By Steve Gelsi
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has launched a search through 100-plus personal mobile phones of top Wall Street dealmakers as it widens its probe into secret messaging through platforms such as WhatsApp, according to a Bloomberg report on Wednesday.
The SEC is targeting up to 30 top bankers and traders at each major bank it contacts to provide personal mobile devices to be examined by lawyers, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with direct knowledge of the requests.
The SEC is attempting to bring to light how Wall Street dealmakers use unauthorized messaging platforms to communicate with each other.
Regulators under SEC commissioner Gary Gensler will then weigh whether to levy fines or take other disciplinary action against banks for not taking measures to preserve business-related messages.
The report did not specify which banks have been getting the requests, but Morgan Stanley (NYS:MS) , Credit Suisse AG (NYS:CS) , Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYS:GS) , Citigroup Inc. (NYS:C) , and HSBC Holdings Plc (NYS:HSBC) have all disclosed that they’re working with regulators on messaging inquiries.
The banks have lined up outside lawyers to help conduct reviews of cell phone records and to act as intermediaries to maintain privacy over personal messages as opposed to messages deemed directly related to official firm business, the report said.
From the archive: London trader Tom Hayes convicted of Libor-rigging
In the case of Goldman Sachs, the firm said for the first time in its fourth-quarter filings and again in first-quarter filings that it’s working with the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on an investigation and review of communications record-keeping.
“The firm is cooperating with the SEC and CFTC and is producing documents in connection with investigations of the firm’s compliance with records preservation requirements relating to business communications sent over electronic messaging channels that have not been approved by the firm,” Goldman said in its filings. ”The SEC and CFTC are conducting similar investigations of record preservation practices at other financial institutions.”
In December, the SEC said JPMorgan Securities, a subsidiary broker-dealer of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYS:JPM) , agreed to pay $125 million to resolve charges that it failed to preserve written communications of its employees.
The CFTC also ordered JPMorgan to pay a $75 million civil monetary penalty and to cease and desist from further violations of record-keeping and supervision requirements, and to engage in specified remedial undertakings.
As a result of the findings in its JPMorgan investigation, the SEC said in December it launched additional investigations of record preservation practices at financial firms.
An SEC spokesperson declined to comment to MarketWatch.
The Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (PSE:XLF) has fallen 14% in the year to date, while the S&P 500 (S&P:SPX) has fallen 16%.