Wells Fargo Must Pay $3.4 million for Selling Investments It Didn’t Understand

shutterstock_173849111-227x300The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has ordered Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC to pay more than $3.4 million in restitution to customers for alleged unsuitable recommendations of volatility-linked exchange-traded products (ETPs) and supervisory failures, according to InvestmentNews.

FINRA found that between July 1, 2010, and May 1. 2012, “certain Wells Fargo reps recommended volatility-linked ETFs and ETNs without fully understanding their risks and features.”

According to FINRA, “certain Wells Fargo representatives mistakenly believed that the products could be used as a long-term hedge on their customers’ equity positions in the event of a market downturn. In fact, volatility-linked ETPs are generally short-term trading products that degrade significantly over time and should not be used as part of a long-term buy-and-hold investment strategy.”

In settling with FINRA, Wells Fargo neither denied nor admitted to the charges. The bank only consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.

All advisers have a fundamental responsibility to deal fairly with investors including making suitable investment recommendations. In order to make suitable recommendations the broker must have a reasonable basis for recommending the product or security based upon the broker’s investigation of the investments properties including its benefits, risks, tax consequences, and other relevant factors. In addition, the broker must also understand the customer’s specific investment objectives to determine whether or not the specific product or security being recommended is appropriate for the customer based upon their needs.

A brokerage firm owes a duty to all of its customers to properly monitor and supervise its employees. The duty to supervise is a critical component of the securities regulatory scheme. Regulatory authorities such as the SEC and FINRA have steadily heightened the supervisory obligations of brokerage firms in recent years. Supervisors have an obligation to respond vigorously to indications of irregularity, often times referred to as “red flags.” A supervisor cannot disregard red flags and must act decisively and specifically prevent improper conduct by their brokers. The importance of proper supervision is manifested in various types of securities activities. Brokerage firms are responsible for monitoring a broker’s investment recommendations to clients, outside business activities, and representations to investors among other obligations. In addition, brokerage firms are responsible for conducting due diligence on the securities products they sell and devising a written supervisory system to achieve compliance with the securities laws.

The investment fraud attorneys at Gana LLP have represented hundreds of investors in securities related disputes including in cases of unsuitable recommendations and brokerage firms’ failure to supervise their representatives. Our consultations are free of charge and the firm is only compensated if you recover.