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Interpretive Notices


(Board of Directors, effective November 19, 1985; revised July 24, 2000)


I. Introduction

Section 17(p)(3) of the Commodity Exchange Act (7 U.S.C. §21(p)(3)) requires that the rules of a registered futures association such as NFA "establish minimum standards governing the sales practices of its members and persons associated therewith. . . ." NFA has established such minimum standards in the form of its Compliance Rules which, among other things, generally prohibit fraud and deceit and require Members and Associates to "observe high standards of commercial honor and just and equitable principles of trade in the conduct of their commodity futures business." Although these rules supply the required minimum standard, they are general in nature and may not always provide specific guidance as to what particular conduct may be prohibited. It is expected that more detailed content will be given to those general rules through the work of NFA's Business Conduct Committees, which will issue decisions in disciplinary cases applying the rules to specific conduct. It is also expected that NFA's Advisory Committees, through study and recommendation of rule changes, will further the development of uniform industrywide sales practice standards.

NFA's Board of Directors has adopted and the CFTC has approved a new Compliance Rule, 2-29, which was proposed to the Board by the FCM Advisory Committee ("The Committee"). The Committee published a notice for public comment on its proposed rule on February 21, 1985, and considered the comments received in drafting the final rule.

II. The Contemplated Relationship of Rule 2-29 With Other NFA Rules

Rule 2-29 deals specifically with communication with the public and promotional material prepared and used in the conduct of a Member's or Associate's futures business. However, Member and Associate conduct in that area, as in all others related to futures, is, and under the new rule continues to be, subject to all other NFA requirements. For example, certain other NFA Rules deal specifically with communications with the public and promotional materials in a narrower context. Compliance Rule 2-13, which incorporates CFTC Rule 4.41, regulates the advertising of Commodity Pool Operators ("CPOs") and Commodity Trading Advisors ("CTAs"). In addition, all Member and Associate conduct, including communications with the public, is subject to the requirements of Compliance Rule 2-2 (Fraud and Related Matters) and Compliance Rule 2-4 (Just and Equitable Principles of Trade).

The new Rule is not intended to supplant those or any other NFA Requirements but rather to augment them. Hence, literal compliance with Rule 2-29 will not be a "safe harbor" from NFA disciplinary action if the Member or Associate violates any other NFA Requirement.

III. The Scope of Rule 2-29

Rule 2-29 is intended to apply to all forms of communication with the public by a Member or Associate without exception if the communication relates in any way to solicitation of an account, agreement or transaction in the conduct of the Member's or Associate's business in futures as the term "futures" is now or may be defined.1

However, in drafting the Rule the Committee recognized that some specific standards which would be appropriate for communications prepared in advance of delivery to the public might be unenforceable and even inappropriate in the context of routine day-to-day contact with customers. The Committee was concerned that the free flow of information and advice to customers might be impeded to their detriment if spontaneous communication were subjected to rigorous and detailed content standards.

To address this problem, the final Rule distinguishes routine day-to-day communications with customers and applies a different regulatory standard to such communications. This is accomplished by providing a definition of "promotional material" to identify the kinds of communications with the public which will be subject to specific content standards and other requirements beyond those provided in Section (a) General Prohibition. Therefore, the definition of promotional material (which is a broadened version of the definition of that term in the CFTC's option pilot program rules) is intended to include all kinds of promotional communications with the public, other than routine day-to-day contact with customers. It includes, for example, any kind of written, electronic or mechanically reproduced message or presentation which is directed to any member of the public, whether broadcast over the media, delivered through the mail or presented personally. It also includes any oral presentations or statements to customers or prospective customers, whether delivered over the telephone or in person, the substance of which is outlined or scripted in advance for delivery to such persons.

