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.