Articles Posted in Mutual Funds

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has filed civil charges accusing Cetera Advisors of defrauding its retail clients through $10M in unnecessary commissions and fees. The regulator is accusing the registered investment adviser (RIA) of selling these customers costlier share classes even though they qualified to invest in less expensive share classes of the same funds. The clients paid the additional compensation to the firm during the time that they held the more costly investments.

According to the Commission’s complaint, from at least 9/2016 through 12/2016, these Cetera customers were invested and held in mutual fund share classes that charged them 12b-1 fees that were recurring instead of shares that didn’t charge these fees. The SEC said that aside from the fees, which was compensation paid to Cetera, the share classes were identical.

The regulator also claims that Cetera took part in a program with its clearing firm in which the latter would share service fees and revenues it was paid from certain mutual funds with the RIA. Hence, this was incentive for Cetera to sell these mutual funds  instead of other investments to clients. Cetera purportedly received $1.7M as a result of this deal.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is accusing Commonwealth Equity Services, also known as Commonwealth Financial Network, of not notifying clients that it had material conflicts of interest involving certain investments. This purportedly allowed the investment adviser and brokerage firm to earn more than $100M in revenue sharing involving certain mutual funds.

The SEC contends that since at least 2007, Commonwealth had a deal with National Financial Services and a Fidelity Investments affiliate that the majority of its Preferred Portfolio Service advisory clients were obligated to utilize when trading in their accounts. As part of the agreement, clients have to choose National Financial Services as its clearing broker for their investment accounts.

Whenever these advisory clients would invest in specific mutual fund shares, Commonwealth received a portion of the money that certain mutual fund companies paid National Financial Services to make trades on the platform. Also as part of the deal between National Finance Services and Commonwealth is that the clearing broker would share recurring mutual fund fees with the investment adviser. This was determined by the latter’s client assets that were invested in specific mutual fund share classes that didn’t charge a transaction fee.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that because of its mutual fund waiver initiative, it has arrived at a settlement with 56 broker-dealers that will provide almost 110,000 retirement and charitable accounts with $89M in restitution. Two of the firms, Western International Securities and Park Avenue Securities, settled on the same day that the self-regulatory organization (SRO) announced the multi-firm resolution. According to FINRA, the brokerage firms neglected to wave mutual fund sales charges for accounts that were eligible and they did not properly supervise the  sales.

FINRA’s Mutual Fund Waiver Initiative

FINRA launched its mutual fund waiver initiative in 2016 after arriving at a settlements with 10 member firms that self-reported how, going as far back as 2009, their registered representatives did not always apply sales waivers when warranted to the accounts of charitable and retirement plan accounts that bought mutual fund shares. While mutual funds are offered in different share classes and usually charge a sales fee upfront, a lot of the funds will waive the upfront fee on the more expensive Class A shares for certain retirement accounts and charities. The SRO also found that the firms had failed to adequately supervise these transactions, which could have helped to ensure that the mutual fund sales waivers were granted.

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has filed charges against broker-dealer Janney Montgomery Scott accusing the firm of not properly supervising broker Stephen Querzoli during his trading of Class A mutual fund shares from 2012 to 2017. According to the state regulator, these alleged mutual fund sales violations caused investors, mostly older customers, to pay nearly $200K in unwarranted commissions that were shared between Janney and Querzoli.

Class A mutual fund shares usually charge higher fees of up to 5.7% at the front-end. They also lead to higher commissions for the investment advisers and brokers selling them compared to what other mutual fund class shares would render.

Although Class A shares are meant to be held for at least five years, according to the Massachusetts regulator, Querzoli would sell clients’ Class A shares within months of their acquiring them, thereby engaging in short-term trading. This resulted in higher and additional commissions charged to customers.

