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News November 22, 2004 Issue

Before You Hit That Send Button . . .

"[Company is] such a piece of crap!!!"

"I have no interest in building a business around market timers, but at the same time I do not want to turn away $10-$20m!"

". . . who [we] are steering business to and who we are steering business from . . . "

At last month’s NRS Conference, Kenneth Wagner, director of compliance at J.J.B. Hilliard/W.L. Lyons, advised compliance officers to gather newspaper clippings of incidents in which e-mails played a key part of a regulator’s enforcement efforts. These stories, said Wagner, can be used to help "people realize that these things can be absolute time bombs." Employees should be informed that "whatever they put in an e-mail can and probably will be, at some point down the road, held against them," he said.

Even OCIE associate director Gene Gohlke said that he thinks twice before clicking the send icon. "It’s rare that e-mail ever dies," noted Gohlke, Wagner’s co-panelist. Even after being deleted from your sent file, e-mail can be copied or forwarded, he said. And once its gone from your computer, "you’ve lost control of it," Gohlke added. "You can’t tell where it’s going to end up."

Wagner’s advice: instruct employees that when they are discussing a potential legal or compliance problem via e-mail to "just stick to the facts and look at things objectively," rather than express opinions or draw conclusions. Statements such as "I think this is a regulatory problem," said Wagner, can be problematic, regardless of whether there actually is a regulatory problem. NRS consultant Keith Marks agreed, noting that employees’ misstatements in e-mails "can be taken out of context very easily, resulting in the SEC wanting to look at something" where there is not really an issue.

Here’s another idea to consider: instruct employees to communicate concerns about legal/compliance issues by phone or in-person only.

For more on e-mails, check out "E-Mail Rules," a book covering e-mail issues in a general business context (many other industries are struggling with the same sort of e-mail issues that advisers are dealing with). Co-authored by Nancy Flynn and Randy Kahn, E-Mail Rules is available on Amazon.com. If you are on a tight budget, Iron Mountain has a limited amount of complementary copies of E-Mail Rules. To request a copy, send an e-mail to digital_archives@ironmountain.com, let them know that you are an IM Insight subscriber. You can also ask Iron Mountain for your own personal copy of that "Great E-mails I Have Read" book by Eliot Spitzer you might have seen featured in recent ads running in the Wall Street Journal.