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This week, Prudential Financial Inc. (PRU) announced that is no longer distributing certain term life insurance policies, including its My Term product, through Wells Fargo’s (WFC) retail bank. The decision comes after Prudential employees filed a complaint claiming they were let go because they reported certain sales practices related to insurance policies. The insurer says it intends to probe the “full extent of abuses” that may have resulted from the Wells Fargo-related transactions. Prudential sold about 15,000 My Term accounts through the bank.

The employee lawsuit is Julie Han Broderick et al v. The Prudential Insurance Co. of America et al. The three plaintiffs, which include Han Broderick, Thomas Schreck, and Darron Smith, are seeking unspecified damages for wrongful termination. Prudential, however, claims that the reasons they were let go have nothing to do with its business with Wells Fargo but, rather, were related to an ethics complaint.

According to the NY Times, the ex-employees filed their complaint against Prudential and a regulatory officer, contending the following:

  • They were let go as retaliation for their whistleblowing activities involving Wells Fargo’s allegedly fraudulent practices around the sales of My Term insurance policies
  • The plaintiffs (formerly supervisors in Prudential’s investigative division of its legal department) believe the purported fraud was due to Wells Fargo cross-selling programs
  • They were fired because they would not take part in PRudential’s alleged cover-up of fraudulent and unlawful business practices it engages in with Wells Fargo Bank

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FINRA has banned Winston Wade Turner from the securities industry. The former Prudential (PRU) and MetLife (MET) broker is accused of engaging in deceptive variable annuities sales. Turner was fired from Pruco Securities, a Prudential subsidiary, in 2015. The cause of his firing was deceptive sales practices.

Now, FINRA has barred him for a number of causes, including giving false information to clients about variable annuity sales, the fraudulent misrepresentation and omission of key facts to customers about the sales, providing false information in VA-related documents, and not giving testimony to the self-regulatory organization during its probe into this matter.

According to the SRO, Turner fraudulently misrepresented and omitted material facts about VA sales and concealed that he had persuaded a lot of customers to give up existing variable annuities or other investments so that they would buy the newer VAs that he was selling. He is accused of persuading at least 12 clients to trade their existing investments for this purpose, costing them over $150K in surrender charges.

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As the credit markets started to close for over a dozen companies, including Prudential Financial, CIT Group, and GMAC Inc., the firms began to get their funding for debt financing from retirees-reports Bloomberg in an August 2009 article. For example, between December 2007 and 2008, CIT sold $827 million of debentures created specifically for individuals at a time when the credit market was experiencing “disruptions,” the global economy was falling apart, and the company’s credit ratings were experiencing downgrades. One analyst, David Hendler, says that the financial firms engaged in a “pump-and-dump scheme in a bear market” and that they chose to “offload risk” without having to field too many questions.

Although the retail bond market usually lets companies sell debt at lower yields than what institutional investors call for, the notes can trade at higher relative yields when a company starts to lose its fortune. There is also a lack of liquidity that occurs. This can make it hard for senior investors-especially if their savings are tied into the smaller issues. It didn’t help that late last year CIT, a 101-year-old commercial lender, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after a US bailout and debt exchange offer failed and its funding dried up.

Also, while some debentures-specifically, CTI InterNotes-came with “survivor’s options” that lets an issuer repurchase them at par after the owner passes away, the Internote issuers are entitled to limit how much can be exercised each year through the option to the greater of 2% of the outstanding principal amount or $2 million. Ex-US Securities and Exchange Commission head Arthur Levitt has described this type of financing as an “affinity-type” approach that focuses on the elderly.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has been investigating whether the risks were adequately disclosed to investors or whether securities fraud occurred.

Related Web Resources:
CIT Debt Sold to Widows Has Fine Print Pimco Resists, Bloomberg.com, August 21, 2009
CIT Files Its Bankruptcy Plan, The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2009 Continue Reading ›

Prudential Securities has been plagued by claims over its deferred compensation plan, known as MasterShare. A number of former representatives have filed claims and recovered damages.

Started in 1999, MasterShare allowed Pru employees to deduct up to 25 percent of their gross pay to purchase discounted shares of a stock index fund. This discount had the effect of a company match of the funds deducted. Yet, the plan also provided that if the employee left the firm early he or she not only forfeited the company’s “match” but also the portion withheld from his or her check!

With the threat of forfeiture of a substantial portion of the employee’s pay, some representatives claim they became hostages of Prudential. One former broker trainee says the firm promoted the plan as a pension plan and that he was “strongly encouraged” to join with the further suggestion that those not participating were perceived as “transients”.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that five major brokerage firms have agreed to pay fines totaling $2.4 million for supervision violations and improper mutual fund sales to thousands of investors. These firms must take remedial steps to prevent such actions in the future and pay amounts estimated to exceed $25 million to their clients because of such practices.

According to FINRA, the violations include sales by these firms of load securities, meaning clients were required to pay commissions, when these investors were eligible to make fund exchanges without paying commissions. FINRA’s press release states that “Class B and Class C mutual fund shares and failure to have supervisory systems designed to provide all eligible investors with the opportunity to purchase Class A mutual fund shares at net asset value (NAV) through NAV transfer programs.”

Prudential Securities must pay an $800,000 fine, UBS Financial Services, Inc. was fined $750,000 and Pruco Securities was hit for $100,000 for improper sales of Class B and Class C mutual fund shares. These firms also agreed to remediation plans that will address over 27,000 fund transactions in the accounts of 5,300 households. Merrill Lynch, Prudential Securities, UBS and Wells Fargo must take steps regarding customers who qualified for but did not receive the benefit of NAV transfer programs. It is estimated that total remediation to fhese firms’ customers will exceed $25 million.

On February 15, the NASD announced that it was charging two former prudential brokers with helping a hedge fund manager to time the market through variable annuities. The former broker’s supervisor was also charged with failure to properly supervise them. Both brokers were registered with Prudential Securities Inc., now called Prudential Equity Group, during this time.

David Corn and Jeffrey Doerr allegedly helped Paul Saunders, a client, by opening 20 accounts for him under the names of a number of limited partnerships that had been created by Saunders. The limited partnerships had the same beneficial owners as James River Capital Corp., which was Saunders’s market timing hedge fund. The NASD says that the two brokers should have known their client would use the accounts for the purpose of market timing variable annuities and that the limited partnership had the same beneficial owners.

The SRO says that, between October 2001 and September 2003, Saunders executed about 900 variable annuity sub-account transactions with the brokers’ help. These transactions earned about $5.2 million, while violating the restrictions set up by insurance companies that offered annuities. The two brokers made about $45,000 each from these trades and their commissions.

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