79 investment advisers have settled charges brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accusing them of not properly disclosing conflicts of interests involving the sale of costlier mutual fund share classes that caused them to earn more fees. The regulator’s action is related to its Share Class Section Disclosure Initiative. Announced by the SEC’s Division of Enforcement early last year, the initiative gives firms the chance to report disclosure failures that violate the Advisers Act, while offering them more “favorable settlement terms” in return.

Here is a partial list of some of the investment advisers involved in this case:

  • AXA Advisors

Virginia Regulator Fines UBS Financial After Its Broker Makes Unsuitable Recommendations

To settle charges brought by Virginia’s State Corporate Commission accusing a UBS (UBS) broker of making unsuitable recommendations involving gold and precious metals securities to 18 clients, UBS Financial Services will pay $319K—$289K to the clients and $30K to the state.

Virginia’s regulator contends that unsuitable recommendations were made in 2013 and 2014 and caused UBS clients to hold an overconcentration of these securities, which were not even suitable for some of them. The state said that this violated its securities rules.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra) has permanently barred fired Merrill Lynch broker Bhenoy (Ben) Dembla. According to InvestmentNews, The former broker was let go from the financial firm in 2016 for “falsifying documents” related to mutual fund sales.

Dembla, who worked for Merrill the entire time he was a broker from 2001 to 2016, is accused of submitting fake sell orders to get around the firm ’s electronic order system protections. The protections should have stopped the submission of Class B share purchase orders once these had exceeded the accumulation limit.

According to FINRA, Dembla would submit the bogus sell orders, which the system would accept, and then he would cancel the orders. All of this made it possible for certain customers to go over Class B share thresholds with their purchases.


Lincoln Investment Planning to Pay Clients For Not Giving Discounts on Mutual Fund Shares

FINRA is ordering broker-dealer Lincoln Investment Planning to pay $1.37M to clients to whom it did not give the discounts they were entitled to when they purchased mutual fund A shares between 1/2011 and 6/2018.

The self-regulatory organization contends that the firm placed certain charitable organizations and retirement plan customers at a disadvantage by charging them a front-end sales charge even when they qualified to not pay the fees.

Direct Services LLC and Voya Investment LLC, two Voya Holdings Inc. investment adviser subsidiaries, will pay about $3.6M to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing them of failing to make certain disclosures related to securities lending. Of that amount, over $2M will go straight to mutual funds that were impacted.

The two investment advisers worked with a number of “insurance-dedicated mutual funds” that insurers affiliated with Voya Holdings and Direct Services offer to life insurance and annuity customers. The two advisers lent fund-held securities to certain parties. They then called back the securities so that the insurer affiliates would get a tax benefit. These same affiliates were record shareholders for the funds’ shares. Meantime, this led to the funds and their investors losing income while not getting to avail of the tax benefit.

According to SEC Enforcement Division Asset Management Co-Chief Anthony S. Kelly, the mutual funds and its investors were not notified that they would be losing money in order for the affiliates to get this tax benefit. The regulator said that Voya advisors did not disclose that this conflict of interest existed.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Ameriprise Financial Services (AMP). The regulator is accusing the brokerage firm and investment adviser of recommending to retail retirement account customers that they purchase mutual fund shares that charged higher fees. Ameriprise purportedly failed to employ sales charge waivers when applicable.

The Commission’s order contends that the broker-dealer neglected to determine when certain retirement account customers qualified for mutual fund share classes that were not as costly.

Instead, the firm would recommend and sell the more costly mutual fund shares even when the less pricey options were available. Ameriprise is accused of not letting these customers know that the firm would make more from the costly mutual fund shares even as their overall investment returns were harmed.

The SEC said that about 1,971 customer accounts paid nearly $1.8M in up-front sales fees that were not warranted, costlier ongoing fees, “contingent deferred sales charges,” and other expenses because of the way that Ameriprise handled the recommendation and sale of mutual funds to retirement account clients.

The firm is cooperating with the regulator and has paid back customers that were affected with interest. Retirement account customers eligible for the less expensive mutual fund share classes have been moved to those classes free of charge.

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