banks or trust companies, maintain investor records for corporations that issue securities. When investor mail gets returned, the law requires them to search for a current address.

Congress expanded that law in 2010 to include broker-dealers, such as Schwab and E-Trade and the brokerage affiliates of big banks. It directed the SEC to put in place the necessary rules. Those rules, unanimously approved by the commission this month, are now under review by the Office of Management and Budget.

"There are lots of lost or unclaimed securities about," said Tom Gorman, a securities lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney who once worked for the SEC's enforcement division and general counsel's office. "The rule should help resolve at least some of those claims."

Transfer agents and broker-dealers can lose contact with securities holders for many reasons, including a mix-up from an address change. After a certain period of time, the securities get turned over to the state of last known address as unclaimed property.

"That's the big problem that the SEC rules help to reduce," said Nick Nichols, chief operating officer at Keane, a firm hired by transfer agents and broker-dealers to search for individuals. "All kinds of assets get turned over to the states."

States are holding about $41.7 billion in unclaimed property -- everything from stocks to the contents of safe-deposit boxes, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

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