update: my husband doesn’t want to comply with my company’s trading policy

Remember the letter from the person whose husband didn’t want to comply with her new job’s stock trading policy? Here’s the update.

I was overwhelmed when I saw the comments: so many different perspectives, some of which were pretty harsh! It was very useful to read.

I should clarify that when I held a conversation on the phone “in front of the finance team,” in fact the office was pretty dead as almost everyone had already left on holidays, although my manager was still there. I really did have to go back to my desk, after initially starting the conversation somewhere quiet, to be able to directly point to the “exemption” my husband thought he had found. But it was ill-judged nonetheless to turn that into a CYA, as the commentariat pointed out.

Several commenters speculated that my company was listed on the NYSE, and it turned out they were spot on! Neither my location nor global headquarters are in the USA but it’s on the NYSE. I think that accounts for the requirements. Especially since there are weird questions like: “have you committed U.S. postal fraud?” Um, no.

The deadline was extended for a fortnight because headquarters saw sense and realized almost everyone was on holiday. This gave me breathing space. One problem had been that my password didn’t work for the website and so I couldn’t even demonstrate what the process looked like until after New Year’s. My husband eventually agreed to sign up, and a friendly person at headquarters answered queries that we had, so we got through the signup process without too much stress. My husband hasn’t actually made a trade since then, but hopefully when that does happen he won’t freak out about having to ask permission first.

Yes, we have marital problems, but at least this situation is unlikely to recur unless I work for another company listed on the NYSE.

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. Viola Dace*

    These requirements are very common in finance (at least in the U.S.). Where I work, any personal brokerage or retirement accounts my husband and I have must be custodied where my company designates. My husband’s employer sponsored retirement accounts must be monitored by our compliance department. I am able to trade in our accounts but that’s because the institution is monitored by compliance. It doesn’t bother me that much, but it’s kind of weird to know my boss can look at my financial picture at any time.

    1. Amber T*

      Your accounts have to be custodied where your company says? That seems extreme. I work in compliance in a finance firm and assist in “monitoring employees actions.” Really, though, we have a system that does it all for us. I know account numbers, but can’t see the amount of money or what is held (with very few exceptions). I said it on the original thread, but all of these regulations are fairly new, so once technology catches up it’ll hopefully be less of an issue.

      1. Viola Dace*

        It’s pretty common. For instance employees at some of the big consulting firms can only have personal brokerage accounts at a designated institution.

      2. Katelyn*

        I worked in finance, and one of our in-house lawyers actually fought that rule and won (internally) with the argument that if his broker did something to really screw him over he’d want to sue without endangering his own employment.

  2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    I’ve been thinking about you, OP, and hoping that you’d found a way to get this resolved. Money is touchy for a lot of people, and stock market activity seems to be even more so. Hopefully when your husband does go to trade, it will go smoothly.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Same. It sounds like things evened out—I’m hoping because you both had time to talk to each other instead of having to deal with the looming deadline. I’m wishing you luck, OP, and lots more dialogue with your spouse, going forward.

  3. LBK*

    Oo, I’d forgotten about this letter. I’m glad it seems to have more or less worked out; it sounds like once he’d gotten over the initial indignation about the request and you were able to show him what it actually required, it turned out to not be so bad.

  4. De Minimis*

    When I worked in public accounting the main thing that might have caused me an issue was debt….I had a large balance on a credit card for a bank that was a client. That meant I wasn’t considered independent for that client so I couldn’t work on engagements with them [though they weren’t based in my region so it wasn’t an issue.]

  5. Sharon*

    Aside from the point of the update but whenever I see questions like “have you committed fraud?” I have to suppress a giggle. Like, does anybody ever say yes?!

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Every year some British people respond to that Q when arriving in the USA in a typical British sarcastic style… and get deported! I can see why the first response might be to laugh and joke, if it came as a surprise, because it is ridiculous!

      1. De Minimis*

        I applied to a job at a university and they asked if I’d ever advocated the overthrow of the US government.

        1. Evan Þ*

          If it’s the same question as on a lot of other forms, weren’t they specifically asking if you’d advocated the violent overthrow of the US government?

          “Why, yes, I’d very much like for it to be overthrown – peacefully, in the next election!”

          1. Kyrielle*

            That’s not overthrow of the *government* though. The structure of the government and its rules remain, except as lawfully changed, the same.

            That’s just replacement of the specific functionaries occupying those positions.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yeah… usually there’s no “violent” qualification because participating in elections, or voting out whoever is currently in power, isn’t really “overthrowing” the government.

            2. Evan Þ*

              But in Britain, IIRC, “the government” means the people currently sitting in the Cabinet.

              And for that matter, I know a couple people who do want the whole structure peacefully overthrown…

              1. PM Jesper Berg*

                That’s a difference between parliamentary and presidential systems. In parliamentary systems, “government” is a term of art, as you point out. But in presidential systems, it’s more generic.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I think we (Americans) tend to distinguish by referring to the president’s cabinet as “the administration,” while “the government” tends to refer to our system of government at the state or federal/national level. “Overthrow the government” is often a stand-in phrase for “committed acts of treason or supported individuals/groups who have committed or seek to commit acts of treason” (whether that elision is fair is another conversation).

