Articles Tagged with conflict of interests

shutterstock_70999552The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently brought a complaint against brokerage firm Randor Research & Trading Company (Randor) and registered representatives William Scholander (Scholander) and Talman Harris (Harris) alleging that between February 2011, through March 2013, Radnor displayed a pattern of disregard of its supervisory obligations concerning reporting, disclosure, and compliance responsibilities. FINRA alleged that this disregard included the firm’s failure to report customer complaints, failure to update a registered representative’s Form U4 and failure to ensure that material information was disclosed to customers, and to maintain and enforce adequate supervisory systems and written procedures.

Radnor has been a member of FINRA since 2004, is based in the Philadelphia area and had one branch office in New York. The firm has 17 registered persons working in the two branches. Scholander has been registered with 13 different firms since 1998. Harris has been registered with 16 different firms since 1998. Harris was the branch manager of the New York office during the period.

FINRA alleged that in late 2011, Radnor failed to report two customer complaints made against its brokers. One customer claimed that certain trades were unauthorized and made a demand for damages. According to FINRA, another potential customer claimed that a broker of the firm had participated in unethical or illegal behavior possibly market manipulation. Despite those claims, FINRA claimed that Radnor chose not to report the complaints as required by FINRA rules. FINRA also alleged that Radnor also chose not to report the unauthorized trade complaint on the Form U4 of Scholander and Scholander knowingly failed to ensure that his Form U4 was timely updated to reflect the complaint. As a result, FINRA alleged that both Radnor and Scholander willfully violated the FINRA rules.

shutterstock_150746A recent InvestmentNews article explored The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) attempts to prevent conflicts of interest at registered investment advisers, a breach of their fiduciary duties, by focusing on potential misuse of popular flat-fee wrap accounts. The use of these accounts have given rise to claims of “reverse churning.” As we previously reported, “churning” is excessive trading activity or in a brokerage account. Churning trading activity has no utility for the investor and is conducted solely to generate commissions for the broker. By contrast “reverse churning” is the practice of placing investors in advisory accounts or wrap programs that pay a fixed fee, such as 1-2% annually, but generate little or no activity to justify that fee. Such programs constitute a form of commission and fee “double-dipping” in order to collect additional fees.

The SEC is looking into the practice by which clients pay an annual or quarterly fee for wrap products that manage a portfolio of investments. Investment advisors who place clients in such programs already charge fees based on assets under management (AUM) and the money management charges for wrap products are in addition to the AUM fee. According to InvestmentNews, the assets under these arrangements totaled $3.5 trillion in 2013, a 25% increase from 2012. Included in these numbers include separately managed accounts, mutual fund advisory programs, exchange-traded-fund (ETF) advisory programs, unified managed accounts, and two types of brokerage-based managed accounts.

Reverse churning can occur under these arrangements if there’s too little trading in the accounts in order to justify the high fees. In August, the SEC’s scrutiny of these products came to the forefront with the agency’s victory in a court case that revolved in part around an adviser’s improperly placing his clients into wrap programs. A jury decided in the SEC’s favor against the advisory firm Benjamin Lee Grant that the SEC argued improperly induced clients to follow him when he left the broker-dealer Wedbush Morgan Securities to his advisory firm, Sage Advisory Group.

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