October is known for tricks or treats (here at the Fool, we have Foolish Tricks and Treats, which we unleash right before Halloween). If you think you've been tricked in the market, treat yourself to reduced mediation prices this month.
When we talk about trades going poorly, we think of those great investment ideas that stoked hopes of lengthy stays at the Four Seasons
Sometimes the investment experience may be worse than that.
The problem may be your experience with your broker. That doesn't mean that your broker should take the blame for a stock heading south: That's a normal risk of investing, and if you don't accept that, you shouldn't be in the market. However, if you truly believe you are the victim of practices such as churning, unauthorized trading, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, unsuitability, or misrepresentation, you may have a legitimate gripe.
Most likely, your original contract with your brokerage firm says that any disputes will be settled in accordance with NASD rules. The National Association of Securities Dealers operates as a self-regulated organization subject to oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission. NASD Dispute Resolution runs the industry's largest resolution forum, handling about 7,000 arbitration cases and more than 1,000 mediations annually.
Investors generally have two choices to try to resolve their grievances: arbitration or mediation. With arbitration, disputes are resolved by neutral parties. The process has been used for a long time in the securities industry as a quicker and less costly alternative to court proceedings.
Arbitration hearings may resemble litigation because attorneys typically represent the parties, the discovery process can be time-consuming, and witnesses testify under oath. In fact, the process is less formal, although the awards are final and binding, and usually not subject to court review. Much has been written about whether arbitration is unfairly skewed toward the industry, but we'll leave that topic for another day's discussion.
Mediation is an even less expensive and more informal process than arbitration. Unlike arbitration, it's non-binding and can offer greater possibilities for creative solutions.
Typically, attorneys are not involved and a mediator meets directly with both parties and hears their complaints. The mediator may choose to later meet with each party separately, and the nature of the process often depends on the individual mediator's style. If an agreement is reached, a written agreement is drawn up and signed by both parties, and the case is closed. Even if a solution cannot be found, issues are often narrowed, which may lead to a quicker arbitration. Mediation takes place separately from a pending arbitration, so a scheduled arbitration case is not delayed unless all parties agree to postpone the arbitration pending the mediation.
Through the end of September, 931 mediation cases had been closed this year with the NASD, averaging a 104-day turnaround time and an 83% settlement rate. That's pretty impressive.
October offers even more benefits because the NASD has designated it Mediation Settlement Month. Both NASD filing fees and mediator charges have been reduced. For more information, see the NASD's announcement on its website.
Fool contributor S.J. Caplan is handing out only candy this month, not legal advice. She serves as an arbitrator for the NASD and the New York Stock Exchange, and does not own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a non-disputable disclosure policy.