Retirement SavingsLast year, the Obama administration introduced the Fiduciary rule that requires financial advisers to always act in the best interest of their clients when handling their retirement savings. It was expected to be a big industry shakeup, making financial advice more reliable, compensating advisers with a flat-fee model and reasonable compensations, incentivizing them to really act on their client’s best interest as opposed to their own personal gain. The DOL’s Fiduciary rule was aimed at stopping the $17 billion a year that gets wasted in exorbitant fees.

The banks and Wall Street have continued to oppose this rule on grounds of lengthy paperwork and compliance expenses. Financial firms were anxious that once the rule is in effect, they will not be able to make as much money. Republicans have expressed that repealing this rule is on their agenda. Now with Trump as the President elect, and Republicans holding majority in both Houses, there is a fear that legislative action will be taken to kill the much-needed Fiduciary rule.

Joseph Peiffer of PIABA (Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association) was quoted in the InvestmentNews, “If he (Trump) wins, no one knows what the hell is going to happen.” Now that Trump has won, the fate of the rule hangs in the balance. There are others who think that the rule is here to stay, inspite of the unpredictability.

Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) charged broker Marc Broidy and his firm, Broidy Wealth Advisors, for $1.4 million worth of ill-gotten gains, as per reports. It is believed that the firm profited off their client’s trusts by intentionally over-charging accounts.

It has also been reported that Marc Broidy allegedly used this money to finance his personal lifestyle, using the money to pay off mortgages, leases on his Mercedez-Benz cars and overseas trips. According to the SEC complaint, Broidy has misappropriated $865,000 from client’s accounts and billed $643,000 in excessive fees. He also reportedly misled clients by not disclosing his affiliation to certain private companies where investments were made. Briody Wealth Advisors had $25 million in assets under its management until this year, but the recent ADV from February 2016 reported $13.6 million.

According to an SEC risk advisory Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, they have increased their scrutiny of registered representatives. In Mr. Broidy’s case he “fell well short of his fiduciary obligations as an investment adviser”, according to SEC’s regional director.

The securities and investment fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have purchased Variable Universal Life Insurance (VUL) policies.

According to Investopedia, VUL policies combine a death benefit with investment feature.  The investment feature generally includes sub-accounts, as with other variable annuities, that invest in stocks and bonds, or mutual funds that have exposure to stocks and bonds.  While a VUL investment feature may offer an opportunity to gain an increased rate of return by investing in securities, it generally comes with higher management fees and commissions.  As a result, these commissions and fees must be weighed against the risk of loss in the securities purchased.  These risks must be disclosed to the investor prior to investment.

Issues surrounding VUL policies are not new.  A U.S. News and World Report article from 2011 highlighted that these types of policies generally come with higher fees, fewer investment options and sometimes surrender policies.

As reported recently, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has commenced an investigation into the cross-selling activities of several broker dealers in the wake of the Wells Fargo fallout. FINRA’s objective has reportedly been to determine just how much cross selling is taking place (including promotion of products such as credit cards and loans) and what incentives are being provided to employees to engage in the conduct.

FINRA-new-300x150A FINRA spokesperson was quoted as saying, ““In light of recent issues related to cross-selling, FINRA is focused on the nature and scope of broker-dealers’ cross-selling activities and whether they are adequately supervising these activities by their registered employees to protect investors.”

Supervision at broker dealers is a very critical aspect of customer service. It is important that brokers and their firms are only promoting and selling products to customers that are appropriate for that customer and in the customer’s best interest. As has been shown by the Wells Fargo disaster, cross-selling incentive programs can compromise that goal by creating a conflict of interest.

Alliance for Investor Education and the PIABA Foundation is Hosting an Educational Conference about Securing Investors’ Financial Futures


National Town Hall
The National Investor Town Hall Meeting is a day-long series of presentations, free to the public, aimed at educating investors about the risks and rewards of financial investing. It will be held on October 29, 2016 at the Rancho Bernado Inn in San Diego, California. Many respected industry professionals, including Ms. Malecki and federal and state regulators will participate in four sessions to help attendees understand risk tolerance, choose financial advisors and avoid becoming victims of financial fraud.

