This time in '99: SEC takes action against online brokers

In our new "This time in '99" series, we take a daily look back at the agenda-setting stories as they were 12 months ago. We'll also cast an eye over the most influential news "This week in '99" every Friday in the video news bulletin

In our new "This time in '99" series, we take a daily look back at the agenda-setting stories as they were 12 months ago. We'll also cast an eye over the most influential news "This week in '99" every Friday in the video news bulletin

This is how the original story broke in May 1999: The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has taken its first regulatory action against an electronic brokerage firm. Datek Online Brokerage Services, the US's fourth largest online broker, has been censured for improperly using over $42m in one day from special reserve funds. Although the company did not admit or deny the charges, the SEC's findings last summer show that a unit of Datek was dipping into special reserve accounts - used by broker-dealers to store customer funds - using the cash for their own purposes and then falsifying records to conceal it. Justin Urquhart Stewart, business planning director at Barclays Stockbrokers, said: "It's like taking money from a cash till and putting it back in the morning." He explained that if something like this happened in the UK it would be seen as incredibly serious, not only would the guilty party face a hefty fine but they could also lose their license. "Fines could be as much as £250,000, plus the guilty party would be watched over by the Securities and Futures Authority. In a way it's good that this has happened and been picked up on," said Stewart. "It could be fatal for the business." Alan Line, chair of the International Equity Dealers Association was impressed by the SEC's vigilance. "The main issue now is the challenge that has been thrown down to the regulators to regulate trading on the Web," he said. "If all traffic was driven through one engine at least they [the regulators] would have a point of reference where all the trades are being made," Line added. Chris Prior-Willeard, head of the exchange and markets group at PricewaterhouseCoopers agreed: "Regulators have been given yet another challenge." The SEC has fined Datek $50,000 and the company has agreed to hire an independent consultant to monitor controls and record keeping.