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Interpretive Notices


(Board of Directors, effective June 1, 1986 and revised January 3, 2011)


I. Introduction

NFA Compliance Rule 2-4 requires Members to observe high standards of commercial honor and just and equitable principles of trade in the conduct of their futures business. NFA's Advisory Committees ("the Committees") have been considering ways in which the general standard of Rule 2-4 can be further defined in order to develop uniform industrywide standards which will offer guidance to the Members. In the course of their work, the Committees noted the increasing level of commentary, in public and regulatory forums, regarding the comparability between the futures industry's "know your customer" requirements and the "suitability" rules in the securities industry. The Committees noted that suitability has a tendency to act as a recurrent red herring to criticize customer protection in the futures industry. NFA's Executive Committee also became aware of these comments and asked the Committees to study the matter and make appropriate recommendations. Based on their knowledge and experience in the industry, the Committees believe that any careful consideration of this issue should continue to take into account the important role that risk disclosure plays whenever a customer opens a futures account or selects a commodity trading advisor.

In addressing this issue, the Committees reviewed research on the evolution of the suitability and "know your customer" doctrines in the securities industry and noted that although there are several different formulations of the rule, all are based on the same premise: that different types of securities can have widely varying degrees of risk potential and serve very different investment objectives. For that reason, the securities suitability rules are cast in terms of the suitability of a particular transaction.

The Committees noted that the futures industry differs from the securities industry in several crucial ways. Most importantly, futures contracts in general are recognized as highly volatile instruments. It therefore makes little sense to presume that a certain futures trade may be appropriate for a customer while others are not. An appreciation of the risks of futures trading must be gained and a determination of its appropriateness made at the time each customer makes a decision to trade futures in the first place. This is true regardless of whether the customer will rely on recommendations by futures professionals or the customer will make his or her own trading decisions.

The futures industry has traditionally met this need through risk disclosure designed to encourage the customer to make an informed decision as to whether futures trading is suitable for that customer. The Risk Disclosure Statement and the Options Disclosure Statement mandated by CFTC Regulations 1.55 and 33.7, respectively, and the Disclosure Document required by the CFTC Part 4 Regulations each are designed to bring the suitability issue to the customer's attention.1

In the specific area of exchange-traded options, the CFTC has previously noted the importance of risk disclosure and the need for the futures professional to learn enough about the customer in order to provide risk disclosure. When the Options Disclosure Statement requirement was enacted in 1981 as part of the options pilot program, the CFTC stated in its Federal Register release [46 Fed. Reg. 54500 (1980-82 Transfer Binder) Comm. Fut. L. Rep. (CCH) 21,263] that:

    ". . . the FCM must acquaint itself sufficiently with the personal circumstances of each option customer to determine what further facts, explanations and disclosures are needed in order for that particular option customer to make an informed decision whether to trade options . . . . While this requirement is not a "suitability" rule as such rules have been composed in the securities industry, before the opening of an option account the FCM has a duty to acquaint itself with the personal circumstances of an option customer."

The CFTC went on to state that "the extent of the inquiry should be left to the prudent judgment of the FCM."

NFA has always been concerned that allowing suitability or know your customer standards to develop outside of the self-regulatory framework carries with it the possibility that a poorly defined or inappropriate duty would be fashioned on a case-by-case basis, perhaps by an ill-considered analogy to the securities industry rules. Because NFA construes its rules on a case-by-case basis through the decisions of the Business Conduct Committee ("BCC") which is composed of informed futures professionals and non-Members, NFA is uniquely positioned to set an ethical business standard to evaluate the conduct of other Members.

