In July 2013, William Galvin, the Massachusetts (MA) Secretary of the Commonwealth, began an investigation into “the marketing of complicated financial investments to older people.” In the process of the investigation, Galvin subpoenaed fifteen different brokerage firms in order to obtain information on investments that were sold to senior citizens in Massachusetts. The investigation sought to uncover the way the firms have sold “high-risk, esoteric products to seniors” as well as information on the firms’ compliance, supervision and training.
The firms that were included in the investigation were Morgan Stanley, LPL Financial, Merrill Lynch, UBS AG, Bank of America Corp., Fidelity Investments, Wells Fargo and Co., Charles Schwab Corp., and TD Ameritrade along with other firms. Galvin has stated that the investigation was not an indication of any wrongdoing on behalf of the brokerage firms. The purpose of the investigation was to get more information on brokers’ business practices in offering products to seniors and unsophisticated investors. Regulators have shown concern about “opaque products” advertised to unsophisticated investors looking for higher returns than what most interest rates have to offer. Brokers often pitch these types of products because they will usually get a higher commission rate than by selling other lower risk products such as mutual funds.
This recent investigation is a result of past inappropriate Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) sales to seniors. Last year, the SEC probed the probe improper sale of REITs to seniors that led to five broker-dealers settling. The settlement for the improper REIT sales included $975,000 in fines and $8.6 million in restitution to the customers.
Seniors have become a major target for speculative securities products since the financial crisis of 2008. Contact Gana Weinstein LLP to learn more.