Does My Investment Advisor Have Insurance?

Did you know – most stockbrokers and registered investment advisors (RIAs) are not required by law to carry errors and omissions insurance?

Beginning July 31, 2018, with an amendment to the Oregon Securities Law, Oregon became only state in the nation to require certain state-regulated financial professionals to carry errors and omissions insurance. These financial professionals must now carry at least $1 million in errors and omissions insurance in order to qualify for licensing in Oregon.

 

ORS 59.175 now provides:
. . .
(5)(a) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b) or (c) of this subsection, every applicant for a license or renewal of a license as a broker-dealer or state investment adviser shall file with the director proof that the applicant maintains an errors and omissions insurance policy in an amount of at least $1 million from an insurer authorized to transact insurance in this state or from any other insurer approved by the director according to standards established by rule.
(b) A licensed broker-dealer subject to section 15 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, is not required to comply with paragraph (a) of this subsection.
(c) A licensed state investment adviser who has its principal place of business in a state other than this state is exempt from the requirements of paragraph (a) of this subsection.

Why is this important?

Investors are rightfully confused about what protections they have when they sign over their life savings or transfer a retirement account to the care of a financial professional.  One might assume the advisor is insured, just like many attorneys, doctors, and other professionals are insured.

There is no current federal requirement for FINRA-registered brokers or SEC-registered investment advisors to carry basic errors and omissions (“E&O”) insurance. E&O insurance is a form of liability insurance for professionals who provide advice or other services. Some call it “professional liability insurance.”

You may have seen reference to “SIPC” on a sign in your advisor’s office, or on account statements from a firm. The Securities Investor Protection Corp. (SIPC) insures cash and securities in a brokerage account up to a certain amount of losses incurred because of the bankruptcy of a broker-dealer. SIPC does not cover losses caused by faulty or negligent conduct by the broker or brokerage firm.

Wait a minute – A financial advisor may handle millions and millions of dollars of investor money, but not carry insurance for professional misconduct?  Yes.

Investors may win a substantial recovery of losses that were caused by their financial professional’s misconduct, either through a FINRA arbitration award or court judgment. However, many awards and judgments go unpaid. A smaller firm may simply close shop rather than pay. Or a culpable advisor might leave his or her firm and start working for a business or investment vehicle that is not licensed by FINRA or the SEC. If there was applicable insurance that covered the investor claims, the insurance policy would pay the investor at least part if not all of the award or judgment.  Large firms that have significant net capital, or firms that otherwise responsibly carry insurance as a matter of choice, already provide reassurance that they can make good on a successful customer claim.

Generally speaking, E&O insurance should cover mistakes, errors, negligent conduct, and breaches of fiduciary duties by a professional relating to the professional service that result in harm to the client.  In the case of financial professionals, that usually takes the form of recoverable financial losses caused by unlawful conduct.  For example, losses caused by a broker (or RIA or someone dual-licensed as a broker/RIA) failing to follow client instructions, making recommendations to purchase investments that are “unsuitable” for that particular investor, or acting in a way that violates a fiduciary duty to the investor.

The good news for Oregon investors is that there are now at least some new protections at the state level, relating to certain financial professionals.  If you invest with a financial professional and want to know if they have E&O insurance – ask!  Responsible advisors and firms should be able to provide a clear explanation as to what protections their customers have in case of a customer claim to recover investment losses.

Darlene Pasieczny

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, elder financial abuse, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes through FINRA arbitration.

Pasieczny Moderates PIABA Panel on Cryptocurrency Investment Regulation

Current cryptocurrency regulation and cryptocurrency investment regulation can be summed up in one phrase:  Regulation by Enforcement.

I moderated a great panel presentation this weekend on Cryptocurrency Investments, Supervision and Securities Regulation at PIABA’s mid-year CLE event in Los Angeles on May 5, 2018.  We discussed the current state of regulation as well as the nuts-and-bolts of blockchain technology: everything from Bitcoin, the basics of utility tokens, security keys, and even ranging into CryptoKitties.  Our audience included securities attorneys, law professors, and representatives from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  I was joined by Professor Benjamin Edwards (William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Las Vegas, Nevada), securities attorney and former SEC Enforcement officer Celiza Braganca (Braganca Law LLC), and industry expert Louis Straney (Arbitration Insight LLC).

Most securities professionals that I’ve talked with consider cryptocurrency investments the Wild West in terms of regulation and safeguards (minimal to none) for the investing public.   The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), the association of state securities regulators, would agree.