The Committees determined that the exchange of information between a new customer and a futures professional -- the customer providing personal data and the Member providing disclosure about the risks of futures trading -- was the focal point around which to structure a sound customer protection rule. On August 9, 1985, the FCM Advisory Committee released for public comment a Proposed Rule on Customer Information and Risk Disclosure. The comments received were considered in the drafting of the Rule in final form, and Rule 2-30 was adopted by NFA's Board on November 21, 1985. In 2010, in an effort to tighten the Rule's requirements in light of the changes in the futures industry, NFA adopted modifications to NFA Compliance Rule 2-30 that: (1) expand the customers covered by the rule to reach all non-ECPs rather than just individuals; (2) require Members to at least annually refresh customer information and reassess appropriate risk disclosure, including a determination of whether futures trading is too risky for the customer, based on any materially changed information; and (3) prohibit Members and Associates from making individualized recommendations to those customers whom the Member or Associate has or should have advised that futures trading is too risky for them. 

When the CFTC declined in 1978 to adopt a "suitability" rule, after releasing a proposed rule for comment, it stated that it was unable "to formulate meaningful standards of universal application." [43 Fed. Reg. 31886 (1977-1979 Transfer Binder) Comm. Fut. L. Rep. (CCH) 20,642]. NFA found the same difficulty, and for that reason the Rule is premised on NFA's conclusion that the customer is in the best position to determine the suitability of futures trading if the customer receives an understandable disclosure of risks from a futures professional who "knows the customer." NFA believes that the approach taken in Rule 2-30 is preferable to one which would erect an inflexible standard that would bar some persons from using the futures markets.

II. Section-by-Section Analysis

Section (a): General Rule

Rule 2-30 is intended to define "high standards of commercial honor and just and equitable principles of trade" as applied to a Member's procedures for exchanging information with new futures customers at the time they become customers2. Section (a) sets forth the basic requirement: obtain information and provide risk disclosure, which includes the disclosures required by the Rule plus, in some cases, additional disclosure. Rule 2-30 is a "know your customer" rule; however, it does not require the Member or Associate to make the final determination that a customer should be barred from futures trading on suitability grounds.

NFA's enactment of the Rule 2-30 should not be construed to expose Members to increased potential liability for damages in customer litigation or reparation proceedings, for several reasons. First, a business conduct standard promulgated by a self-regulatory organization does not create a private cause of action. Furthermore, Rule 2-30 is not an antifraud rule. In order to prove a violation, there is no requirement to prove any intent to deceive on the part of the Member. Therefore, evidence of a violation of Rule 2-30 would not in and of itself constitute evidence of a violation of any antifraud rule or statute. Finally, to the extent that personal information about a customer is germane to the issues in a reparations or arbitration case, it is undoubtedly already being considered even in the absence of a formal rule requiring Members to obtain it.

Section (a) provides that the Rule applies to all individual customers and any other customers who are not eligible contract participants (as defined in Section 1a(18) of the Act), including all parties to a joint account. Members should be aware that regardless of whether they collect information from certain non-individual customers pursuant to Rule 2-30, accounts opened by business entities such as corporations and partnerships may also present other concerns (such as compliance with NFA Bylaw 1101, which prohibits Members from transacting customer business with non-Members who are required to be registered).

Section (b): Customer Information - Frequency

For customers who are individuals, the Member's obligation to obtain information and provide risk disclosure under the Rule is not limited to the first time the customer establishes a futures account with the Member. At least annually, the FCM Member that carries the customer account is also required to request updated information from any active customer who is an individual. The term active customer means any customer who was entitled to a monthly account statement under the provisions of CFTC Regulation 1.33(a) at any time during the preceding year3. Members may satisfy this requirement by contacting the customer in writing (by electronic or any other means reasonably designed to reach the customer) and requesting that the customer notify the Member of any material changes to the information provided under Section (c) of Rule 2-30.4 Absent advice to the contrary from the customer, the information previously provided is deemed verified. Whenever the customer notifies the FCM Member carrying the customer's account of any material changes to the information (whether through the update process or through the customer's own initiative), a determination must be made as to whether additional risk disclosure is required to be provided to the customer based on the changed information. If another FCM or IB introduces the customer's account on a fully disclosed basis or a CTA directs trading in the account, then the carrying FCM must notify that Member of the changes to the customer's information. Consistent with Section (e) of this Rule, the Member or Associate who currently solicits and communicates with the customer is responsible for determining if additional risk disclosure is required to be provided based on the changed information. In some cases, this may be the Member introducing or controlling the account; in other cases, it may be the carrying FCM.

