Articles Posted in Arbitration

Investors are accusing brokerage firms of making inappropriate recommendations and selling investments in Icon Leasing Fund Eleven, LLC and Icon Leasing Fund Twelve, LLC to them even though they would not be able to withstand the high risks. The two funds are registered, non-traded Equipment Leasing Direct Participation Programs (DPPs).

Not only are the Icon Eleven and Icon Twelve investments very high risk and illiquid investments, but also there are little if any secondary markets where their shares can be sold. Investment dividends from Icon cannot be predicted because they are contingent upon profits made from equipment leases.

During their offering periods, the two funds started paying distributions. However, not long after Icon Eleven and Twelve stopped taking new investors, the investments’ value started to drop fast and dividend payments became inconsistent. The decline has resulted in significant financial losses for investors.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has approved a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority-proposed rule that would create greater transparency of Nontraded real estate investment trusts. Under the new rule, investors will have to be provided with more information about the costs involved in buying shares of nontraded REITs.

With the existing practice, brokerage firms can list nontraded REITS as having $10/share price. The new rule would obligate broker broker-dealers to include a per share estimated value for an REIT or unlisted direct participation program on customer statements and make other disclosures.

Firms would calculate an REIT or DPP per share estimated value by either using the appraised value methodology or the net investment methodology. The appraised value method involves using the liabilities and assets of the REIT or DPP to determine the valuation upon which the share value would be based. The valuations would have to be conducted at least once a year by a third-party valuation expert. The net investment method involves brokerage firms articulating in customer statements that a portion of return of capital is included in a distribution and that this return lowers the estimated per share value listed on the statement.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has approved a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) rule that could make it tougher for brokers to expunge customer complaints from their records in settled arbitration cases. Rule 2081 bars brokers from making settlements with customers contingent upon the customer’s consent to not oppose the expungement of the dispute from the public record of the broker.

A record of arbitration complaints filed against brokers is kept as a part of the CRD system. The CRD system contains data about registered representatives and members, including their registration, employment, and personal histories. It also includes disclosure information pertaining to civil judiciary, disciplinary, and regulatory actions, criminal matters, and data about customer disputes and complaints.

The public can access this data through FINRA’s BrokerCheck website. Brokers can have a customer dispute erased from the CRD system and BrokerCheck only through a court order that confirms there has been an arbitration award that recommends such relief.

A Financial Industry Arbitration Panel says that Stifel Financial Corp. (SF), the brokerage unit of Stifel Nicolaus, must pay $2.7 million to, Sean Horrigan. Stifel’s ex-head trader claims that the brokerage firm defamed him and withheld his bonus without just cause. Now, the panel is holding the broker-dealer liable.

Horrigan was fired from Stifel in 2012. According to his lawyer, his termination happened several weeks after he overheard a phone call in which a manager insulted his wife to a salesperson. Horrigan’s wife was also employed at Stifel at the time. After the incident, he reacted emotionally. It was after trading hours. The firm then demoted him before letting him go just weeks prior to giving him his bonus for 2011.

Stifel contended that Horrigan was not entitled to get that money because on the day that the bonuses were issued he no longer worked for the firm. His attorney, however, says that unless an industry professional signs a contract mandating that an employee has to be employed on bonus payout day, he/she is still entitled to that money.

According to statistics put together by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the number of securities arbitration cases brought by the self-regulatory agency is on target to exceed last year’s total. A likely contributor to the increase can be attributed to the numerous Puerto Rico municipal bond cases already filed by investors who sustained huge losses. More of these are inevitable, especially as FINRA just increased its arbitrator pool to deal with cases involving muni bonds from the US territory.

The broker-dealer regulator said that during this first quarter alone, 1,011 FINRA arbitration cases were submitted-a definite increase from the 919 securities arbitration claims filed during 2013’s first three months. However, the number of arbitration cases that were closed during this first quarter is less than in two years prior, with just 946 resolved. Compare that to the over 4,400 and 4,800 cases in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

That said, 5O% of arbitration cases decided during this initial quarter rendered damage awards, which is more than in the last two years. The most common claim in FINRA arbitration cases filed in 2014 so far is breach of fiduciary duty. Negligence, failure to supervise, and breach of contract are the other leading claims.

