Interview: How Alexandria Coyne Passed Four Securities Licensing Exams

If you’re considering taking the SIE, Series 6, Series 63, Series 7, or another securities licensing exam, read these valuable insights on how to study for and pass your exams. Continue reading

It’s not uncommon for those in the securities and investment industries to need more than one securities license. But the determination involved in passing multiple securities licensing exams (especially in a short time period) is substantial. Case in point: Alexandria Coyne, Financial Advisor at Northwestern Mutual, who passed her fourth exam with Solomon Exam Prep earlier this year. She now has the SIE, Series 6, Series 7, and Series 63 under her belt. Alex was kind enough to answer Solomon’s questions about her study approach and how she achieved success four times.

“I really wanted to learn the material through and through, so I was never preparing for an exam; I was preparing for a career.”

Alex Coyne

Solomon Exam Prep: Why did you take your exams in the order that you did? Was this order helpful, or would you change anything if you had to do it again? 

Alex Coyne: I took the SIE, the 6, the 63 and then the 7. If I could do it all over, I’d do the same thing! The SIE was a great entry level exam for the 6. To me, there was only a little bit of differentiating content between the two exams. I will always recommend splitting up the 6 and the 7. I think the 6 was just high-level enough to get an understanding of the content. The 7, on the other hand, got extremely detailed. I truly believe that if I went straight into the 7 from the SIE, I wouldn’t have been successful on my first attempt.

Solomon Exam Prep: Out of the exams you passed, which one required the most study time and why? 

Alex Coyne: Most definitely the Series 7. I just think that there were a lot of details to remember and a lot of information to digest.

Solomon Exam Prep: How did you approach studying for your exams?  

Alex Coyne: I recommend everyone to Solomon. I think that Solomon did an amazing job with the study material. What I have found to be most successful for me:

The first thing I did was set an exam date. That was just knowing my ability to procrastinate, so I had to put a timeline on this thing before it even started!

Order the book. Read the entire book in full, highlighting important content and underlining even more important content. I found that 20 pages per day was my reading goal.

Once the book was read in full, I WROTE out all the highlighted and underlined information onto a notebook. Yes, I outlined the entire book. I found that approximately 10 pages of outlining per day was my capacity (approx. 1-2 hours). It took an entire 2-subject notebook for an entire outline. (Still no quizzes at this point.)

While I was reading and outlining, I played the online Video Lectures through my AUX cord in my car wherever I went. From start to finish. 

After outlining the entire book, I went to my NOTEBOOK (outlined) and I went through the content in detail. After I studied Chapter 1, I took Ch. 1 practice quizzes until passing consistently. Then Chapter 2, 3, 4 and so on….

After all of the Chapter quizzes were complete, I did the practice tests. I probably did 15-20 total practice exams. Some timed, some with immediate feedback. I made sure to read the feedback and understand what questions I was getting wrong and use my book and notebook to go back to content and work through the wrong answers. 

On the 7, the Options Video Lecture was a total game changer for me. I watched it twice and memorized every table on there. That single-handedly won me 15-20 questions on the Series 7 exam.

“…there are still things from the study material that I use in client meetings today, 8 months since the Series 7 exam.”

Solomon Exam Prep: How did you take the exams – at a testing center or remotely? How was your experience, and do you have any tips to share? 

Alex Coyne: I took all of my tests in a testing center. My advice: Practice your “dump sheet.” AKA: Once you START the exam, dump out all you can remember on scratch paper. I actually practiced my dump sheet, especially for the Series 7. The week leading up the 7, randomly throughout the day, I would stop what I was doing, find paper, and practice my dump sheet. By the time I took my Series 7, I pretty well had my dump sheet memorized. That was very helpful for me.  

Solomon Exam Prep: Any words of wisdom to help motivate others who are preparing for exams? 

Alex Coyne: Passing on the first try is very possible, but you will only get out of the material the level of commitment you decide to put into it. I really wanted to learn the material through and through, so I was never preparing for an exam; I was preparing for a career. I saw this knowledge as transformational for my financial practice. I took it seriously and there are still things from the study material that I use in client meetings today, 8 months since the Series 7 exam. My advice is to have that mentality when it comes to learning; don’t just cram to pass an exam. Our clients deserve better.

Visit the Solomon Exam Prep website to explore study materials for 21 different securities licensing exams, including the SIE, Series 6, Series 7, and Series 63.

How to Pass the FINRA Series 6 Exam

Learn what the FINRA Series 6 qualifies you to do, what the exam covers, and how you should prepare for it. Continue reading

What does the FINRA Series 6 exam allow me to do?

The Series 6, also known as the Investment Company Products/Variable Contracts Representative Exam, qualifies individuals to solicit, purchase, and/or sell certain investment products. These include mutual funds, initial offerings of closed-end funds, variable life insurance, variable annuities, municipal fund securities, and unit investment trusts (UITs).

The Series 6 does not entitle you to sell all securities products – for that, you’ll need the Series 7. But if you intend to only sell the products listed above, then the Series 6 exam may be an attractive option since it is shorter than the Series 7.

Common jobs in the securities and financial services industries that use the Series 6 are investment advisers, financial advisers, insurance agents, retirement plan specialists, and private bankers. Be aware, though, that some jobs might require other exams or qualifications in addition to the Series 6, depending on the duties required for a particular job. Salary ranges vary among these types of jobs, but the average base salary of people with a Series 6 certification is $56,000 per year (payscale.com).

To take the Series 6 exam, you must be sponsored by a FINRA member firm. The firm files a Form U4 application on your behalf through FINRA’s Central Registration Depository (CRD). Candidates must pass the co-requisite Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam in addition to the Series 6 to obtain the Series 6 license. Although you can take the exams in any order, Solomon Exam Prep recommends taking the SIE exam first because it is a foundational exam. Anyone 18 or older can take the SIE exam, and it doesn’t require firm sponsorship.

