By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A panel of investor advocates said on Thursday they were developing a proposal for U.S. securities regulators that will make it easier for retail investors to conduct online background checks of financial professionals before hiring them.
The Securities and Exchange Commission's Investor Advisory Committee discussed the recommendation amid concerns about elderly investors who are often prime targets for fraudsters.
It plans to vote on its recommendation in July.
Currently there are several databases that investors can use to look up the backgrounds of financial professionals.
The BrokerCheck database, run by the Finiancial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), lets investors look up brokers to see their employment history, professional licenses and any disclosures such as customer complaints that were arbitrated, criminal convictions, civil regulatory actions or personal bankruptcies.
A second database operated by the SEC called the Investor Advisor Public Disclosure Program, meanwhile, compiles data about investment advisers registered with the SEC and the states.
Although anyone who searches these two databases can derive results from both, they are not equal in the quality of the data available.
In addition, they do not contain information about other financial professionals, such as insurance brokers, mortgage or futures brokers, and they also do not show data about firms or people who are sanctioned for operating unregistered investment advisory services.
Thursday's meeting comes about a year after the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association released a study calling for improvements to BrokerCheck. The study said the disclosures lacked some crucial details, such as the reasons why brokers are fired.
At Thursday's meeting, the group discussed creating a "disciplinary database" to allow retail investors to more easily vet people who may solicit them for business in the financial services industry.
The group also discussed ways the SEC can improve the quality of the information available publicly, and about creating one single site where people can simultaneously search everything with a single click.
SEC Democratic Commissioner Kara Stein, who attended the meeting, said she is supportive of the group's efforts.
"I think all relevant bars or sanctions should be included in an easily accessible database," she said.
"We clearly have the technology to provide one-stop shopping for investors. I don't think the investor should have the burden of ferreting out all possible disciplinary actions from a variety of databases."
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by David Gregorio)