Accumulating SEC enforcement actions and reports like the “DAO Report,” Release No. 81207 (June 25, 2017), are the current guides that issuers and industry participants have for what to do, or not do, so that an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) or Initial Token Offering (ITO) complies with existing federal and state securities laws. This kind of “regulation by enforcement” leaves industry participants guessing at what they can do as the technology changes.   And, the SEC and state securities regulators are by no means the only regulatory bodies overlapping with enforcement.  The Internal Revenue Service, FinCen, the CFTC, criminal law, and private class actions are all taking their pound of flesh from industry participants.   FINRA’s 2018 Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter notes that the SRO will be keeping an eye on developments with ICOs and the supervisory and compliance mechanisms that brokerage firms have put in place for compliance with securities laws and FINRA rules.

But, since December, 2017, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has allowed cryptocurrency futures contract trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.  Goldman Sachs recently announced that it will open a Bitcoin trading desk, and now the New York Times reports that the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange, Intercontinental Exchange, has been working on an online trading platform for large investors to buy and hold Bitcoin.   The confidence of these institutions may lead the market in another round of soaring blockchain hype and eager investors buying in … to what?

Warren Buffet made his feelings about clear when he called Bitcoin “probably rat poison squared” in an interview with CNBC over the weekend.

If a FINRA-licensed broker or SEC-licensed registered financial advisor makes recommendations for a customer to buy cryptocurrency investments, it could be a big red flag for a compliance department.  SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has basically said that he thinks all cryptocurrency-related investments are securities.  But the SEC hasn’t issued specific cryptocurrency regulations, and it seems to be relying on shutting down unregistered ICOs and ITOs to create a regulatory roadmap.  Do those offerings sound like Initial Public Offerings (IPOs)?  You are correct, that’s on purpose.  But, importantly, unlike an IPO, you get no ownership interest when buying into an ICO or ITO. There’s no there, there. Unfortunately for investors duped into participating in a fraudulent cryptocurrency offering or hacked offering, the likelihood is that your money is halfway around the world and difficult to recover from the issuer.

I suspect the future of cryptocurrency regulation will include increased claims for participant liability under state securities laws that offer broader investor protections than those provided by federal law.  Attorneys and accountants assisting issuers in these fraudulent offering should be held accountable under appropriate circumstances.  I bring participant liability claims under state blue sky laws to recover investment losses for individuals and groups of individuals.  And, if financial advisors are actively making purchase recommendations to clients otherwise unwilling to take on high risk, speculative investments, there could be viable FINRA arbitration claims against the brokerage firms that allow their brokers to make irresponsible, unsuitable recommendations.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or concerns that you or a loved one might be the victim of financial exploitation, call me at 1-800-647-8130.  Consultations are free, and confidential.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes through FINRA arbitration.

What Does it Mean for Investors? LPL Financial Settlement $26 Million

Today the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) announced a massive LPL Financial settlement with state securities regulators relating to over a decade of sales of unregistered securities by LPL brokers.

Under the terms of the LPL Financial settlement, the firm agreed to repurchase from investors certain securities that were sold to them since October, 2006.  LPL will also have to pay civil penalties to the states, which could be as much as a $26 million penalty.

What happened?   State securities regulators have been investigating LPL Financial for years regarding failures to have reasonable policies and procedures.  In the last year, NASAA’s task force has focused on investigating LPL’s procedures to prevent LPL brokers from selling unregistered, non-exempt securities.

The sale of unregistered, non-exempt securities violates most states’ securities law and federal securities laws.  Often those securities do not disclose important information to the prospective buyer, like the riskiness of the investment, lack of liquidity or ability to sell the investment, or true financial history of the investment.  Sellers may get high commissions and other incentives to pitch these products to investors, even if the product is not suitable or in the best interest of that investor.

Under the agreement, LPL will repurchase from investors unregistered, non-exempt securities sold since October 1, 2006 to LPL customers by their broker.  Not only will LPL repurchase, it will pay 3% interest from the date of sale.  Other terms were agreed upon for customers who have since sold or transferred their qualified securities out of their LPL account.

Is this a good deal?  Yes, for many cheated investors, it’s an unusually good deal. NASAA is an association of state securities regulators.  Those state regulators help investors by cracking down on bad broker conduct by national firms like LPL Financial.  The dollars from civil penalties issued by regulators occasionally go back to compensate the victims — but not usually.  The key to this LPL Financial settlement is that the firm agreed to buy back the securities from investors and pay 3% interest.  For many investors, especially those with smaller amounts of affected securities, that’s a very good result for a recovery without private litigation.

However, investors that otherwise qualify for the buy-back may have strong, valid, private claims for relief against LPL Financial that might result in a better outcome.   It depends on the facts, and an experienced securities attorney can help you make that evaluation.

