New York securities law saw quite the news day, as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued a news release on September 7, 2011 announcing fines against five Broker-Dealers, three of them based in New York, for mischaracterizing fees charged to customers. The three New York based firms were John Thomas Financial of New York, NY, A&F Financial Securities, Inc. of Syosset, NY and Salomon Whitney, LLC of Babylon Village, NY. FINRA alleged that the firms understated commissions but charged additional handling fees to make up transaction based income for the firm. FINRA found that by structuring their fees this way, the firms ended up charging fees significantly higher than the actual cost of the services the firms provided.
In making their findings, FINRA reiterated that broker-dealers must accurately disclose commissions earned. By settling these charges with FINRA, the firms did not admit or deny wrongdoing, but they did consent to the entry of FINRA’s findings and also agreed to implement actions sufficient to remedy the handling-fees violations.
Such mischaracterization of handling-fees is one example of how broker-dealers can put their own interests ahead of the interests of their clients, and represent what is essentially securities fraud. If you held an account with one of these firms or you think your broker-dealer may have charged fees in excess of what they disclosed to you, your entire portfolio may need a thorough review for suitability.
FINRA’s September 7, 2011 News Release can be found here.