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You have a brokerage account. One day you open up your mail (you are responsible for opening the mail) and find a letter from your brokerage firm. The letter thanks you for being a customer of the firm.  The letter then begins the process of reiterating the trading objectives you selected when you opened the account or when the account information was updated. The letter may contain additional information such as the amount of trades in your account over a three-month period of time or the commissions generated from the account (the money the broker and firm is making from the trading in your account). Most likely the letter ends with a request that you countersign the letter to confirm your objectives have not changed, that you authorized and approve of the trading in your account. In some instances the letter will end with a statement indicating the firm will presume all is okay with the trading in the account unless the firm hears anything to the contrary from you. If written correctly, the letter invites you to call with any questions.

Gee, isn’t this nice, you’re thinking. The brokerage firm is checking in on me.

Actually, the brokerage firm is checking in on your broker. The firm is utilizing a very important tool to determine whether the activity in the account is what you have directed and is suitable for you. The letter is aptly called an Activity Letter.

The Activity Letter seeks to determine, for instance, if you are controlling the account or if the broker is controlling the account. To be clear, while there is such a thing as de facto control, if your broker is calling you and recommending a buy or sell, you are demonstrating a manner of control over your account when you agree or disagree with the recommendation. Unless your account is discretionary (meaning your broker trades without the need to speak to you) the broker must discuss, on the day of a trade, the particular recommendation to buy or sell.

The Activity Letter also allows the firm to confirm, independently from the broker, whether it is your intention to trade your account aggressively, conservatively, or somewhere in the middle. The Activity Letter confirms you are not only aware of the trading in the account, but approve of it as it takes place.

The Activity Letter is an important tool not only for the firm, but also you. In most instances the letter is from a compliance officer, branch manager or supervisor at the brokerage firm. If you have any questions relating to your account, take the opportunity to call and ask the questions. The benefit of the Activity Letter from someone other than your broker is you should not feel uncomfortable with the call, but rather emboldened to make sure your investments are being handled as you have instructed.

When you sign and return the Activity Letter to the firm, the firm is relying upon that information in terms of supervising both the account and the broker. Do not sign something that is not accurate. As I have written in the past, you are responsible for reading a document, knowing its content and will be bound by the terms of the document that bears your acknowledgement signature. An informed investor is a smart investor. If you have questions, whether to the broker or supervisor, take the time to ask them. Do not assume. We all know what happens then.

If you have questions relating to this topic or other investment matters, please contact The Law Offices of Barry M. Bordetsky by calling Barry M. Bordetsky at (800) 998-7705 or emailing at barry@bordetskylaw.com.