About the Exam

The Series 6 exam consists of 50 scored and 5 unscored multiple-choice questions covering the four sections of the FINRA Series 6 exam outline. The 5 additional unscored questions are ones that the exam committee is trying out. These are unidentified and are distributed randomly throughout the exam. FINRA updates its exam questions regularly to reflect the most current rules and regulations.

Note: Scores are rounded down to the next lowest whole number (e.g. 69.9% would be a final score of 69% – not a passing score for the Series 6 exam).

Topics Covered on the Exam

FINRA divides the Series 6 exam into four sections which represent the four job functions of a Series 6 registered representative:

The Series 6 exam covers many topics including the following:

    • Securities Registration
    • Communications
    • Client Accounts
    • Retirement Plans
    • Equity Securities
    • Debt Securities
    • Taxation
    • Options
    • Investment Companies
    • Annuities
    • Portfolio Management and CAPM
    • Investment Goals
    • Securities Analysis
    • Completing and Confirming Transactions

Question Types on the Series 6

The Series 6 exam consists of multiple-choice questions, each with four options. You will see these question structures:

Closed Stem Format:

This item type asks a question and gives four possible answers from which to choose.

In the cooling-off period, which of the following would not be allowed?

    1. Making an offer to sell a security with a preliminary prospectus
    2. Taking orders for the security
    3. Publishing a tombstone ad
    4. Distributing a preliminary prospectus
Incomplete Sentence Format:

This kind of question has an incomplete sentence followed by four options that present possible conclusions.

Regulation S-P helps protect customers from:

    1. Recommendations to purchase high-risk securities such as S&P 500 index derivatives
    2. Abusive commissions and sales charges
    3. Having their private information misused
    4. Money laundering
“EXCEPT” Format:

This type requires you to recognize the one choice that is an exception among the four answer choices presented.

All of the following would be considered a security except:

    1. Publicly traded stock
    2. Publicly traded bond
    3. A variable annuity
    4. A commodities future
Complex Multiple-Choice (“Roman Numeral”) Format:

For this question type, you see a question followed by two or more statements identified by Roman numerals. The four answer choices represent combinations of these statements. You must select the combination that best answers the question.

Regarding its telemarketing efforts, a firm or its representative must do which of the following?

    1. Identify themselves and the purpose of their call
    2. Compare potential prospects against the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry
    3. Be licensed by FINRA as a telemarketer
    4. Establish a 900 number for potential complaints
    1. I and IV
    2. I and II
    3. II and III
    4. III and IV

This format is also used in items that ask you to rank or order a set of items from highest to lowest (or vice versa), or to place a series of events in the proper sequence.

Rank the following yields for a premium bond held to maturity from highest to lowest.

    1. Yield to call
    2. Coupon rate
    3. Yield to maturity
    4. Current yield
    1. II, IV, III, I
    2. IV, I, III, II
    3. II, IV, I, III
    4. III, I, IV, II

For an even better idea of the possible question types you might encounter on the Series 6 exam, try Solomon Exam Prep’s free Series 6 Sample Quiz.

How to Study for the Series 6

Follow Solomon Exam Prep’s proven study system:
    • Read and understand. Read the Solomon Study Guide, carefully. The Series 6 is a knowledge test, not an IQ test. Many students read the Study Guide two or three times before taking the exam. To increase your ability to focus while reading, or as an alternative to reading, listen to the Solomon Series 6 Audiobook, which is a word-for-word reading of the Solomon Series 6 Study Guide.
    • Answer practice questions in the Solomon Exam Simulator. When you’re done with a chapter in the Study Guide, take 4–6 chapter quizzes in the Solomon Online Exam Simulator. Use these quizzes to give yourself practice and to find out what you need to study more. Make sure you read and understand the question rationales. When you’re finished reading the entire Study Guide, review your handwritten notes once more. Then, and only then, start taking full practice exams in the Series 6 Exam Simulator. Aim to pass at least six full practice exams and try to get your Solomon Pass Probability™ score to at least an 80%; when you reach that point, you are probably ready to sit for the Series 6 exam.
Use these effective study strategies:
    • Take handwritten notes. As you read the Study Guide, take handwritten notes and review your notes every day for 10 to 15 minutes. Studies show that the act of taking handwritten notes in your own words and then reviewing them strengthens learning and memory.
    • Make flashcards. Making your own flashcards is another powerful and proven method to reinforce memory and strengthen learning. Solomon also offers digital flashcards for the Series 6 exam.
    • Research. Research anything you do not understand. Curiosity = learning. Students who take responsibility for their own learning by researching anything they do not understand get a deeper understanding of the subject matter and are much more likely to pass.
    • Become the teacher. Studies show that explaining what you are learning greatly increases your understanding of the material. Ask someone in your life to listen and ask questions. If you don’t have anyone, explain it to yourself. Studies show that helps almost as much as explaining to an actual person (see Solomon’s recent post to learn more about this strategy!).
Take advantage of Solomon’s supplemental tools and resources:
    • Use all the resources. The Resources folder in your Solomon student account has helpful information, including a detailed study schedule that you can print out – or use the online study schedule and check off tasks as you complete them.
    • Watch the Video Lecture. This provides a helpful review of the key concepts in each chapter after reading the Solomon Study Guide. Take notes to help yourself stay focused.
  • Good practices while studying:
    • Take regular breaks. Studies show that if you are studying for an exam, taking regular walks in a park or natural setting significantly improves scores. Walks in urban areas or among people did not improve test scores.
    • Get enough sleep during the period when you are studying. Sleep consolidates learning into memory, studies show. Be good to yourself while you are studying for the Series 6: exercise, eat well, and avoid activities that will hurt your ability to get a good night’s sleep.

You can pass the FINRA Series 6! It just takes focus and determination. Solomon Exam Prep is here to support you on your journey to becoming a registered Investment Company Products/Variable Life Contracts Representative.

To explore all Solomon Exam Prep Series 6 study materials, including product samples, visit the Solomon website here.