“Financial fraud costs Americans approximately $50 billion each year. It has been my mission for over a decade to educate and empower investors, lending them a voice and holding big entities accountable for violating their fiduciary and ethical duties,” said Jenice Malecki, the founder of Malecki Law. She further adds, “I am excited to be part of this much needed grass-root investor education drive.”

businessman-with-the-notebook-1-1362246-m-141x300The securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints against stockbroker Eric L. Swenson.  Mr. Swenson was last employed and registered with PNC Investments, from the broker-dealer’s Fort Pierce, Florida office, from November 2014 to October 2016, according to his publicly available BrokerCheck, as maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  He was previously registered with Scottrade, Inc. from October 2003 to January 2014, according to BrokerCheck records.

In 2016, Mr. Swenson was fined and suspended from association with any FINRA member broker-dealer for nine months by FINRA, after submitting a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2014039902901.  According to the AWC, Mr. Swenson violated FINRA Rules 3270 (Outside Business Activities of Registered Persons) and FINRA Rule 2010 (Standards of Commercial Honor and Principles of Trade) because he did not inform his registering firm about his outside business activity, Impact Energy Gum, Inc.  The AWC detailed that while Mr. Swenson told his firm that he would be an investor in the company, which activity was approved, he did not disclose that from July 2012 through December 2013, he also contacted potential distributors, exporters, equipment vendors and lessors on behalf of Impact and was involved in attempts to solicit potential investors to purchase securities of Impact and obtained a short-term loan to Impact from a family member.  The AWC stated that Mr. Swenson did not fully disclose the extent of his involvement with Impact, in violation of Rule 3270.

Mr. Swenson’s BrokerCheck records detail that he was permitted to resign and was discharged from PNC Investments and Scottrade, respectively, amidst allegations of failing to fully disclose information regarding his outside business activity.

magnifying-glass-1412773-300x300The investment and securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints regarding former UBS financial adviser Jeffrey Howell.

Per reports, Mr. Howell has been barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”)for providing a customer with false weekly account statements for over six years.  According to a settlement notice in connection with an investigation by FINRA , Mr. Howell sent these weekly statements with inflated values, at times overvaluing the account by close to $3 million.

Mr. Howell also allegedly used his own personal email account to distribute these reports, which compromised the accuracy of the firm’s books and records. Per BrokerCheck, Mr. Howell has not been licensed in the securities industry since 2014.

visions-from-im-5-1466265-225x300According to news reports, the SEC has fined UBS more than $15 million for its failures to properly supervise employees who sold complex investment products to unsophisticated and inexperienced clients of the firm. Complex products are traditionally reserved for only sophisticated investors who have a full understanding of the product and are appreciative and willing to take the risks involved. These are not typically appropriate or suitable for unsophisticated “mom and pop” investors.

Nonetheless, reports indicated that UBS’s financial advisors sold more than half a billion dollars’ worth of these complex products to more than 8,000 inexperienced investors. Making matters worse, reports reveal that many of these investors had moderate or conservative risk profiles. The products sold to investors are said to have included reverse convertible notes, some of which had derivatives that were tied to implied volatility.

This is not new for UBS, which just paid $19.5 million last year in connection with the firm’s sale of complex structured notes.

BN-LT369_1712mo_P_20151217084436First Wells Fargo, now Morgan Stanley.

On the heels of Wells Fargo’s cross-selling scandal, the broker-dealer Morgan Stanley has been accused of inappropriately promoting  “securities based loans” to customers, according to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on October 3, 2016.  The complaint, filed by Massachusetts securities regulators, alleges that Morgan Stanley’s lax compliance and supervisory oversight led the broker-dealer to breach their own fiduciary duties owed to their wealth management customers by pushing the loans and minimizing the risks associated with the accounts.

If the allegations turn out to be true, the Massachusetts allegations would further exemplify the conflict of interest between broker-dealers pushing risky products on their clients without providing the balanced view of the products that industry rules require, which could be breaches of duties to certain of their customers.  At the very least, FINRA Rule 2111 requires that broker-dealers ensure that recommendations of products are suitable for each customer, which requires a careful assessment of each customer’s respective investment objectives, risk tolerance, age, tax bracket, other investments, liquidity needs, as well as other factors.