U.S. fines 16 Wall Street firms $1.1 billion over record-keeping failures

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday fined 16 financial firms, including Barclays, Bank of America, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and UBS, a combined $1.1 billion over failing to maintain and preserve electronic communications.

The sweeping industry probe, which was first reported by Reuters last year and had since been disclosed by multiple lenders, is a landmark case for the agency, regulatory experts said.

"The firms admitted the facts...acknowledged that their conduct violated recordkeeping provisions of the federal securities laws... and have begun implementing improvements to their compliance policies and procedures to settle these matters," the SEC said.

From January 2018 through September 2021, the banks' employees routinely communicated about business matters using applications such as text messages and WhatsApp on their personal devices, while the institutions did not preserve the majority of these communications, in violation of the rules, the SEC found.

That likely impeded the SEC's ability to gather evidence in other, unrelated investigations, the agency said.

The failings occurred across all 16 firms and involved employees at multiple levels of authority, including supervisors and senior executives, the SEC said.

(Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; writing by Costas Pitas and Michelle Price; Editing by Caitlin Webber and Lisa Shumaker)