Brokers

Finra Bars Aspiring Brokers in Its First Online Cheating Sanctions

Brokerage-industry regulator Finra has barred two individuals for allegedly cheating on online securities examinations, the first such actions it has brought involving remote exams.

If approved by Finra review panels, the actions will amount to indefinite brokerage industry bars, but Autiero and Kausar will be eligible to apply for reinstatement.


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This week, Finra published letters of acceptance, waiver, and consent (AWC) signed by Brandon Autiero and Harris Kausar. Both submitted to industry bans stemming from cheating allegations without admitting or denying the charges.

Since January 2021, Finra has suspended or barred 12 individuals for cheating on in-person exams or possessing unauthorized materials during their testing sessions, but these are the first punishments involving remotely proctored tests.

“Test cheaters are on notice: regardless of the testing environment, Finra remains vigilant in our efforts to detect cheating and will vigorously pursue disciplinary action—including permanent bars—against any individual who cheats on qualification examinations,” Jessica Hopper, executive vice president and head of Finra’s department of enforcement, said in a statement.

If approved by Finra’s review panels, the actions will amount to indefinite bars from associating with any registered brokerage firm, according to a Finra spokesman, though Autiero and Kausar will be eligible to apply for reinstatement.

In both AWC letters, Finra explains that the respondent “may not be associated with any FINRA member in any capacity, including clerical or ministerial functions, during the period of the bar or suspension,” but does not stipulate the duration of the bar for either individual. A search in the online database BrokerCheck for Autiero, who was previously registered with Equitable Advisors but resigned following the allegations of cheating, indicates that he is “not currently registered,” though the Finra spokesman confirms that the record will be updated to reflect his status as “barred.”

An attorney for Autiero, Scott Matasar, declined to comment on the matter. Kausar’s attorney, David S. Rich, did not immediately respond to a voicemail and an inquiry through his firm’s website seeking comment.

Both Autiero and Kausar had secured accommodations to take their examinations remotely, as has become a common practice during the pandemic. Online exams are proctored remotely by testing staff, and are taken on camera-equipped computers.

Autiero was sitting for the Finra Series 7 exam in March 2021, and, later that year, took the North American Securities Administrators Association Series 66 exam three times, and the Nasaa Series 63 exam once. “During each qualification examination, Autiero accessed the internet, including online forums, to assist with answering examination questions,” Autiero’s AWC states. Both the Finra and Nasaa exams are covered by the ethical conduct standards in Finra’s Rule 2010. Kausar’s alleged cheating occurred in December 2021, when he was sitting for the Finra Series 79 exam to become an investment banking representative.

Kausar, who was associated with Barclays Capital but not yet registered with Finra, was fired after failing to pass the Series 79 exam, according to the AWC.

The AWC letters will now be reviewed by Finra’s National Adjudicatory Council or the Office of Disciplinary Affairs. If approved there, they will be appended to each respondent’s disciplinary record, and each will face “a bar from associating with any FINRA member in all capacities.”

Write to advisor.editors@barrons.com

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