For more helpful securities exam-related content, study tips, and industry updates, join the Solomon email list. Just click the button below:

What are the permitted activities of a General Securities Representative (Series 7)?

In this article, Solomon Exam Prep explains what a General Securities Representative can and cannot do and how this compares to other rep-level registrations. Continue reading

Of the representative-level FINRA registrations categories, the General Securities Representative (Series 7) registration is considered by many to be the most valuable, due to the range of products it allows you to sell. But how “general” is it? Are there other representative-level registrations that permit you do things a Series 7 representative cannot?

What is a Series 7 representative permitted to do?

FINRA allows a General Securities Representative to solicit the purchase and sales of all securities products, including:

  • Stocks, whether from IPOs, private placements, or secondary market trading
  • Other corporate securities, such as bonds, rights, and warrants
  • Mutual funds
  • Closed-end funds
  • Money market funds
  • Unit investment trusts (UITs)
  • Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)
  • Real estate investment trusts (REITs)
  • Variable contracts (insurance products whose funds are invested in securities)
  • Municipal securities
  • Municipal fund securities, such as 529 plans
  • Options
  • Government securities
  • Direct participation programs (DPPs)
  • Venture capital
  • Hedge funds

This long list of products means that a Series 7 registered rep may perform the functions of an Investment Company and Variable Contracts Representative (Series 6), Direct Participation Programs Representative (Series 22), or Private Securities Offerings Representative (Series 82).

Besides sales, General Securities Representatives may also perform certain activities closely related to sales. They may:

  • recommend investments after performing a suitability analysis for the customer
  • accept unsolicited orders
  • open customer accounts, subject to approval by a principal

What is a Series 7 representative not permitted to do?

Though a General Securities Representative may solicit purchases of IPO shares, he may not work on underwriting or structuring an IPO, or any other securities offerings. This means that he is not permitted to advise an issuer on an offering. This work requires registration as an Investment Banking Representative (Series 79).  Likewise, working on municipal underwriting requires registration as a Municipal Securities Representative (Series 52).

A Series 7 representative is also not qualified to perform the back-office functions of an Operations Professional (Series 99). Among these functions are maintaining possession or control of the firm’s securities, calculating margin for margin accounts, and sending trade confirmations and account statements.

Of course, every registered representative must also pass the FINRA Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam. The SIE doesn’t qualify you to do anything, instead it is a foundational exam that focuses on industry terminology, securities products, the structure and function of the markets, regulatory agencies and their functions, and regulated and prohibited practices. Unlike other FINRA securities exams, you do not need to be employed or sponsored by a broker-dealer in order to take the SIE. The only requirement is that you be 18 years old.

If you are considering taking the Series 7 exam, Solomon Exam Prep is here to help you. Solomon provides an extensive array of study material, together with resources such as study schedules, the Ask The Professor function, and important exam information. You can view our Series 7 offerings here.

 

And for more helpful securities exam-related content, study tips, and industry updates, join the Solomon email list. Click the button below:

How to Calculate Gains and Losses on Exercised Options

Options are a common topic on the Series 6, Series 7, Series 65, Series 66, and SIE exams. Read our guide to calculating gains and losses on exercised options. Continue reading

Options are a topic that many taking the Series 6, Series 7, Series 65, Series 66, and SIE exams have to deal with. One of the biggest problems that students have with options questions occurs when they are asked to calculate gains and losses on exercised options. As long as you understand a few basic points, these types of questions can be a breeze and definitely nothing to lose sleep over.  

First of all, let’s remind ourselves of what an option is.  An option is a contract between two parties that gives the buyer of the contract the right to buy or sell an underlying asset to the other party in the future for a specific price. The specific price is called the “exercise” or “strike” price.  The seller of the option, on the other hand, is obligated to buy or sell, at the strike price. The option to buy is a “call” option, the option to sell is a “put” option.   

To calculate gains and losses on exercised options, you first need to understand what is happening as a result of an options transaction.  When an option is exercised, that means its holder chooses to either buy or sell the underlying security at the strike price. With an exercised call option, the holder purchases shares of the underlying security from the options seller; with an exercised put option, the holder sells shares of the underlying security to the options seller. The sale in each case occurs at the option’s strike price.

Buying – Exercised Call Option

When a call options holder exercises her option by purchasing the underlying shares, she must add the cost of those shares to the premium she paid to obtain the option in the first place. This sum represents the option holder’s total money spent as a result of her options transaction. If the option holder then elects to sell the underlying securities she’s just purchased at their current market price, the money she receives from the sale will be money she takes in. To calculate her gain or loss, subtract the money she paid out from the money she took in. It’s as simple as that. 

So, if, for instance, Marie paid $200 in premiums to purchase a call option with a strike price of $20 and then exercised the option by purchasing 100 shares of the underlying stock, the money she spent as a result of her options transaction will be $2,200 ($200 premium paid + $2,000 purchase price for underlying securities). If she then sells those 100 shares at the market price of $25, she will receive $2,500 in sales proceeds. Subtracting the money she spent from the amount she received will result in a $300 gain ($2,500 sale proceeds – $2,000 purchase price – $200 premium paid = $300 gain.)

Buying – Exercised Put Option

In order for a put options holder to exercise his option, he must have 100 shares of the underlying security to sell to the options seller. That means he needs to go out in the market and purchase shares at their market price. The money he pays for those securities plus the premium he paid to purchase his put option in the first place represents money spent as a result of his options transaction. The options holder will then sell those 100 shares to the options seller at the strike price. When he does this, he receives the sale proceeds. Subtracting the money spent on the put from the sale proceeds will result in the put investor’s gain or loss.   

So, if, for instance, Pierre paid $300 in premiums to purchase a put option with a strike price of $30 and then purchases 100 shares of the underlying stock when its market price drops to $25, he will have spent $2,800 as a result of his options transaction ($300 premium + $2,500 purchase price for underlying shares). He will then sell those 100 shares to the options seller at their strike price of $30 and take in $3,000 from his sale. Thus, Pierre will make a total of $200 on his options transaction ($3,000 sale proceeds - $300 premium – $2,500 purchase price = $200 gain). 