                But I understand that that’s not the case in the UK; I confess I always think of “the political party [or coalition] in power in the HoC” when I hear Brits refer to “the Government.”

          2. De Minimis*

            You know, I can’t remember if it specified “violent” or not! Now I want to go start applying to something just to find out.

            I’ve applied to several universities over the years and have never been asked that, violent overthrow or otherwise.

            1. Cordelia Naismith*

              The university I work for asked that on the application! It did specify violent overthrow. Although they phrased it as being a member of any organization that advocates for the overthrow of the government by force or violence.

              1. saf*

                The federal question used to be, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member or supporter of an organization that advocates the violent overthrow of the United States Government?”

            2. Nephron*

              Was it a public institution versus private? I could imagine a public university having odd rules. Or in a specific state?

            1. Julia*

              US TV makes ir seem like people can get into college (even med school!) under false names. I’m assuming that’s actually impossible, right?

              1. Gaia*

                It *can* happen but it would take a pretty significant amount of fraud to do so. You’d have to essentially commit identity theft and hope no one tries to verify your details. And when it came out you wouldn’t simply lose your job, you’d likely go to jail.

        2. BananaPants*

          I feel like that was on an early episode of The West Wing – maybe the one where they hired Charlie as Bartlet’s body man?

      2. Parenthetically*

        Our immigration attorney has talked about folks who have to say yes to “have you ever been a member of a terrorist organization” — former child soldiers from Sudan, for example. It doesn’t necessarily rule you out, but you have to be honest from the start for sure. Tough stuff!

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          Yeah, it might be a silly sounding question to ask regular folks within the US, but there are all kinds of situations in the world– a lot of with involve family connections, sparse opportunities, trafficking, whathaveyou.

    1. LBK*

      My guess is that it’s for liability reasons, so the company can say they aren’t knowingly employing anyone with a history of or ties to fraud. It gives them plausible deniability if there is eventually an incident that gets investigated by a regulatory body.

      1. SophieChotek*

        Yes that makes sense.

        And for the oral questions I’ve been told the person asking the question is supposed to know how to identify micro-expressions that would suggest the person being asked is lying/not entirely truthful. Presumably it actually works in real life and not just on TV (i.e. “Lie to Me” and “Bull”).

        Probably also for liability purposes at TSA screening, etc. too.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I once heard that even people trained to detect lying are only accurate about 50% of the time (so basically a coin flip would do the same job), but I don’t know if that’s still true, if it ever was. I know that some of the supposed signs people once believed were indications of lying don’t actually mean that the person is lying.

    2. Beatrice*

      I heard once it’s so that the government can go after people for perjury for lying on a federal form and that it’s often a useful stepping stone to investigate someone who they believe to be doing much more illegal stuff.

      1. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

        It also sets a standard. If something does come up later, they can go back to the form and demonstrate that the answer was “no”, but if the illegal activity was happening, it is seen as willful intent to defraud or mislead. That’s a much larger problem than “Oops, I made a mistake!”

      2. LBK*

        Also true – it’s not necessarily any better to lie because some of those disclosures are sworn affidavits. I have to fill out a conflict of interest form every year that carries penalty of perjury.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      There are a bunch of legal contexts where lying and saying “no” will get you in more trouble than saying “yes”!

    4. Gaia*

      I worked for a company that screened clients with a set of questions to queue them into the group that could best help them. I’m not even kidding that one of the questions was “have you or a member of your team experienced homicidal tendencies”

      I wondered if anyone marked yes and which group got those clients…

      1. Gaia*

        Ahh I left out part of the first paragraph

        It was supposed to be a question that asked about homicidal ideations, but someone who wrote it didn’t know the difference between ideations and tendencies…

        1. BookishMiss*

          If I’d stayed with Plan A, I wanted to do my dissertation on homicidal ideation. Fascinating stuff.

  6. Abby*

    My husband works for a privately held company that has occasionally bought publicly held companies. When my son graduated my parents wanted to buy him a gift of stock so that he could see it (hopefully) grow. My husband had to clear the gift with his company. It was Nike and my husband’s company is hugely unlikely to ever buy that stock, but he still had to get it cleared. It seems onerous but since we don’t want to get in legal trouble we were happy to comply. It did frustrate my parents but they had never worked for a company that had a rule like that.

    1. Amber T*

      I’m glad your parents let you know in advance! It’s the unexpected gifts that are a pain. We get employees every once in a while come in freaking out, because someone bought them/their kids/someone in their household a securities gift and OH MY GOD THEY’RE GOING TO GET ARRESTED. So far it’s always been fine, no one has received a stock they’re not supposed to buy/sell, but even if they did I don’t think it’s a *huge* deal (as long as they certify it was a gift and they had no say in it, they’re probably fine).

