The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ordered RBC Capital Markets (RBC) to pay a $1 million fine and approximately $434,000 in restitution to customers for alleged supervisory failures resulting in sales of unsuitable reverse convertibles.
As a background, a reverse convertible is an interest-bearing note where repayment of the principal is tied to the performance of an underlying asset, such as a stock or basket of stocks. Investor risk of loss comes from changes in the value of the underlying asset. If the asset falls below a certain level at maturity or during the term of the reverse convertible the investor can suffer losses. In February 2010, FINRA issued a regulatory notice on reverse convertibles emphasizing the need for firms to perform a suitability analysis in connection with sales of reverse convertible because they are complex product.
FINRA and the SEC have both expressed alarm at the growing popularity of complex products. Complex securities include, but are not limited to equity-indexed annuities, leveraged and inverse-leveraged exchange traded funds, reverse convertibles, alternative mutual funds, exchange traded products, and structured notes. A 2012 SEC study on investor financial literacy found that retail investors, and particularly the elderly and minorities, lack basic financial literacy skills. Combining a general lack of financial literacy with an investment product landscape that increasingly focuses on ever more complex product offerings and investors are more reliant on their advisers than ever. Accordingly, retail investors do not always fully appreciate the risks involved with these.