Selling an Option

Now let’s look at gains or losses from the perspective of an options seller. Remember that when someone sells an option, he receives the premium from the options buyer. If the option expires unexercised, the seller gets to keep his entire premium received, which represents his maximum potential gain. If the option is exercised, he will either be required to sell shares of the underlying security to the option holder in the case of a call option or buy shares from the option holder in the case of a put option. Each of an exercised call or an exercised put option transaction is made at the option’s strike price.

Selling – Exercised Call Option

When a call option is exercised, the option seller must obtain 100 shares of the underlying stock to sell to the options holder. To do so, he will have to purchase the shares at their current market price, which will be higher than the option’s strike price. He will then sell them to the option holder at the strike price. The money he takes in from the sale is added to the premiums he received when shorting the option, and this totals the money he takes in as part of his options transaction. The money he paid to obtain the underlying securities is the money he pays out. Subtracting the money he pays out from the money he takes in results in his overall gain or loss.

For example, let’s say Michael sells a call option with a strike price of $50 and receives premiums totaling $500. If the option is exercised, and Mike purchases the underlying shares at $55, he will have paid out $5,500 as a result of his options transaction. At the same time, he will have received $5,500 ($500 premium + $5,000 strike price). Thus, Mike will break even on this transaction; money taken in will be equal to money paid out.

Buying – Exercised Put Option

When a put option is exercised, the option seller must purchase 100 shares of the underlying security from the options holder at the strike price. This represents money the options seller pays out. The options holder has already received the premium when she sold the option, and after purchasing the 100 shares, she can sell them for their current market price. The combination of the seller’s sale proceeds and the premium received represents money taken in. Subtracting money paid out from money taken in will result in the investor’s gain or loss. 

Let’s say Maribel shorts a put option and receives premiums totaling $400. The option has a strike price of $40, and the option holder exercises it when the underlying stock is trading at $35. This means Maribel is obligated to pay $4,000 total for the 100 underlying shares. This is money she pays out. She has already taken in $400, and if she chooses to sell the underlying stock at its current market price, she will take in an additional $3,500 in sales proceeds. This means she will receive a total of $3,900 from his options transaction ($3,500 sale proceeds + $400 premium) and paid out a total of $4,000. As a result, she has lost $100 on his options transaction ($3,900 money in – $4,000 money out = -$100).

As long as you understand what is occurring when an option is exercised, calculating gains and losses is as simple as comparing the money the investor takes in to the money she pays out. Calculating gains and losses on exercised options requires an understanding of the transaction and some simple math. Follow the guidance above and you will be able to correctly answer this type of question on your securities licensing exam.

For more helpful securities exam-related content, study tips, and industry updates, join the Solomon email list. Just click the button below:

What Are QIBs and Accredited Investors? What’s the Difference?

If you’re studying for securities licensing exams, such as the SIE or the Series 7, then you should understand the terms “accredited investor” and “QIB.” Continue reading

If you’ve been studying for the Series 7, 6, 14, 22, 24, 65, 79, or 82, or the Securities Industry Essentials (SIE), then you’ve had to learn about Regulation D private placements and Rule 144A sales. Regulation D private placements are securities offerings that are exempt from the normal SEC registration process and in many cases are sold only to “accredited investors” or limit the involvement of investors who are not accredited. Rule 144A sales are sales of unregistered securities to large institutional investors known as “qualified institutional buyers” or QIBs for short. 
 
You may have wondered about the difference between accredited investors and QIBs. On the surface, these may seem similar. Each refers to a category of investor with resources and/or knowledge above and beyond the average retail investor. So why not just have one standard for buyers under both Rule 144A and Regulation D? After all, the purpose of both Regulation D and Rule 144A is the same: to allow wealthier and more sophisticated investors easier access to investments that may be too risky for the average investor.  
 
To begin to answer this question, we have to start with the fact that wealth and sophistication fall on a spectrum. Investors aren’t neatly divided between small retail investors and huge financial institutions that move millions around without blinking an eye. 

Accredited Investors

You could think of accredited investors as a middle ground between these two extremes. Accredited investors are investors whose financial status or investment knowledge may give them a greater ability to handle the risks inherent in a private placement. There are many ways to qualify as an accredited investor but they all have one thing in common, which is that the SEC believes they indicate an ability to take on risks that regulators believe are unsuitable for most retail investors.

Accredited investors are investors whose financial status or investment knowledge may give them a greater ability to handle the risks inherent in a private placement.

All of the following are considered accredited investors:
  • Banks, broker-dealers, investment advisers, insurance companies, and investment companies
  • Corporations, trusts, partnerships, and LLCs with more than $5 million in assets
  • Most employee benefit plans with more than $5 million in assets
  • The issuer’s directors, executive officers, and general partners
  • If the issuer is a privately owned fund, (such as a hedge fund), a knowledgeable employee of the fund, which means an employee with at least 12 months’ experience working on the fund’s investment activities
  • Individuals with income of $200,000 in each of the last two years, or $300,000 in combination with a spouse or spousal equivalent such as a domestic partner
  • Individuals with a net worth more than $1 million, alone or with a spouse or spousal equivalent, not including primary residence
  • Individuals who hold any of these three designations in good standing:
    • Licensed General Securities Representative (Series 7)
    • Licensed Investment Adviser Representative (Series 65)
    • Licensed Private Securities Offerings Representative (Series 82)
  • Any firm where all owners are accredited investors (e.g., venture capital firms)
  • Any other entity with more than $5 million in investments that was not formed specifically to qualify as an accredited investor; the purpose of this category is to include entities that don’t neatly fit into any of the above categories, such as:
    • Native American tribes
    • Labor unions
    • Government bodies, including those of foreign governments
    • Investment funds created by government bodies
    • New types of business entities that may be introduced by new laws

An accredited investor that is not an individual—such as a business, governmental, or nonprofit entity—is sometimes called an institutional accredited investor (IAI).

