Bonds

MSRB offers remote advisor test in response to COVID exposure concerns

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board will let municipal advisor principals take the Series 54 qualification exam online and file for an extension of the deadline to pass that test after advisors said they were unsettled by news of COVID-19 exposure at a testing site.

The MSRB posted a notice Wednesday afternoon saying it is working with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the MSRB’s test administrator, to develop an online testing request process for those who want to take the Series 54 exam remotely.

Passing the exam is a requirement for anyone designated as a principal at a registered muni advisory firm, and all firms must have a designated principal. The current deadline to pass the exam is Nov. 12.

NAMA executive director Susan Gaffney said one of her organization’s members received notice of a COVID-19 exposure at a test administration site.

“The MSRB will announce the new compliance date for the Series 54 exam in an MSRB notice published on MSRB.org in the next 30 days,” the MSRB said.

The MSRB announcement came some two weeks after it received a letter from National Association of Municipal Advisors Executive Director Susan Gaffney sharing what Gaffney called “unsettling news” from a NAMA member who took the exam at a testing center. Prometric is a testing administration company headquartered in Baltimore.

“One of our members sat for an exam at a Prometrics site and received notice two days later that he/she had been exposed to COVID at the testing center,” Gaffney wrote. Prometric is a testing administration company headquartered in Baltimore.

“The CDC has acknowledged increased occurrences of COVID across the country, and it is widely understood that even vaccinated people are contracting the Delta variant of COVID,” Gaffney wrote. “Many municipal advisors continue to work remotely and avoid public areas, not unlike the broker-dealers we work with and the clients we serve.”

The MSRB has already extended the compliance date multiple times. The Series 54 exam became available in November 2019, and the initial one-year grace period given to was due to sunset on Nov.12, 2020. In light of the pandemic the MSRB extended the compliance date to March 31, 2021, and a subsequent extension was provided until Nov. 12, 2021.

Bri Joiner, the MSRB’s director of Regulatory Compliance, said the looming compliance date promoted the MSRB to act now to provide the remote option and another short extension to the compliance date.

“In the past NAMA has asked that the Series 50 and Series 54 exams be offered remotely, as is the case for other FINRA exams, and we were told by MSRB staff that remote testing for the MA exams was not possible,” Gaffney’s letter continued, urging the MSRB to take the very steps it announced Wednesday.

Gail Marshall, MSRB’s chief regulatory officer, said MSRB had been notified by NAMA and that the MSRB has always been clear it supports contact tracing for exam takers.

The Series 54 exam consists of 100 scored questions and an additional 10 unscored pretest questions. Candidates are given three hours to complete the exam, and a passing score is 70%. Unlike the Series 50 muni advisor representative examination that focuses primarily on understanding municipal finance and municipal debt products, the Series 54 test is focused on knowledge of the regulatory regime and supervising municipal advisors.

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