Section (c): Information To Be Obtained

Item (1) is essentially the information required by CFTC Regulation 1.37(a), which applies to FCMs and IBs. Item (2) includes estimated annual income and net worth or net assets. For individuals, Members must obtain both estimated annual income and net worth. For all other customers, Members must obtain estimated annual income and net worth or net assets, however, if the customer is unable to provide a current estimated annual income figure, the Member may satisfy the Rule by obtaining the customer's previous year's annual income. Item (3), the customer's age or date of birth (for individuals), helps the Member put the customer's financial condition, ability to understand and level of sophistication into perspective. Information about previous futures trading experience and securities or options trading experience may also be relevant and, therefore, have been included. The information set forth in items (6) through (10) must be obtained if a customer who is an individual trades security futures products.

Information on age, estimated annual income and net worth may be obtained through the use of brackets or "in excess of" descriptions so long as these are reasonably designed to elicit the required information in a meaningful manner.

The information specified in Section (c) is a minimum requirement, intended to serve as a core of basic information that should always be obtained. Some Members routinely elicit additional items, such as liquid net worth, risk capital, or number of dependents, which may be quite useful, and NFA received comments on the Rule when it was drafted in 1985 suggesting that these items be required by the Rule. NFA concluded, however, that the better approach was to adopt a Rule that would specify the minimum required information and allow Members to obtain other information as they deemed appropriate. Therefore, item (5) specifies that the Member or Associate should obtain any other information used or considered to be reasonable in providing the customer with adequate disclosure of the risks of futures trading.

Section (d): Risk Disclosure

The risk disclosures incorporated into this Section are required by CFTC Regulations. (There are other disclosures required by CFTC Regulations, such as the Regulation 32.5 dealer options disclosure statement and the Regulation 190.10(c) disclosure statement for non-cash margin, which may apply to particular accounts.) These disclosures are only the minimum required. NFA believes that the decision with respect to what additional disclosure, if any, should be given to the customer is best left to the Member or Associate, whose conduct is subject to review by the BCC. There may be some customers for whom the additional disclosure will portray futures trading as too risky for that customer. In these instances, the only adequate risk disclosure by the Member and Associate is that futures trading is too risky for that customer. However, NFA believes that a determination of who those customers are cannot be made except on a case-by-case basis, because no objective criteria can be established that will apply to all customers. The essential feature of the Rule is the link between "knowing the customer" and providing risk disclosure. Once that has been done and the customer has been given adequate disclosure, the customer is free to make the decision whether to trade futures and the Member is permitted to accept the account. Members and Associates, however, are prohibited from making individualized recommendations to any customer for which the Member or Associate has or should have advised that futures trading is too risky for that customer.

Section (e): Introduced and Third-Party Controller Accounts

The purpose of this Section is to place the obligation to obtain information and provide risk disclosure on the Member who deals directly with the customer when an account is introduced to a carrying FCM by an IB or another FCM doing business on a fully disclosed basis, or when a CTA controls the trading in a customer's account pursuant to written authorization. NFA believes that the Member or Associate who solicits the customer and communicates with the customer in the process of the account opening is the appropriate party to comply with the Rule. In some cases, this may be the Member introducing or controlling the account; in other cases, it may be the carrying FCM.

Of course, each Member remains responsible for compliance with all applicable CFTC Regulations and NFA Requirements. For example, an FCM (or, in the case of an introduced account, the IB) must furnish a Regulation 1.55 Risk Disclosure Statement to each customer, including those whose accounts were solicited by and will be traded by CTAs. Similarly, a CTA must deliver a Disclosure Document to each customer, including those who were solicited by the FCM. Section (i), which is discussed below, clarifies each Member's obligation to comply with other requirements.