      From what I understand (and I could be wrong if it varies by industry), there’s nothing wrong with already owning a stock if your employer decides to buy the company. You’re just not allowed to buy or sell as long as the company holds it. So if you already own Nike shares and your company buys it, you’re fine, but you won’t be allowed to sell it (or buy more) while your company owns it, presumably because your company has insider information that could affect the stock price and you might know it, so you could time your buys/sells along with said information.

      1. Graciosa*

        I would think that a well run company would have rules for at least divesting your existing holdings with appropriate notice. Even C-suite employees are allowed to trade their company’s stock – it just has to be done in a specific way (and with any required disclosures).

        Those disclosures are the source of information about what “insiders” are doing with their holdings if you evaluate that sort of thing –

  7. Marisol*

    Thanks for the update OP, and I’m sorry that some of the comments were harsh for you. I think written advice has a tendency to come off as more blunt than it would be if given in person, and moreover, since this is a blog, it’s easy to get caught up in a discussion and forget that there is a real person on the other end who will be reading the comments. I am impressed that you chose to set your feelings aside and consider the feedback–it takes character to do that.

    1. Mabel*

      I agree with Marisol, and I’m glad this situation seems to be resolved. But when I got to the end of the update, I felt defensive on OP’s behalf – I’m sorry they felt that they had to say that there are issues in their marriage. That’s really none of our business.

  8. Jeanne*

    Corporate needs to be smarter about springing things on people that have major importance and then expecting you to jump by yesterday. Not just your company but all companies. Sure, disclose all my finances in one day. That would be easy for me personally because I have very little but for others it’s complicated. General advice: Remember these are humans working for you.

    1. Amber T*

      I thought about this too – it seems to be more of an industry standard and shifts within in the industry, so if you’re already in said industry, you would know it’s coming, but if you’re new, then… oh well! I remember when I started at my firm and they asked for a list of my brokerage accounts and any securities that might be in my name. I don’t think I even knew what a brokerage account really was, let alone have one (second job out of college, all I had was a savings account and a massive student loan). I don’t recall being told through my interview process or around when I accepted that I had to disclose that information, it was kind of just sprung on me on my second or third day of work. I see it with new employees too – if they’re coming from a financial institution it’s par for the course, but some of our newer admins (who didn’t come from a financial institution) were completely thrown. I’m really not sure how to mitigate that, to be honest.

      1. Jeanne*

        Hardly anyone starts right away. Once they accept the offer and have a start date, you could send them information about these policies, what you will need from them, and a number to call with questions. It’s at least a little warning.

  9. LQ*

    I remember the initial comments of this being really eye opening. I’ll admit I was a little taken aback at the requirements too, but reading though all the comments and the why it is required made a lot of sense. It was just something I hadn’t been exposed too.

    OP I’m really glad it worked out well for you and that you got through all the comments.

  10. De Minimis*

    When I did the Public Trust background check I don’t remember it being all that invasive, I think all they cared about was residence and employment history. You did have to provide references for every place and job, which could get a little difficult if you’d moved or changed jobs a lot. You couldn’t use family.

    Otherwise I don’t remember it asking anything beyond what would be on a regular job application–it just required more elaboration and went back quite a ways. When I finally met with the investigator, he said what generally got people in trouble was residency abroad. He said military people would often leave stuff out because they’d forget about places they were stationed years ago, and that slowed things up, especially if it was outside the US. I’ve also heard of people with family outside the US have things slowed down a lot. I don’t remember them being that interested in anything financial, but Public Trust is the lowest level of clearance.

  11. AthenaC*

    I’m really glad this worked out for you!

    I know it must have seemed crazy to people who don’t work in a certain handful of industries, but I’m glad your husband finally came around.

  12. One of the Sarahs*

    Glad it worked out ok – good luck with the other issues, and hope things get better all over.

  13. Dedicated Batchelor*

    Hate to say it, but this whole episode is a textbook case of why successful women in finance are often unmarried.

    Some financial services firms have a blanket prohibition on trading, rather than the (more reasonable) watchlist approach this company takes. The reality is that I would be unwilling to abide by this situation if I were the spouse. Marriages *do* break up, and spouses need to make sure they have a nest egg.

      1. Dedicated Batchelor*

        That’s a great question, Green, and worthy of a long discussion. Briefly, I’d speculate that gender stereotypes have a lot to do with it; women who were content to be “stay-at-home-wives” abounded, and they were making decisions about how the household invested. I do suspect that as the glass ceiling gradually gets broken, we may see a tendency for male corporate leaders to be unmarried, too.

  14. anonanna*

    I’m glad things have worked out OP. Have to say, I’m surprised your husband freaked out. If he knows enough to trade individual stocks (instead of investing in a managed fund) he should know enough to not be surprised about the impact on his activities of you working for company that’s listed on NYSE , and be able to deal with the situation calmly.

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