Qualified Institutional Buyers

QIBs are a narrower group of large institutional investors. A QIB is a large institutional investor that owns at least $100 million worth of securities, not counting securities issued by its affiliates. For registered broker-dealers, the threshold is lower, just $10 million. A bank must also have a net worth of at least $25 million in order to be considered a QIB. 
 
If a firm has discretionary authority to invest securities owned by a QIB, those securities count toward whether the firm itself is considered a QIB. So if a broker-dealer has $9 million worth of securities in its own accounts, and holds $1 million worth of securities in a discretionary account belonging to a QIB, then the broker-dealer is itself a QIB.  

Common examples of QIBs include broker-dealers, insurance companies, investment companies, pension plans, and banks. However, any corporation, partnership, or LLC could qualify as a QIB. So can an IAI that owns at least $100 million in securities. Individuals can never be QIBs, regardless of their assets or financial sophistication.

Individuals can never be QIBs, regardless of their assets or financial sophistication.

Rule 144A allows QIBs to buy unregistered securities at any time, and freely trade these shares to other QIBs. In effect, QIBs can trade unregistered shares among themselves with almost the same ease as trading registered shares. Selling unregistered securities to anyone other than a QIB commonly requires a the seller to hold the securities for a period of up to 12 months. 

A QIB will virtually always meet the criteria to be an accredited investor, whereas an accredited investor may fall well short of QIB status.

Over time, other securities laws and regulations have made use of these two well-known categories. For example, in 2019 the SEC gave issuers more flexibility to test the waters with potential investors before deciding whether to go through with a public offering. When deciding which investors were sophisticated enough to receive test-the-waters communications, the SEC limited these communications to QIBs and institutional accredited investors. Additionally, references to institutional accredited investors have become more common, such as when the SEC revamped its rules around integration of offerings in March 2021.  
 
Know your QIBs from your accredited investors and be ready to pass your securities exam with Solomon Exam Prep.


For more helpful securities exam-related content, study tips, and industry updates, join the Solomon email list. Just click the button below:

Answering Suitability Questions on the FINRA Series 7

Suitability questions may appear daunting. But they don’t have to be – read the Solomon guide to answering suitability questions with ease. Continue reading

If you’re taking the FINRA Series 7 exam, you very possibly dread the term suitability. We understand that suitability questions may appear daunting. But to enhance your chances of passing the exam, you should have a good understanding of the concept and how it applies to certain test questions.

Suitability questions can be difficult because they often contain more than one answer choice that seems plausible. In short, they are more open-ended than other questions that appear on the exam. While this can make these questions tough, keep in mind that in each suitability question has one BEST answer given the information provided. This blog will help you select that that best answer choice.

First, what is a suitability question? The most basic type of suitability question presents a hypothetical investor and his profile and asks you which investment or investments is most suitable for him. Other suitability questions are about specific products. For instance, a question might ask you to choose the bond that would be most suitable for a high-income earner – usually a municipal bond. Finally, other types of suitability questions may provide an information about an investor and her profile and you will be asked which investments should be removed and/or added to her portfolio, or which proposed asset allocation is best.

So, what’s the best strategy for answering these questions?

1. Learn and memorize the characteristics of the investment products.

The most basic requirement for properly approaching any of these questions is to have a good understanding of the investment products mentioned in the question. Think about it this way: if you don’t know the characteristics a product, it’s difficult to know who should and shouldn’t buy it. For instance, if you don’t know the characteristics of a growth fund or a municipal bond it will be hard to assess which investors should own these products or avoid them in favor of other products. This means learning and memorizing the characteristics of the major investment products, such as stocks, bonds, funds, and options, is the first step to mastering suitability.

2. Categorize the investment goals of the investor in the question.

Assuming that you understand the products mentioned in a question, let’s look at what else you should consider when answering a suitability question. First, when reading a suitability question, focus on the financial goals attributed to the hypothetical investor presented in the question.

There are four major investing goals and strategies that you should keep in mind when doing this. First, there are capital preservation investors. These investors are interested in obtaining a minimum level of return while not putting their principal at any significant risk. Then there are the income investors. These want to receive a steady stream of payments in hopes of supplementing their income. Third, there are capital growth investors. These are long-term investors whose primary hope is seeing the value of their investments rise over time. Finally, there are the speculative investors. These investors are willing to take on more risk in the hopes of earning higher gains in a shorter amount of time. Placing an investor in one of these categories, or a blend of two of these categories, will help you figure out which investments are most suitable for the investor.

3. Analyze the profile of the Investor, looking for risk tolerance, time horizon and tax bracket.
Risk Tolerance:

Look for the investor’s risk tolerance. If an investor is not willing to take on much risk, only the most conservative investments are suitable for him. In contrast, an investor with a high risk tolerance is willing to own more volatile types of investments. Typically, conservative risk tolerance correlates with capital preservation investors, and sometimes income investors, while high risk tolerance correlates with speculative investors and many capital growth investors. Examples of conservative investments include U.S. Treasury securities, money market funds, and bank CDs. Examples of high-risk investments include penny stocks, options, junk bonds, and possibly growth stocks.

Time Horizon:

An investor’s time horizon is another factor you must consider. Is the investor hoping for long-term growth, or is he going to need to cash out of his investments in a relatively short amount of time? Sometimes a question will not present you with this exact information but instead will give an investor’s age. Questions that mention an investor who is in his 20s or 30s are indicating someone with a long time horizon. In contrast, questions that describe an investor who only has a few years until retirement are usually describing someone with a shorter time horizon. Scenarios that describe a couple who wants to buy a house or pay for college in the next year, will also have a short time horizon, and therefore, will require liquid investments.