IV. Section-by-Section Analysis

Section (a) General Prohibition

This Section provides the general rule governing all communications with the public and is the only portion of the Rule applicable to routine day-to-day communication with customers. That means that routine customer contact would not run afoul of Rule 2-29 as long as it is not fraudulent or deceitful, is not high-pressure in nature and does not contain any statement that futures trading is appropriate for all persons. NFA believes that the general prohibition should not hamper free and open communication with individual customers on a day-to-day basis. In that regard, it is expected that Business Conduct Committees would not find such communications to operate as a fraud or deceit in the absence of evidence of such intent or recklessness on the part of the Member or Associate.2

Section (b) Content of Promotional Material

This Section sets out the specific prohibitions and requirements applicable to promotional material, as defined. Subsection (1) bans material likely to deceive the public. Proof of violation of this provision does not require proof of a specific intent to deceive. This Subsection instead places the burden on the Member to determine whether the material is likely to be deceptive in effect. Of course, to find a violation of this Subsection a Business Conduct Committee would have to find that the Member or Associate reasonably should have been able to determine that the material was likely to deceive. The fact that someone was actually deceived would not by itself be enough.

Subsection (2) deals with facts only. It requires that the facts which a Member or Associate chooses to include must be true and that no facts knowingly be left out which are necessary to make the facts stated not misleading. With that exception, this Subsection does not require the disclosure of facts. As with Subsection (1), a negligence standard would be applied in finding violations of Subsection (2) for making material misstatements of fact in promotional material. However, because evaluating omissions is a much more difficult task, this Subsection applies only to knowing omissions (i.e., instances where the person preparing or reviewing the promotional material knew the omitted fact and failed to include it). This knowledge requirement may complicate the proof necessary to establish a violation of this Subsection. However, knowledge can be inferred from a pattern of failures to include a material fact, the omission of which makes the promotional material misleading. Once knowledge is established, the decision whether the failure to include a fact makes the promotional material misleading in violation of Rule 2-29 will be made by a Business Conduct Committee under a standard of reasonableness.

Subsection (3) requires a statement of risk to "balance" any discussion of the possibility of profit. The requirement that the statement of risk have equal prominence is not intended to mean that the reference to risk must be as long as the discussion of the possibility of profit or indeed to impose any unbending measure of prominence. It is intended to mean only that in the context of the particular promotional material the reference to risk of loss must not be downplayed or hidden.

Subsection (4) requires the Member or Associate to make a statement in the promotional material concerning the predictive value of past results if reference is made in the material to past trading results.

Subsection (5) does not require disclosure of past performance of managed accounts.3 It does require that if performance information is given, it must be representative of the actual performance for the same time period of all reasonably comparable accounts. Hence, under Subsection (5) a Member could not advertise the performance of a "model" account unless that performance is representative of all reasonably comparable accounts.4 Subsection (5) also makes explicit in this context the Members' existing responsibility to be able to demonstrate that performance information is accurate and representative.

The use of performance information in promotional material is, of course, subject to all of the content standards of Rule 2-29, and compliance with Subsection (b)(5) will not excuse violations of other Subsections. If in presenting performance information for an account or group of accounts, a Member omits facts about those accounts or the differences between those accounts and the account being promoted, and the omission makes the material misleading, the use of the material violates Subsection (b)(2) even though the performance information given is accurate and is representative of all reasonably comparable accounts in compliance with (b)(5). This interaction of the requirements of Subsections (b)(2) and (b)(5) will come into play whenever a Member chooses to present performance information about an account or program which differs materially from the account or program being promoted; for example, where performance information about a house account is used, or where trading control or strategies, commission rates or account sizes which applied in the account or program for which performance is being shown differ from those which will apply in the account or program for which the customer is being solicited. Under the Rule, a Member is free to use a sales tool performance information about accounts which differ from the accounts being promoted, but must take care to ensure first, that the performance information complies with Subsection (b)(5), and second, that the differences are explained to the extent necessary to make the promotional material not misleading.

