The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sanctioned brokerage firm B. C. Ziegler and Company (B. C. Ziegler) and ordering the brokerage firm to pay $150,000 in connection with allegations that from January 1, 2009, through May 30, 2012 B. C. Ziegler failed to implement a supervisory system reasonably designed to ensure that material economic information regarding Church Bonds, including information concerning delinquent sinking fund payments, was disclosed to the firm’s brokers, trading desk, and customers, and was factored into the pricing of Church Bonds sold to customers in secondary market transactions. In addition, it was alleged that B. C. Ziegler used Church Bond sales material with customers that was not fair and balanced. The sales material prominently promoted the yields associated with Church Bonds without balancing the presentations by disclosing the risks. FINRA also alleged that B. C. Ziegler distributed unbalanced internal-use-only Church Bond sales material to its registered representatives, causing the firm to violate NASD Rule 2211(d)(1) and FINRA Rule 2010.
B. C. Ziegler has been a registered broker-dealer since 1948 and is a full service brokerage firm headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. A primary business of the firm is the underwriting and sale of fixed income products, including debt issued by religious institutions known as “Church Bonds” and senior living facilities (Senior Living Bonds). The firm has approximately 22 branch offices and 200 registered representatives.
According to FINRA, B. C. Ziegler specializes in underwriting and selling Church Bonds for religious institutions. Church Bonds are generally issued by nonprofit religious entities and as such are exempt from registration as a security with the SEC. While there is no established secondary market for Church Bonds, FINRA found that B. C. Ziegler frequently facilitated secondary trading among its customers for Church Bonds it underwrote. A Church Bond sinking fund is a pool of money funded with periodic payments by an issuer for the purpose of accumulating money to make annual or semi-annual coupon payments due to investors of Church Bonds. A Church Bond issuer behind on its sinking fund payments is not in strict compliance with its trust indenture and may be a sign of an issuer’s financial distress.
FINRA found that trust indentures for Church Bonds issued by B. C. Ziegler required sinking fund payments and provided a 30 day grace period to cure delinquent sinking fund payments before the Church Bonds could be deemed to be in default. FINRA found that part of B. C. Ziegler’s post-offering Church Bond due diligence was monitoring sinking fund payments by issuers. FINRA found that the trustee identified Church Bond issuers who were delinquent with their sinking fund payments. FINRA found that B. C. Ziegler’s Chief Credit Officer created a Credit Watch List that tracked Church Bond issuers who were five or more weeks behind on sinking fund payments. The Credit Watch List was distributed initially only to senior management of the firm but by September 2010, B. C. Ziegler began distributing the Credit Watch List to the firm’s trading desk and brokers.
To be continued in Part II
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