So which investments are best for long- and short-term investors? An investor with a long time horizon is able to invest in products that are expected to grow over time, such as growth stocks, equity mutual funds and ETFs, or annuities. He is also more likely to take on riskier investments since he has more time to make up for any losses. On the other hand, a short-term investor should invest in less volatile securities or debt investments that mature in the near term, such as U.S. Treasuries and money market funds. An investor with a short time horizon is also less likely to take on a high level of risk than a long-term investor because a short-term investor does not have as much time to make up any losses.

Tax Bracket:

A final factor to consider when determining suitability is income level or tax bracket. An investor who makes a lot of money will typically have a higher federal income tax rate. This means the money he receives from his investments will be more heavily taxed than the money someone in a lower tax bracket. Additionally, for a high income investor, capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than interest income. Oftentimes, it is best to recommend investments with fewer tax implications for a high-income investor. Municipal bonds, whose interest payments are usually tax-free at the federal level and often also tax-free at the state level, are typically suitable investments for high-income investors. In contrast, because the interest rates for municipal bonds are often lower than the interest rates for corporate bonds, investors in lower tax brackets may be better off purchasing corporate bonds than municipal bonds. Additionally, stocks are often suitable for investors with higher tax rates because their gains are not taxed until the stocks are actually sold. At the same time, investments that pay regular interest, but do not come with tax advantages may not be suitable for high-income investors because they will have to pay taxes on this interest.

So now that you know what to look for in suitability-type questions, let’s look at a couple of them:  

QUESTION ONE:

Mary is an investor in her thirties. She makes $50,000 a year and is hoping to find an investment that will provide capital appreciation. At the same time, she would not mind supplementing her income by receiving regular payments from her investment. Which of the following would be most suitable for her?

    1. A municipal bond fund
    2. A growth and income fund
    3. A small-cap stock fund
    4. Penny stocks

This question tells you Mary’s investment goals and objectives. She’s looking for capital growth and secondarily income, so she’s a blend between a capital growth and income investor. Additionally, since she’s in her thirties, you can assume that she has a relatively long time horizon. Finally, her low income means she is not in a high tax bracket.

You know that Mary needs an investment option that provides the potential for both capital growth and income payments. Both penny stocks and small-cap stocks carry the potential for capital growth; however, neither of them typically offers income payments. That is because neither penny stocks nor small-cap stocks pay meaningful dividends. This eliminates choices C and D. A municipal bond fund would provide income because municipal bonds make semi-annual interest payments. However, outside of high-yield bonds, bonds in general don’t offer much in the way of capital growth. Also, since interest from municipal bonds is generally not taxed at the federal level, municipal bond interest payments are lower than corporate debt securities and thus are not the best debt investment option for an investor who is not in a high tax bracket. Given all of this information, you can eliminate choice A as well. Now let’s look at choice B. A growth and income fund contains stocks with `capital growth potential along with stocks that provide regular dividend payments. Also, growth stocks are also good for investors like Mary who have long time horizons. Looks like you’ve found the correct answer: Choice B makes the most sense. 

 

QUESTION TWO:

Alisha is 26 and has just received an MBA. She’s starting on a career as a sales manager at a large company and has a bright future. She has $15,000 to invest with your firm, and she tells you that she would like to see that principal appreciate as much as possible over the next two to three decades. She also says she has no problem taking on a high level of risk to help make that happen. Which of the following asset allocations would be most suitable for Alisha?

    1. 20% income fund, 20% municipal bond fund, 20% fixed annuities, 20% dividend-paying stocks, 10% non-traditional ETFs, 10% cash
    2. 20% bond mutual fund, 20% agency bonds, 10% money market funds, 15% bank CDs, 15% dividend-paying stocks, 10%, 10% cash
    3. 30% large-cap stocks, 20% equity index mutual fund, 20% U.S. Treasuries, 20% AAA-rated corporate bond funds, 10% FDIC-insured bank CDs
    4. 20% small-cap stocks, 20% medium-cap stocks, 20% growth fund, 15% high-yield bond funds, 15% balanced fund, 10% interval fund

Again, you’re presented with the investor’s investment goals and objectives in the question prompt. In stating that Alisha hopes to see her principal appreciate as much as possible over a long period of time, the question is telling you that she is a capital growth investor. It also is implying that she has a long time horizon. Additionally, it states that she is willing to take on a high level of risk in meeting her investing goals, which means she’s an investor with a high risk tolerance.

Given each of these factors, you need to look for the portfolio that makes the most sense for her. That portfolio should contain more equity investments than debt investments. That is because in general equities provide better capital growth potential than bonds. Additionally, you should look for investments that have higher growth potential and which carry more than a moderate level of risk. Remember that higher risk often equals higher potential reward, and Alisha is willing to take this gamble.

So let’s look at each of the possible answer choices.

Alisha isn’t really interested in earning income as part of her strategy and wants the potential for large gains. That means choice A, which is heavy on income and low-return investments, should be discarded. The same is true of choice B. Choice C is a bit tougher to eliminate. That’s because this hypothetical portfolio does include some growth-type investments, such as large-cap stocks and equity index mutual funds. However, these are both equity investments that are known to provide a more moderate return potential than Alisha is seeking. Additionally, choice C contains a relatively high percentage of fixed and low-return investments, and thus it doesn’t look like a great answer choice. That leaves choice D. The hypothetical portfolio presented in that answer choice is heavy on aggressive growth-type stocks and funds that carry a high level of risk, such as small-cap stocks, mid-cap socks, and growth funds. Additionally, a high-yield bond fund is a type of debt security that comes with capital growth potential. And it includes 10% allocation to an interval fund, a type of fund that invests in non-publicly traded securities that are illiquid and may be less correlated to the other publicly trade securities in this portfolio. Thus, choice D is the best choice and the correct answer. 

Suitability questions are definitely not easy. But if you consider all of the relevant aspects presented in the answer choices and have a solid understanding of different types of investments, they are something you can master. And master them you must if you want to pass the Series 7 or the Series 6 exam.

