Articles Tagged with mutual fund switching

shutterstock_184430612The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) brought and enforcement action against broker Ronald Benevento (Benevento) (FINRA No. 20130353695) alleging that between September 2011 through April 2013 Benevento engaged in unsuitable mutual fund switching activity in three customer accounts in violation of the FINRA Rules. In addition, FINRA alleged that during this time Respondent mismarked 15 order tickets as “unsolicited” causing the books and records of his employer, American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc. (American Portfolios) to become inaccurate.

Benevento first became associated with a FINRA member in 1997. From 1997 until February 2010, Benevento was a registered representative of AXA Advisors, LLC. Thereafter, from March 2010, until March 2015, Benevento was associated with American Portfolios.

FINRA alleged that, Benevento recommended 29 mutual fund switch transactions in three customer accounts without having reasonable grounds for believing that the transactions were suitable for the those customers due to the frequency of the transactions and the costs incurred due to the switches. In these transactions, FINRA alleged that Benevento recommended that the customers sell Class A mutual fund shares within as little as two to three months after recommending the purchase of them. These purchases were made in different mutual fund families than the previous purchase.

shutterstock_187532306According to the records kept by the State of Florida, Office of Financial Regulation brokerage firm J.P. Turner & Company, L.L.C., (JP Turner) was sanctioned (Administrative Proceeding: 0757-S-12/13) concerning allegations that the firm’s broker, John McGriskin (McGriskin) engaged in mutual fund switching, a form of churning, in client accounts.

From December 2002, until May 9, 2013, McGriskin was an associated person of JP Turner and worked out of the branch located in Palm Coast, Florida, in his home. According to Florida, McGriskin typically purchased Class A shares for his clients. Class A shares of mutual funds come with high front-end sales charges. Florida found that McGriskin sold Class A shares of one mutual fund company and used the proceeds to purchase Class A shares of another mutual fund company resulting in McGriskin’s clients being subject to additional front-end sales charges on those transactions.

In addition, many mutual fund families offer “breakpoint” discounts for total investment amounts equaling certain minimum thresholds across multiple funds with the same fund family. However, Florida found that McGriskin made six mutual fund switching transactions which were not in the same mutual fund family or issuer from August through December of 2010, thirty-six mutual fund switching transactions which were not in the same mutual fund family or issuer in 2011, thirty-seven mutual fund switching transactions which were not in the same mutual fund family or issuer in 2012, and thirty-six mutual fund switching transactions which were not in the same mutual fund family or issuer from January through May of 2013.

shutterstock_162924044The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently sanctioned supervisor Gregory Bray (Bray) concerning allegations that Bray failed to adequately supervise the firm’s chief executive officer and compliance officer Matt Maberry (Maberry), who FINRA refers to by the initials “MM”, concerning sales of certain complex products and recommendations of Class A mutual fund shares. In September 1996, Bray became registered with Alton Securities Group, Inc. (Alton Securities) where the alleged misconduct took place.

FINRA alleged that Bray was responsible for supervising the sales activity of Maberry. Maberry was responsible for all other supervisory functions at the Alton Securities. FINRA found that Bray’s supervision of Maberry’s sales activity consisted of a daily review of a trade blotter reflecting trades made by Maberry to customers together with conversations with Maberry regarding trading activity.

FINRA found that Maberry recommended and sold certain complex products to his customers. For example, FINRA found that Maberry recommended and sold leveraged or inverse exchange traded funds and leveraged/inverse mutual funds. In addition, Maberry is alleged to have recommended and sold a steepener note designed to increase in value as the gap between short and long term interest rates increased. FINRA found that Maberry’s sales were unsuitable because he lacked a reasonable basis to recommend these products to his customers because he did not fully understand the potential risks associated with these securities.

shutterstock_182054030The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently suspended former Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. (Cambridge) broker Steven Walstad (Walstad) alleging that Walstad recommended and effected numerous unsuitable Class A share mutual fund purchases and sales involving six customer accounts. In addition, FINRA alleged that Walstad exercised discretion in one customer’s account without the customer’s prior written authorization.

Walstad first became registered with a FINRA firm in 1996 and was associated with Cambridge from April 18, 2008, through November 30, 2012. FINRA alleged that Walstad recommended and executed 78 purchases of Class A share mutual funds in six customer accounts without a reasonable basis to believe were suitable for the customers. All financial advisors, as part of their suitability obligations, must have a reasonable basis for the investments that they recommend to customers. The reason that FINRA found that Walstad’s trades were without a reasonable basis is that the customers were charged front-end sales loads in connection with the Class A share purchases but Walstad mistakenly believed that these front-end sales loads had been waived.

Purchase of Class A shares, as opposed to purchasing Class B or C shares, is advantageous to the customers only if they held the mutual funds on a long-term basis. However, FINRA found that these customers held the Class A shares for less than thirteen months and therefore Walstad lacked a reasonable basis to believe that his recommendations to purchase Class A shares were suitable for these six customers.

shutterstock_184429547The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), in an acceptance, waiver, and consent action (AWC), sanctioned brokerage firm Essex Securities, LLC (Essex Securities) alleging that from February 2010, through March 2011, Essex Securities through one of its brokers violated industry rules by engaging in a pattern of unsuitable mutual fund switching, a form of churning, in the accounts of seven customers. Further, FINRA found that Essex Securities violated FINRA’ supervisory rules by failing to establish and maintain a supervisory system reasonably designed to prevent unsuitable mutual fund switching.

Essex has been a FINRA member broker-dealer since 1998, is headquartered in Topsfield, MA, and conducts a general securities business with approximately 50 brokers out of 26 branch offices.

FINRA alleged that an Essex Securities broker engaged in a pattern of unsuitable mutual fund switching in seven customer accounts by not having reasonable grounds for believing that such transactions were suitable for those customers due to the frequency of the transactions and the transaction costs incurred. Part of the suitability rule requires brokers to take into consideration the cost consequences of the transactions and ensure that there is a reasonable basis for the incurring of such costs. In this case, FINRA found that on at least 29 occasions, the broker recommended that customers sell mutual funds within only one to thirteen months after purchasing them. Essex Securities was found to have earned commissions of approximately $60,000 on these switch transactions and broker himself was paid approximately $54,000.