Section (f): Reliance on the Customer as the Source of the Information

Some Members confirm financial data because of concern about the creditworthiness of the customer. NFA believes, however, that the decision whether to confirm customer data is best left to the Member's sound business judgment and is irrelevant to a customer protection rule aimed at providing information to a customer.

Rule 2-30 contemplates a good faith exchange of information between the customer and the Member or Associate. A customer who gives incorrect information would still receive all the required risk disclosure statements but would have impaired the Member's ability to consider fully the customer's ability to understand the risk disclosures or whether additional disclosure was necessary. However, Section (f) will not operate as a "safe harbor" for a Member or Associate who falsifies information or who induces or suggests falsification by the customer. Information invented by the Member or Associate does not constitute "information about the customer" as required by the general rule. Members and Associates engaging in such conduct will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.

Section (g): Recordkeeping: Customers Who Decline to Provide Information

In order to allow NFA to audit for compliance with the Rule, Section (g) requires that a timely record be made or obtained which contains the information obtained from the customer. Customers who decline to provide information (beyond that required by CFTC Regulation 1.37(a), which must always be obtained) may still open accounts, but NFA would expect Members to take appropriate action upon learning that an inordinate number of a particular Associate's customers apparently "decline" to provide basis information. Because Section (a) imposes an affirmative duty on Members to obtain information, a Member who engages in (or allows Associates to engage in) a course of conduct which is designed to or has the effect of eliciting or prompting refusals by customers to provide that information would not have discharged that duty and could not use Section (g) as a shield from disciplinary action.

The approval requirement has been broadened to apply to all new accounts. This is consistent with the Member's responsibility to supervise the futures activities of its employees diligently pursuant to NFA Compliance Rule 2-9.

In the case of non-U.S. customers (those who neither reside in nor are citizens of the United States) a record that the customer declined to provide the information need not be made.

Section (h): Review Procedures

The requirement that a Member establish adequate review and compliance procedures provides Members with the flexibility to design procedures that are tailored to the way the Member does business. NFA's audit staff will, in the routine course of an examination, check these procedures for adequacy, taking into account the facts and circumstances of the particular Member.

Section (i): Relationship to Other Requirements

Rule 2-30 incorporates certain CFTC Regulations, but its requirements are in addition to any imposed by those Regulations or other NFA Requirements. For example, the Rule requires a CTA to provide a Disclosure Document, if required to do so by CFTC Regulation 4.31, at the time a customer first authorizes the Member to direct trading in a futures account for the customer.

This is because Rule 2-30 is intended initially to apply to "account opening" or its equivalent. However, CFTC Regulation 4.31 requires that the Disclosure Document be delivered at the time of solicitation. Other examples of CFTC Regulations which affect the process covered by the Rule have been cited in the discussion of Sections (b), (d), (e) and (g) above. Section (i) serves to clarify the ongoing obligation of Members to comply with all CFTC Regulations and NFA Requirements.

1 The risk disclosure statements required by CFTC Regulations 1.55 and 4.31 direct the customer to "carefully consider whether [futures] trading is suitable for you in light of your financial condition": the one required by CFTC Regulation 33.7 informs the customer that "commodity option transactions are not suitable for many members of the public."

2 NFA Bylaws define "futures" to include domestic exchange-traded options and dealer options. See Compliance Rule 1-1(g).

3 For any customer who was not considered active at the time of the annual update of information, the Member who currently solicits and communicates with the customer must refresh the customer information prior to accepting any new funds or orders from the customer.

4 If the customer informs the FCM that he/she cannot verify the information because the information previously provided to the carrying FCM is not currently available to the customer, then the carrying FCM shall promptly provide any necessary information to the customer.