For more helpful securities exam-related content, study tips, and industry updates, join the Solomon email list. Just click the button below:

Solomon Exam Prep Offers Powerful New AI Feature: Remediation Reporting

Learn about the Solomon Remediation Report, a new analytical feature designed to help students pass their securities licensing exams the first time. Continue reading

Solomon Exam Prep is delighted to announce an advanced analytical feature called a Remediation Report. The Solomon system analyzes a student’s five most recent practice exams and determines whether a student is ready to take his or her exam. If Solomon AI determines that a student is not ready to sit for their exam, then it creates an individual report with personalized guidance on how to remediate and prepare to pass. This custom Remediation Report is sent to the Solomon student’s email inbox.

The Solomon Remediation Report is connected to the Solomon Pass Probability tool, the industry-leading measure of a security exam prep student’s readiness to pass an exam. Solomon Pass Probability is based on thousands of student data points. Once a Solomon student has taken at least five practice exams, the Solomon Pass Probability feature is activated, and the Pass Probability metric is available in the student’s dashboard. The Solomon Remediation Report provides an additional level of customized study support by helping students focus their efforts and remediate before they sit for their exam.

Solomon Pass Probability and Remediation Reports are currently available for the following exams: SIE, Series 6, Series 7, Series 63, Series 65, Series 66, Series 79, and Series 82.

To learn about all the features of the Solomon Exam Prep learning system, watch the video overview.

Curious about the Solomon Learning System? Watch the video overview!

Watch the latest Solomon Exam Prep video for a complete look at the Solomon learning system and what it offers students and firms. Continue reading

Solomon Exam Prep has helped thousands of financial professionals pass their FINRA, NASAA, MSRB, and NFA licensing exams. Watch the video for a complete look at the Solomon learning system and what it offers students and firms.

To explore Solomon Exam Prep study materials for 21 different securities licensing exams, including the SIE and the Series 3, 6, 7, 14, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 63, 65, 66, 79, 82, and 99, visit the Solomon website.

Simplifying After-Tax and Tax-Equivalent Yields

For many when choosing bonds the most important factor is the tax implications. Knowing the after-tax yield and tax-equivalent yield calculations is critical. Continue reading

Bonds can be nice, reliable investments. Pay some money to an issuing company or municipality, receive interest payments twice a year, and then get all of your original investment back sometime down the road. Sounds like a plan.

But which bonds are best for a specific investor? There are many factors for bond investors to consider when choosing which bond to buy, but for many the most important is the tax implications of investing in one bond instead of another. This concern is most prominent when an investor compares a corporate bond to a municipal bond. For reference, a corporate bond is one issued by a corporation or business, while a municipal bond is one issued by a state, city, or municipal agency.

Comparing the tax implications of these bonds is important because the interest payments that investors receive from municipal bonds are typically not taxed at the federal level. Conversely, interest payments on all corporate bonds are subject to federal taxation. This means that someone in the 32% tax bracket will have to give Uncle Sam 32% of his interest received from a corporate bond, while he will not give up any of his interest received from a municipal bond. Additionally, an investor does not pay state taxes on municipal bond interest if the bond is issued in the state in which the investor lives. Corporate bond interest, on the other hand, is always subject to state tax.

  • interest payments taxed federally
  • interest payments subject to state tax
  • interest payments not federally taxed
  • interest payments not taxed by state if issued in state local to investor

For these reasons, when comparing a corporate bond to a municipal bond, understanding the after-tax yield and the tax-equivalent or corporate-equivalent yield is essential. This is true both for investors and for those who will be taking many of the FINRA, NASAA, and MSRB exams. So let’s look at how to calculate those yields.

After-Tax Yield

First the after-tax yield. The after-tax yield tells you the amount of a corporate bond’s annual interest payment that an investor will take home after accounting for taxes he will be assessed on that interest. Once that amount is known, the investor can compare it to the yield he would receive from a specific municipal bond and see which potential investment would put more money in his pocket. When calculating the after-tax yield, start with the annual interest percentage (a.k.a. coupon percentage) of the corporate bond, which represents the percent of the bond’s par value that an investor receives each year in interest. For instance, a corporate bond that has a $1,000 par value and an interest rate of 8% will pay an investor $80 dollars in annual interest ($1,000 x 0.08 = $80). You then multiply the coupon percentage by 1 minus the taxes an investor will pay on the corporate bond that he will not pay on the municipal bond that he is considering.

This is where it sometimes gets tricky. What taxes will an investor not pay when investing in a municipal bond that he will pay when investing in a corporate bond? Remember that for just about all municipal bonds, investors do not pay federal tax on interest received.

The formula for after tax yield is:

After-tax yield = Corporate Bond Annual Interest Rate x
( 1 – Taxes Investor Does Not Pay By Investing in Municipal Bond)

On the other hand, an investor always pays federal taxes on interest received from a corporate bond. Additionally, an investor does not pay state taxes on interest payments from a municipal bond issued in the state in which the investor lives.

On the other hand, an investor always pays state taxes on interest received from corporate bonds. So if you see an exam question in which you need to calculate the after-tax yield of a corporate bond to compare it the yield on a municipal bond, you will always subtract the investor’s federal income tax rate from 1 in the equation. You will also subtract the investor’s state tax rate from 1 if the municipal bond is issued in the investor’s state of residence.

Seems simple, right? Here’s a question to provide context:

Marilyn is a resident of Kentucky. She is considering a bond issued by XYZ Corporation. The bond comes with a 7% annual interest rate. Marilyn is also interested in purchasing municipal bonds issued in Ohio. If Marilyn has a federal tax rate of 28% and Kentucky’s state tax rate is 4%, what is the after-tax yield on XYZ’s bond?

