Articles Tagged with Bank of America

shutterstock_94632238-300x214The experienced securities fraud lawyers of Gana Weinstein LLP are investigating multiple customer disputes filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against broker Andrew Bruce Elsoffer (Elsoffer). According to Elsoffer’s FINRA BrokerCheck records, there are several disclosures on his record pertaining to securities fraud, misrepresentation, unsuitability, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence amongst other allegations.

Elsoffer entered the securities industry in 1994 and was only registered with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. until November 2011. He is currently employed at Stifel Nicolaus & Co., Inc. since November 2011. He was previously employed at:

• Bank of America (December 2009 – October 2011)

shutterstock_168478292Our firm has previously reported on the growing trend of brokerage firms recommending non-purpose loans secured by their brokerage accounts to clients.  See Investors Risk Big Losses with Loans Secured by Securities Collateral Accounts.  Recently, the state of Massachusetts charged Morgan Stanley with conducting unethical – high-pressure – sales contests among its financial advisers to encourage clients to take out loans.  According to newsources, from January 2014 until April 2015, the firm ran two different contests involving 30 advisers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island with the express goal of persuading customers to take out securities-based loans (SBLOCs) with their securities accounts serving as collateral.  Advisers were promised bonuses of $1,000 for 10 loans, $3,000 for 20 loans and $5,000 for 30 loans. The contest was alleged to have generated $24 million in new loans and was run despite an internal Morgan Stanley prohibition on such initiatives.

As a background, these lines of credit allow investors to borrow money using securities held in the investment accounts as collateral and allow the investor to continue to trade securities in the pledged accounts. An SBLOC typically requires monthly interest-only payments until repaid. Thus, when an investor losses a significant amount of their portfolio the investor has made very little progress in repaying the loan and may have few to no options to pay the loan back.  Recently FINRA issued an “Investor Alert” entitled “Securities-Backed Lines of Credit – It May Pay to See Beyond the Pitch” recognizing the conflicts between brokerage firms incentivized by “SBLOCs [that] can be a key revenue source for securities firms” and those same firms “placing your financial future at greater risk.”

According to Fortune, firms such as UBS, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan are recommending that their high net worth investors take out loans against their brokerage accounts at an alarming rate. The Wall Street Journal reported that securities based loans increased by 28% at UBS between 2011 and 2013. According to Fortune, a Wells Fargo advisor told the writer that the loans are so lucrative for the brokers that they refer to the money they make as their 13th production month. Another contact with Morgan Stanley reported that a regional manager would like to automatically send paperwork for loans with every single new account form.

shutterstock_127357511Our firm has been tracking the developments related to Thomas Buck’s termination from Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (Merrill Lynch), now known as Bank of America, NA (Bank of America) under highly unusual circumstances.  (See Top Merrill Lynch Broker Thomas Buck Terminated Under Unusual Circumstances; Update On Broker Thomas Buck Investigation).  Now, according to records kept by FINRA, Buck has accepted a bar from the securities industry.

Buck’s downfall played out quickly.  Buck was terminated from Merrill Lynch on March 6, 2015, shocking colleagues.  At the time of his termination there was only one customer complaint against Buck steaming from a dispute in 2006.  Now, over the past four months customers have filed 11 additional complaints against him.  All of the complaints have similar allegations against Buck in that the customers allege that during a time period Buck engage in unauthorized trades in corporate debt and equities. Several of the complaints allege excessive trading and misrepresentations.

Buck’s team managed nearly $1.5 billion in investor assets and was one of the Merrill Lynch’s largest producers.  According to FINRA, Buck engaged in misrepresentations and other misconduct in the handling of customer accounts.  FINRA alleged that beginning by at least 2009, Buck used unethical and improper business practices to generate increased commissions and enhance his status as a top-producing broker.  According to FINRA, Buck held customer assets in commission-based accounts instead of fee-based accounts for the sole purpose of generating higher revenues even though he knew that some customers would have paid substantially lower fees by using fee-based accounts.  In fact, FINRA goes on to allege that Buck misled customers about the relative costs of fee-based or commission-based trading for their accounts.  In addition to these claims FINRA alleged that Buck exercised discretion in customer accounts without written or oral authorization, and made unauthorized trades in certain accounts.

shutterstock_61142644As we previously reported, (See Top Merrill Lynch Broker Thomas Buck Terminated Under Unusual Circumstances) news sources have been investigating the termination of financial advisor Thomas Buck (Buck) and his daughter Ann Buck by Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (Merrill Lynch), now known as Bank of America, NA (Bank of America) under circumstances that some would consider unusual.

Buck’s team managed nearly $1.5 billion in investor assets, was one of the company’s largest producers, and has been associated with Merrill Lynch since. Despite all these factors that would likely lead Merrill Lynch to continue to wish employ Buck, allegations were made that Buck executed unauthorized trades in client accounts.

