Articles Tagged with Heightened Supervision

Last month the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) instituted and simultaneously settled an administrative enforcement case in which a civil penalty of $225,000.00 was assessed against Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc. (Cambridge).  The action illustrates the importance of designing and implementing effective heightened supervision programs for investment adviser representatives who have a history of allegations of rules violations or other misconduct or disclosure items on the Form U-4.

The case stemmed from an incident that was the subject of a separate SEC proceeding filed in 2013 against Richard P. Sandru, who was an investment adviser representative operating from Cambridge’s Perrysburg, Ohio branch office.  In that proceeding, Sandru was found to have forged clients’ signatures on financial planning agreements or, in some cases, adding client charges to the agreements without the clients’ knowledge and without obtaining additional signatures from the clients authorizing the additional charges.  Sandru’s conduct, which the SEC characterized as a fraudulent scheme to misappropriate client funds, took place between 2009 and 2011 and potentially affected 47 advisory clients, from whom Sandru allegedly misappropriated “at least $308,850.00.”  Sandru was, at this time, an OSJ of Cambridge and supervised two other Cambridge representatives and other administrative assistants.

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An independent insurance agent, Glenn Neasham, was convicted on a felony-theft charge in March for selling a complex indexed annuity to an 83-year old client in a California court. He was sentenced to spend ninety days in jail. Prosecutors claimed that Mr. Neasham’s client had exhibited signs of dementia and was not capable of consenting to the transaction.

This case has stirred fear among insurance and securities agents. The state’s then-insurance commissioner stated in 2010, after Mr. Neasham’s arrest, that agents “who steal from vulnerable seniors will not get away with their shameful tricks.” Agents are attracted to indexed annuities because they receive high commissions, which can be 12% or more of the invested amount. As a result of this case and heightened regulatory scrutiny, agents will have to think twice before selling indexed annuities to the elderly. The $14,000, or 8%, commission that Mr. Neasham received was a factor used against him to prove his criminal intent.
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In a move that signals the need for heightened due diligence and supervision among financial advisory firms, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) released Regulatory Notice 12-03 in relation to complex products last month. It is intended to guide firms to increase their supervision of activity involving complex products such as structured notes, reverse convertibles, inverse or leveraged exchange traded funds, hedge funds and securitized products. FINRA has already brought a number of enforcement actions against firms relating to complex products, charging inadequate supervision, unsuitable recommendations and misleading price sales.

Among the problems noted by FINRA is the uncertainty of how these products will behave in the market, as opposed to theoretical projections. The notice states, “Regulators have expressed concern about complex products because the intricacy of these products can impair the ability of registered representatives or their customers to understand how the product will perform in a variety of time periods and market environments, and can lead to inappropriate recommendations and sales.”

FINRA chose not to define a complex product in the notice due to the ever changing innovation in the marketplace; however, the notice states that “any product with multiple features that affect its investment returns differently under various scenarios is potentially complex.” The notice goes on to give a non-exhaustive list of examples of complex products. FINRA advises firms that are unsure whether a product is complex to err on the side of applying their procedures for enhanced oversight to the product.
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