NASD announced today that it has updated and redesigned its BrokerCheck service -- a public, online service for reporting on the background of NASD member-firms. The update, says the regulator, should provide much-needed improvement in the usability and effectiveness of the service. Speaking from experience, the previous version of the BrokerCheck system, while loaded with potential was severely undermined by its own inefficiencies.While researching a story on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, I conducted a BrokerCheck search for Morgan Stanley -- one of more than 4.7 million searches conducted on the system last year alone. I was in search of information surrounding NASD charges of mishandled e-mail communications. What I found was that and so much more. True to the service's promises, a full 10-year regulatory history of the firm was delivered to the Wall Street & Technology office via snail mail in two 200-plus page documents.
Fortunately the data that I was in search of was recent and easily tracked down, but the sheer length of the document led me to question the value of the hefty materials to the public investor -- as they are intended. Granted, Morgan Stanley is one of the largest financial institutions on the planet, and an independent broker/dealer's report should (theoretically) be considerably more manageable, but that alone does not alleviate the concern that Joe Investor has little true interest in reading pages upon pages of a firm's disciplinary history.
BrokerCheck is a valuable service to investors and "provides convenient access to far more information than is publicly available about virtually any other professional they deal with," says Mary Schapiro, chairman and CEO of NASD, in a release. However, 400 pages of materials is just plain excessive -- even as an immediately accessible and searchable PDF. NASD would be better served in its goal of educating consumers if it were to develop a truncated version of these reports with an easily digestible reputation rating to help the public investor make a well-informed decision on an investment professional.