Failure to have reasonable supervisory and compliance procedures, failures to reasonably supervise its brokers, and unlawful broker conduct all are violations of FINRA rules and may state blue sky securities laws.   In some states like Oregon, brokerage firms may have joint and several liability with the bad broker, and the statutory remedy for these violations can be repayment of the original purchase price, plus interest at 9% from date of purchase, less any dividends or money otherwise received from the investment.  It may also include payment of attorney fees.  These are claims that an experienced securities fraud attorney like Darlene Pasieczny can bring on behalf of an investor in FINRA arbitration.

If you are an LPL Financial customer, or customer of any brokerage firm, and you have concerns about what you were sold for your investment portfolio, call us today for a free initial consultation.   Sudden large drops in portfolio value for a moderate or conservative investor, or discovering you cannot easily sell an investment, are some of the Red Flags that you may have securities claims for recoverable losses.  Don’t wait – statute of limitations may apply to set deadlines of when you can file a claim.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or concerns that you or a loved one might be the victim of financial exploitation, call me at 1-800-647-8130. Again, consultations are free, and confidential.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes through FINRA arbitration.

Down Markets – A Good Time to Look For Red Flags and Recoverable Investment Losses

The news has been full of stories of investment losses. First, it was cryptocurrencies and related investments on a roller coaster ride of valuation. Then, in the last week, the major stock market indices followed… Dow Jones, S&P 500, Nasdaq…

What is a Main Street investor to do?

As a securities attorney representing investors in disputes with the financial industry, down markets mean my phone starts ringing. Investors start to look closely at their portfolios.

Some find surprises. Potential claims against their financial advisor to recover investment losses.

Not every investment loss is a recoverable investment loss – far from it. But, sometimes investment losses are caused because of a financial advisor’s misconduct. Making unsuitable securities recommendations to buy risky investments or allocate a portfolio in a certain way. Failing to follow instructions, negligence, or outright fraud and misrepresentation.

The law provides remedies to investors injured by advisor misconduct. Typically, securities claims are brought by filing a statement of claim in FINRA arbitration. I’ve helped my clients bring securities claims in FINRA arbitration. I help them to navigate mediation and informal settlement discussions. And I have helped them recover millions of dollars, thought to be lost forever due to “bad luck”.

I recently filed some short video clips explaining how an experienced securities attorney like myself can help investors who think they may have a problem, and why investors may be hesitant to seek help and file claims to recover losses.

A down market is a good time to take a hard look at your, or your client’s, portfolio. And ask questions.

Why is the portfolio heavily allocated in one volatile sector, such as oil and gas?

Was that level of risk appropriate for the investor at the time of the recommendation? Why are there so many LP and LLC private placement interests in the portfolio? Can those interests be sold? And why are my investment losses in this down market so much more than my friend’s losses, when we have similar financial goals and risk tolerances? These and other red flags may be signs of investment fraud.

If you think you may be the victim of investment abuse, call me toll free at 1-800-647-8130 for a free, confidential initial consultation. I represent investors in FINRA arbtiration nationwide who have investment losses caused by the conduct of a financial professional or a defective investment product. I also represent parties in trust and estate disputes where a fiduciary has breached their duties and money is recoverable to the estate, trust, or beneficiary.

The Investor Defenders at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP help investors get their money back from brokerage fraud, fraudulent investments, elder financial abuse, and other situations. Our specialized investment litigation practice combines familiarity with complex financial modeling, experience with specialized FINRA arbitration rules and securities laws, and empathy for our clients whose investment losses have become personal.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or concerns that you or a loved one might be the victim of financial exploitation, call me at 1-800-647-8130. Again, consultations are free, and confidential.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes through FINRA arbitration.

Ten Red Flags for Investors

Ten Red Flags of Investment Fraud

We’ve updated our list of ten red flags that  investors should be aware of: danger signs that point to potential mismanagement of an account or investment fraud by a financial advisor. These red flags are useful as you evaluate your own investments, review the investments of an elderly relative, or if you’ve decided to change brokers.

From our firm’s first-hand experience in reviewing thousands of financial statements and successfully recovering investment money for many clients, these red flags of investment fraud are often a sign of trouble. If you notice any of these red flags and you have concerns, we encourage you to contact us for a free, confidential review. With early detection, investors have the potential to avoid a lot of heartache and significant financial loss.

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Red Flags:

1. Your financial advisor didn’t discuss your risk tolerance with you, told you “not to worry” about that category when filling out account paperwork, or you somehow ended up with a higher risk portfolio than you wanted.  Any reported swing in portfolio value of more than 10% up or down, when you’re a conservative or moderate investor, is a red flag.