According to Investment News and The Wall Street Journal, sources in the know say that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority wants to limit how many brokerage industry insiders can act as arbitrators in investor disputes with broker-dealers and brokers. The amendment would keep anyone affiliated with the securities industry, including lawyers and ex-brokers, from representing themselves in the role of public arbitrator. FINRA’s board of directors will decide whether to approve a proposed rule changes on this matter at a meeting this week.

Under the FINRA arbitration system, there are two arbitarator categories: nonpublic and public. Public arbitrators usually don’t have a current insider industry connection with the securities industry. Meantime, arbitrators that are nonpublic can have current ties, even working as a banker or a broker or securities fraud lawyer.

Usually, there are three arbitrators on a panel presiding over an investor-broker dispute. The panel members are selected from a list of arbitrators. Respondents and claimants go through this list to eliminate those they don’t want on the panel.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. says that J.P. Turner & Co. has to pay restitution of $707,559 to 84 clients over the sale of inverse and leveraged ETFs that were unsuitable for them, as well as for excessive mutual fund switches. The SRO says that the broker-dealer did not set up and keep up a supervisory system that was reasonable but instead oversaw inverse and leveraged ETFs the same way it did traditional ones. It also accuses the financial firm of providing inadequate training regarding ETFs. By settling, J.P. Turner is not denying or admitting to the charges.

Leveraged and Inverse Exchange Traded-Funds

Inverse and leveraged ETFs “reset” every day. They are supposed to meet their objectives daily so their performance can rapidly diverge from that of the benchmark or underlying index. Unfortunately, even if long-term index performance exhibits a gain, investors can be susceptible to substantial losses. Markets, when they are volatile, can only exacerbate the situation. Also, leveraged and inverse ETFs are not suitable for all investors.

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority panel says that National Planning Corp. must pay a $6.2 million REIT arbitration award to Minnesota investors Stacy and Ronnie Erickson. The Erickson and trusts on their behalf accused the independent brokerage firm and its ex-brokers Christopher R. Olson of negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, misrepresentations, and industry rule violations involving real estate investment trusts.

According to the FINRA award, which doesn’t name the REITs that the Ericksons invested in, the claimants also invested in real estate investments in Waterway Holdings Group, which Olson and a Preferred Resource Group Inc. employee owned. Olson has since filed for bankruptcy and all claims against him have been halted. (Olson was allowed to resign from NPC after he failed to disclose his external business activities or the involvement of his clients in these undertakings. After he quit he registered with Berthel Fisher & Co. Financial Services Inc.)

The Ericksons say that in addition to becoming the victims of broker fraud, they had to fulfill outstanding loans on mortgages on the real estate investments to avoid foreclosure. They contend that Olson manipulated them into taking on significant debt, paying millions of dollars that they cannot get back, and annuitizing, liquidating, and structuring their investment assets that were for their retirement to pay back the “staggering” debt that resulted from the real estate investment recommendations.

The Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association (PIABA) is working with consumer rights group Public Citizen to get the US Securities and Exchange Commission to release documents about its oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s selection of the arbitrators who preside over disputes between broker-dealers and investors. According to PIABA President Jason Doss, because customers are “forced” into only having securities arbitration as a resolution venue when they sign documents to set up brokerage accounts (in the event of future disputes), they should be allowed to know how FINRA decides who hears the arbitration cases.

PIABA is a lawyers’ group that represents investors with securities arbitration claims. Contending that this is an issue of “transparency,” the attorneys have been trying to gain access to these documents for the last few years.

The group’s efforts started in 2010 with a Freedom of Information Act query to the SEC asking for documents that address how the regulator inspects FINRA’s process for selecting arbitrators and looking into their backgrounds. However, even though FOIA grants the public access to federal agency records, it has exemptions. (The exemption exists to protect sensitive matters, such as customer’s private financial data.)

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority intends to weigh whether to mandate that brokerage firms have insurance covering payments for possible arbitration awards issued to investors. The SRO is aware that there has been frustration among claimants who have not received their awards.

It can be a problem when a brokerage firm closes its doors without paying legal claims and awards it owes customers. Making broker-dealers carry insurance could lower the amount of awards that go unpaid. Unfortunately, some firms have such a small financial cushion that they can be forced to close shop over just one arbitration award.

According to SNL Financial, which conducted an analysis for The Wall Street Journal, over 940 firms reported having a net capital of under $50,000 in financial reports from as recent as July. FINRA says that 11% of all arbitration awards issued in 2011 have yet to be paid-that’s $51 million. This is 4% increase from what was unpaid from 2009 and 2010.

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