Articles Tagged with supervision

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, there has been a recent trend at big brokerages of shifting the power from the headquarters to brokers and branch managers. Apparently big brokerages like Bank Of America, UBS Group, and Merrill Lynch are “unleashing” their brokers and moving power closer to the brokers and their managers, both to keep brokers from leaving their firms and to increase revenues.

These modifications come in the wake of declining revenues and broker exoduses several big brokerages have experienced after the financial crisis. They have also witnessed that brokers who dislike or disagree with their managers and find them unhelpful tend to leave the brokerages more easily. The big brokerages have had to deal with rising regulatory costs and competing with an increasing number of independent advisers. According to research conducted by consulting groups, the registered investment adviser model is more successful as it is a smaller and more tightly integrated groups. Taking a cue from that, the zillion dollar brokerages are making changes aimed at empowering, training and giving their brokers more control over day to day decisions over clients, growth, and resource allocation. Merrill Lynch has plans to restructure the brokerage leadership, emphasize more on productivity and training, and reduce the number of divisions. UBS also made similar changes last year.

There are plans underway to also automate investment advisory and make use of robos to cater to a younger clientele so that the brokers can be freed up to deal with high net worth clients. All in all, this gradual shift is geared towards taking things back to how they were before the financial crisis hit, when the field agents and managers had more autonomy to structure their branches, price and sell services, be less accountable to corporate headquarters, hold more power and sway.

chessThe Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced on July 19, 2016 in a News Release that it had fined Prudential Annuities Distributors, Inc. $950,000 for “failing to detect and prevent a scheme that resulted in the theft of approximately $1.3 million from an 89-year-old customer’s variable annuity account.  Prudential Annuities Distributors acts as a principal underwriter and distributing broker-dealer for life and annuity products issued by its affiliates.

According to the News Release, a former registered Sales Assistant named Travis Wetzel, who worked at LPL Financial, stole money from the elderly customer’s account by submitting to Prudential Annuities Distributors 14 forged annuity withdrawal requests.  The News Release detailed that each month, from July 2010 to September 2012, Mr. Wetzel submitted 4 to 5 withdrawal requests totaling approximately $50,000.  The News Alert detailed that all withdrawn funds were deposited into an account in Mr. Wetzel’s wife’s maiden name that was controlled by Mr. Wetzel.

Prudential Annuities Distributors consented to the fine by submitting a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2012034423502 (AWC).  According to the AWC, each transaction submitted by Mr. Wetzel triggered an alert, or a “red flag,” putting Prudential Annuities Distributors on notice that his requests may be fraudulent.  Each alert required that a person manually review and confirm each transaction, and for each transaction, personnel determined the activity appeared legitimate, according to the AWC.  The AWC also noted that for 44 transfers, Prudential Annuities Distributors also determined that the withdrawn funds were paid to the customer, when they were not actually sent to the customer.

The securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints against stockbroker Kenneth Daley.  Mr. Daley was employed and registered from October 2007 to June 2016 with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., a Garden City, New York broker-dealer, according to his publicly available BrokerCheck, as maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  According to BrokerCheck records, Mr. Daley voluntarily resigned from Merrill Lynch amid allegations that he was involved in “[c]onduct involving improperly receiving money from a client via checks written from an outside account.”

Per his BrokerCheck report, prior to his employment and subsequent resignation from Merrill Lynch, Mr. Daley was employed by Wachovia Securities from 2003 to October 2007.

Subsequent to his resignation, Mr. Daley was barred from association with any FINRA member broker-dealer on June 27, 2016 by FINRA, after submitting a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2016050129701 (AWC).  According to the AWC, Mr. Daley violated:

LPL Financial LLC has agreed to pay two more settlements, and these are big ones.  On September 23, 2015, it was announced that LPL Financial entered into two settlements for disputes arising from the firm’s supervisory system over recommendations of alternative products, including non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs).  This time, LPL has agreed to pay $1.425 million to 48 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to a news release put out by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).  Separately, it was reported that LPL agreed to pay Massachusetts and Delaware Attorneys General $1.8 million for placing 200 clients into leveraged exchange traded funds (ETFs).  To top it off, it appears New Hampshire regulators continue to seek approximately $3.6 million from LPL arising from the sale of non-traded REITs, according to the Think Advisor article.

LPL Financial is no stranger to substantial fines for supervisory failures tied to alternative products.  In May 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) fined LPL Financial $11.7 million over failing to properly supervise complicated products such as nontraditional ETFs.  Malecki Law also noted in March 2014 that LPL was fined $950,000 by the over its supervisory failures stemming from recommendations of non-traded REITs and other illiquid investments.  At that time, we posited the question whether the fines being assessed are large enough to deter future bad conduct?  Time will tell.  Malecki Law continues to represent and recover money for investors that suffered losses as a result of unscrupulous recommendations in non-traded REITs and other alternative products such as leveraged ETFs.

Non-traded REITs are particularly problematic and unsuitable products for many investors.  Brokers like to recommend them because the products typically pay a high commission, but non-traded REITs are illiquid and may cause a substantial loss to the investor’s principal payment when buyers on secondary markets will only accept the products at a drastic discount to the actual price initially paid.