To answer this question, begin with the interest rate on the XYZ bond, which is 7%. Then subtract from 1 the taxes Marilyn will not pay if she invests in the municipal bond in question. She will not pay federal taxes on the municipal bond interest, so you would subtract 28%, or .28. However, because Marilyn is a resident of Kentucky and the municipal bonds she is considering are issued in Ohio, she will pay state taxes on the bond. That means you would not subtract her state tax rate (0.04) from 1. After subtracting .28 from 1 to get 0.72, you multiply that amount by the 7% coupon payment. Doing so gives you a value of 5.04 (7 x 0.72 = 5.04%). This means that the interest amount she would take home from the XYZ bond would be equivalent to what she would receive from a municipal bond issued in Ohio that has a 5.04% interest payment. If she can get a bond issued in Ohio that has a higher interest payment than 5.04%, she would take home more money in annual interest payments than she would from the XYZ bond.

Tax-Equivalent Yield

The second approach an investor can take to compare how a potential bond investment will be affected by taxation is to calculate the tax-equivalent yield (TEY). This calculation is also known as the corporate-equivalent yield (CEY). The TEY/CEY measures the yield that a corporate bond will have to pay to be equivalent to a given municipal bond after accounting for taxes due. To calculate this yield, you take the annual interest of the given municipal bond and divide it by 1 minus the taxes the investor will not pay if she invests in the municipal bond that she would pay if she invested in a corporate bond.

Here’s the formula for tax-equivalent yield:

Tax-equivalent yield = Municipal Bond Annual Interest Rate /
(1 – Taxes Investor Does Not Pay By Investing in Municipal Bond)

When determining what tax rates to subtract from 1 in the denominator, the same principal as described above applies. That is, the investor will not have to pay federal tax on the municipal bond, so her federal rate is always subtracted from 1. The investor will also not have to pay state tax on the bond if it is issued in the state in which she lives. If that is the case, the investor’s state tax rate should also be subtracted from 1. However, if the investor lives in a different state than the state in which the bond is issued, she will have to pay state taxes on the interest payments. In that case, her state tax rate would not be subtracted from 1.

Here’s another question to provide context.

Franz, a resident of Michigan, has purchased a Michigan municipal bond that pays 4% annual interest. If his federal tax bracket is 30% and the Michigan state tax rate is 4%, what interest rate would he need to receive on a corporate bond to have a comparable rate after accounting for taxes owed?

To answer this question, begin with the interest rate on the Michigan municipal bond, which is 4%. Then subtract from 1 the taxes that Franz will not pay on that bond that he would pay if he invested in a corporate bond. He wouldn’t pay federal taxes on the municipal bond interest, so you would subtract 0.30 from 1. Additionally, since the bond is issued in Michigan and he is a Michigan resident, Franz will not pay state taxes on the bond. So you subtract Michigan’s state tax rate of 4%, or 0.04, from 1 as well. After subtracting 0.30 and 0.04 from 1 to get 0.66, you divide that number into the 4% municipal bond annual interest. Doing so gives a value of 6.06 (4 / 0.66 = 6.06). This means Franz would need to find a corporate bond that pays 6.06% in annual interest to match the amount of interest he will take home annually from the Michigan municipal bond after accounting for taxes.

Many people are confused by the concepts of the after-tax and tax-equivalent yields. But you don’t have to be one of them. Just follow this simple approach and any questions you see on this topic will not be overly taxing.

Mastering these equations will help you succeed in passing the Series 6, Series 7, Series 50, Series 52, Series 65, Series 66, and Series 82.

Business icons © MacroOne. Bigstockphoto.com

Broker-Dealer vs. Investment Adviser: What’s the Difference?

Do your customers know the difference between an IA and BD? Do you know the importance of this distinction and how it may affect your registration status? Continue reading

Do your customers know the difference between an investment adviser and broker-dealer? Do you know the importance of this distinction and how it may affect your registration status? 

Investment Adviser or Broker-Dealer at work.

For many retail customers, the difference between an investment adviser (IA) and a broker-dealer (BD) may not seem important. A customer may have received an investment recommendation from a BD, or owned securities through an IA account. However, which kind of firm you work for is important for knowing which services you may provide, how you may provide them, and which qualification exams you must pass.

Investment Advisers

Investment advisers are usually firms, though they can be an individual operating as a sole proprietor, whose primary business is providing investment advice, and who are paid for the advice itself. Investment adviser representatives (IARs) are individuals who work for IAs and advise the IA’s clients on the IA’s behalf. IAs and IARs are not “stockbrokers” and cannot directly buy or sell securities for their customers. While many have IA accounts through which they own stocks, mutual funds, and other securities, in fact these are accounts an IA opens on the customer’s behalf with a BD. 

Broker-Dealers

Broker-dealers are usually firms, though they can be an individual operating as a sole proprietor, that execute securities transactions for customers. An individual who is employed by a BD to handle customer accounts is called an “agent of a broker-dealer” on some exams, or a “registered representative” (RR) on others. BDs can offer investment advice incidental to their work with customers but cannot be compensated for the advice itself. If a BD acts as an intermediary between a buyer and a seller, then the BD can charge a commission on the trade. If a BDs buys or sells from its own inventory, then the BD makes money by charging a markup on securities that they sell and taking a markdown on securities that they buy.

So, if you’re an IAR, you… 
  • …can provide advice
  • …can be paid for that advice
  • …cannot execute trades
  • …cannot charge commissions or markups on your customer’s trades
If you’re a BD agent (also known as a registered representative), you…
  • …can provide advice
  • …cannot be paid for that advice
  • …can execute trades
  • …can charge commissions or markups on your customer’s trades

Testing and Licensing

Finally, many firms, especially larger ones, maintain both IA and BD registrations. When working for these “dual registrants,” you may be asked to qualify as an IAR, BD agent, or both, depending on your role.

In fact, an increase in dual registrations is one of the note-worthy trends Solomon discusses in our recent white paper, “Optimizing On-Boarding in 2021: 7 Key Trends for the Securities Industry,” available for download from this blog post

To become an agent of a broker-dealer (registered representative), you must pass the Securities Industry Essentials (SIE), and a “top-off” exam such as the Series 6 or Series 7, and for state registration usually the Series 63. To become an IAR, you must pass either the Series 65, or, if you work for a dually registered firm, the SIE, the Series 7, and the Series 66.