Finally, Subsection (5) requires that the rate of return must not be calculated in a manner inconsistent with that required under the CFTC's Part 4 Rules, which define rate of return as the ratio between net performance and beginning net asset value for the period. This is not intended to require that the precise Part 4 formula be used in all cases but rather to prohibit the use of methods which lead to rates of return which are materially higher than those produced by the Part 4 method.

Section (e) Written Supervisory Procedures

In recognition of the fact that promotional material may be prepared by many individuals within a Member's organization, this Section requires that promotional material be reviewed and approved by someone in a supervisory position before it is used. It should be emphasized, however, that even communications with the public which do not fall within the definition of promotional material must be diligently supervised under other existing NFA and CFTC rules.

Section (f) Recordkeeping

This Section is intended to provide a way in which NFA can conduct meaningful sales practice audits which will reveal both the content of promotional material and whether the supervisory procedures required under Section (e) are being carried out. In addition, this Section contains a requirement that Members who use hypothetical performance results be prepared to demonstrate to NFA's satisfaction the basis for such results. This means that Members must maintain the records necessary to document how the hypothetical results were calculated.

[NOTE: This requirement was extended to all performance results effective July 24, 2000.]

Section (g) Filing with NFA

This Section is intended to allow NFA to maintain close review of promotional material in circumstances where special scrutiny is warranted.

[NOTE: This interpretive notice was amended effective July 24, 2000 to conform it to subsequent changes in NFA rules. In particular, the amendments eliminate the discussion of hypothetical results and update section references within Compliance Rule 2-29 based on changes to Compliance Rule 2-29's treatment of hypothetical results; eliminate references to options rules that are no longer in effect; and make other technical amendments to correspond to subsequent changes to other NFA rules. Furthermore, adjudicated disciplinary decisions are now issued by NFA Hearing Panels rather than Business Conduct Committees. Therefore, all references to Business Conduct Committees, while not changed in the notice, now refer to Hearing Panels. In all other respects, this interpretive notice remains an interpretation adopted by the Board of Directors contemporaneously with the adoption of NFA Compliance Rule 2-29.]

1 Article XVIII(k) of NFA's Articles of Incorporation defines futures to include "options contracts traded on a contract market, and such other commodity-related instruments as the Board may from time to time declare by Bylaw to be properly the subject of NFA regulation and oversight." Currently, the only NFA Bylaw expanding that definition is Bylaw 1507, which states that " 'futures' as used in these Bylaws shall include option contracts granted by a person that has registered with the Commission under Section 4c(d) of the Act as a grantor of such option contracts or has notified the Commission under the Commission's rules that it is qualified to grant such option contracts." [Bylaw 1507 has since been amended to include foreign futures and options contracts and leverage transactions.]

2 However, it must be noted that much, if not all, of the benefits to customers of the disclosures and cautionary statements required to be included in promotional material by other sections of Rule 2-29 and other disclosure statements required by CFTC and NFA Rules (e.g., the risk disclosure statements required by CFTC Rule 1.55 and NFA Compliance Rule 2-27) can be intentionally diminished in the course of oral communications with customers. To avoid that result it is expected that Business Conduct Committees will presume intentional or reckless deceit in instances where a Member or Associate specifically contradicts or downplays any disclosure statement required to be made by CFTC or NFA rules.

3 CPOs and CTAs are, however, subject to such a requirement through the CFTC's Part 4 Rules.

4 The Committee expects that a Member or Associate could exclude from "reasonably comparable accounts" those that were actually traded pursuant to a different trading strategy or those that were traded independently of the accounts in the program for which performance is cited. With respect to the question of independence the indicia of independence listed in the CFTC's statement of policy concerning when accounts should be aggregated for position limit purposes would be useful guides for Members, Associates and Business Conduct Committees. Statement of Aggregation Policy (1977-80 Transfer Binder) Comm. Fut. L. Rep. (CCH) 20.837 (June 13, 1979); 44 Fed. Reg. 33839.