The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has sanctioned Moloney Securities Company, Inc. (Moloney Securities) concerning allegations Moloney Securities failed to establish and maintain a supervisory system, including written policies, regarding the sale of leveraged, inverse and inverse leveraged exchange-traded funds (Non-Traditional ETFs) that was reasonably designed to meet the requirements under the securities laws.
ETFs attempt to track a market index, sector industry, interest rate, or country. ETFs can either track the index or apply leverage in order to amplify the returns. For example, a leveraged ETF with 300% leverage attempts to return 3% for every 1% the underlying index returns. Nontraditional ETFs can also be designed to return the inverse or the opposite of the return of the benchmark. In general, Leveraged ETFs are used only for short term trading. The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) has warned investors that most Non-Traditional ETFs reset daily and are designed to achieve their stated objectives in a single trading session. In addition to the risks of leverage, Non-Traditional ETFs held over the long term can differ drastically from the underlying index or benchmark during the same period. FINRA has also acknowledged that leveraged ETFs are complex products that carry significant risks and ”are typically not suitable for retail investors who plan to hold them for more than one trading session, particularly in volatile markets.”
FINRA found that from January 2011, through December 2012, Moloney Securities allowed its representatives to recommend and sell Non-Traditional ETFs to customers. At this time, FINRA found that Moloney’s written supervisory procedures did not address the sale or supervision of Non-Traditional ETFs. In addition, FINRA alleged that Moloney Securities did not conduct due diligence of Non-Traditional ETFs before allowing financial advisors to recommend them to customers. Despite the unique features and risk factors of Non-Traditional ETFs that FINRA has noted, FIRNA found that Moloney Securities did not provide its brokers or supervisors with any training or specific guidance as to whether and when Non-Traditional ETFs would be appropriate for their customers. FINRA also found that Moloney Securities did not use any reports or other tools to monitor the length of time that customers held open positions in Non-Traditional ETFs or track investment losses occurring due to those positions.