Buck’s termination happened on March 6, 2015, and shocked colleagues. One person was quoted in news articles foreshadowed additional developments saying “There is a lot more out there. I think it’s a little bit of heavy-handedness on Merrill’s part. Tom was shocked.”

shutterstock_180968000According to news sources, Thomas Buck (Buck) and his daughter Ann Buck, were recently terminated by Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (Merrill Lynch), now known as Bank of America, NA (Bank of America) under unusual circumstances. Buck’s team managed nearly $1.5 billion in investor assets at the time. Buck has been associated with Merrill Lynch since 1982 according to Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) records and became one of the company’s largest producers.

According to news sources, Buck was terminated for allegedly making unauthorized trades in client accounts. Advisors are not allowed to engage in unauthorized trading. Such trading occurs when a broker sells securities without the prior authority from the investor. The broker must first discuss all trades with the investor before executing them under NYSE Rule 408(a) and FINRA Rules 2510(b).  These rules explicitly prohibit brokers from making discretionary trades in a customers’ non-discretionary accounts. The SEC has also found that unauthorized trading to be fraudulent nature.

The termination occurred on March 6, 2015, and stunned the firm’s other employees because the termination appeared out of the blue and without explanation leading to rumors. One person was quoted in the news saying “There is a lot more out there. I think it’s a little bit of heavy-handedness on Merrill’s part. Tom was shocked.”

shutterstock_93231562In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, the Dodd-Frank legislation authorized the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) to pass a fiduciary duty rule that would apply to brokers, as opposed to only financial advisors. Most investors do not realize and are usually shocked to learn that there broker only has an obligation to recommend “suitable” investments, and not to work in their client’s best interests. Currently, the fiduciary duty rule only applies to financial advisors (and brokers under certain circumstances) – more commonly recognized by the public as advisors who charge a flat fee for their services as opposed to commissions.

The fact that the investing public has absolutely no clue how crucial the fiduciary duty is to protecting their retirement futures and holding Wall Street accountable for mishaps has prevented any serious public debate to combat the millions of dollars the industry has and will spend to kill this part of the law. True to form, recently the House of Representatives passed a budget that would prevent the SEC from imposing a fiduciary standard on brokers during the upcoming federal fiscal year beginning in October.

What’s the big deal you may ask? Why is the fiduciary standard important to me? Well there are many reasons but maybe one story will highlight how the brokerage industry is currently allowed to operate to put their interests ahead of their clients. As recently reported in Bloomberg and InvestmentNews, an undercover U.S. Labor Department economist exposed how brokerage firms sought out federal workers to roll over their 401(k)’s with the government to IRAs with the brokerage firm even though the result could increase the client’s annual costs by as much as 50 times!

shutterstock_168737270This article continues our prior posts concerning a recent report by Bloomberg that noted the rise in rollovers from 401(k) plans into IRA accounts. The article pointed to concerns by regulatory agencies and investors concerning the suitability of the investment choices being recommended by brokers soliciting rollovers.

In another example, a mechanical engineer for Hewlett-Packard in Puerto Rico, rolled over $150,000 from a 401(k) to an IRA with UBS. His broker Luis Roberto Fernandez Diaz, recommended Puerto Rico municipal bond funds that contained a 3 percent upfront sales fee and 1 percent annual expenses. Fernandez’s brokercheck lists 17 customer disputes from 2009 through 2014. As we have reported on multiple occasions, our firm represents investors in claims against UBS concerning the firm’s practices in overconcentrating many of their client’s assets in these speculative highly leveraged bond funds. Those articles can be found here, here, and here.

In the case of an IRA, it makes little sense for a financial adviser to recommend investing in municipal bonds because the bonds main advantage is tax avoidance which already is a benefit of investing in an IRA. The investor interviewed by Bloomberg, says that the bonds plunged in value because of the deteriorating finances of Puerto Rico and are only worth $90,000.

On November 12, 2013, Senator Elizabeth Warren warned that the “too big to fail” problem has only worsened since the 2008 financial crisis. JP Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., and Well Fargo & Co. each hold more than half of the total banking assets in the country. As large concentrations of wealth reside with a small number of banks, the possibility of another financial crisis looms unless certain reforms are implemented.

While the big banks become more concentrated and more complex, the Dodd-Frank Act’s implementation struggles. The agencies implementing the Dodd-Frank Act have missed more than 60% of the deadlines even though regulators continue to meet with various banks. Not only are regulators dragging their feet, but also the House recently passed two bills to delay provisions of the Dodd-Frank Acts. The Retail Investor Protection Act (RIPA) prevents the Department of Labor from defining circumstances under which an individual is considered a fiduciary. The Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act (SRIA) amends the swaps push-out requirement. The two bills passed by the House compound the delays of the regulatory implementation.

Although the House continues to hinder the Dodd-Frank Act, Senator Warren believes Congress needs to step in order to prevent another financial crisis. Senator Warren along with Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell and Angus King urges the passage of the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act.” As Senator Warren stated, the new Glass-Steagall Act, “would reduce failures of the big banks by making banking boring, protecting deposits, and providing stability to the system even in bad times.”

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