2. You discover that you cannot liquidate investments that you thought you could sell. Or you discover an unexpected high fee or surrender charge for selling.

3. Big portions of your portfolio are used to purchase “alternative investments” – things like interests in limited partnerships (LPs), non-traded REITs, private placements, promissory notes, and interests in limited liability companies (LLCs). Many of these investments come with a prospectus, require you to complete special forms just to purchase them, carry high risk for investors, and pay big commissions to the selling brokers.

4. You are encouraged to purchase investments where you must formally certify that you are an “accredited investor”. These investments also often carry a high degree of risk and are only designed for people who can afford to lose all of their investment.

5. You are advised to purchase investments the same day that they are offered to you, without giving you a chance to think about it, especially when your advisor says that the opportunity won’t last long. If you feel any sense of rush, surprise, or pressure to make any investment decision, that’s a red flag.

6. Your account statements stop arriving, your broker is suddenly hard to reach, or your advisor discourages you from discussing your investments with anyone else at the brokerage company.

7. You have investments that do not appear on the brokerage company’s account statements that you receive.   Or the statements otherwise look irregular, show frequent transactions that you don’t understand, or don’t add up.

8. Your financial advisor promises returns that seem too good to be true. In today’s market, there are no legitimate, safe and secure investments that can guarantee an 8% annual return year after year.  Any promised return that seems like an unusually good deal deserves closer scrutiny.  Risky, unsecured promissory note scams may be particularly targeted towards elderly investors as “fixed income” investments.

9. You are offered an investment that you do not understand.  Or your portfolio contains investments that, on closer examination, are not plausible or understandable.

10. You discover that your advisor has multiple disclosures when you look him or her up on FINRA’s BrokerCheck system (search by name at http://www.finra.org/Investors/ToolsCalculators/BrokerCheck). Disclosures may include prior client complaints, bankruptcy, termination from prior employers, regulatory investigations and sanctions, criminal charges, on-going or resolved client disputes.  These are all red flags about a broker’s prior conduct that you probably want to know about before entrusting them with your money.

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If you have seen any of these red flags, and have questions about the legitimacy of your investments or seen large financial losses, do not ignore your suspicions. Call us for a free initial consultation.  We will tell you if your concerns are well founded and whether we can help.  Your call is confidential.

Please call us first, before contacting your financial advisor or any regulatory agency.  Why?  Because those calls are not confidential.  Once you contact the firm you can bet that your communications are being recorded, and the details you include or leave out may undermine your claim.  Securities regulators may be important allies in stopping wrongdoing, but they are not your attorney. By reporting a complaint to your state agency, FINRA or the SEC, you may be starting the clock on a statute of limitations for filing a claim, without understanding what that means.

The Investor Defenders at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP help investors get their money back from brokerage fraud, fraudulent investments, elder financial abuse, and other situations. Our specialized investment litigation practice combines familiarity with complex financial modeling, experience with specialized FINRA arbitration rules and securities laws, and empathy for our clients whose financial losses have become personal.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or concerns that you or a loved one might be the victim of financial exploitation, call me at 1-800-647-8130. Consultations are free, and confidential.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, elder financial abuse, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes through FINRA arbitration.

Investor Alert – NASAA and SEC Warn about Cryptocurrency Related Investments

This past Thursday, the same day I posted about a recent FINRA Investor Alert regarding cryptocurrency, there was a new press release from the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) with further guidance on the same topic. NASAA’s analysis and warning amounts to this:  Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”), and all other investment products related to cryptocurrency or the blockchain, pose a threat to investors.

“A NASAA survey of state and provincial securities regulators shows 94 percent believe there is a ‘high risk of fraud’ involving cryptocurrencies. Regulators also were unanimous in their view that more regulation is needed for cryptocurrency to provide greater investor protection.”

The same day, the SEC made a public statement from Chairman Jay Clayton and Commissioners Kara M. Stein and Michael S. Piwowar, in wholehearted agreement with NASAA:  “The NASAA release also reminds investors that when they are offered and sold securities they are entitled to the benefits of state and federal securities laws, and that sellers and other market participants must follow these laws. Unfortunately, it is clear that many promoters of ICOs and others participating in the cryptocurrency – related investment markets are not following these laws. The SEC and state securities regulators are pursuing violations, but we again caution you that, if you lose money, there is a substantial risk that our efforts will not result in a recovery of your investment.”

“High risk of fraud”?  That’s a polite understatement. The conditions in this cryptocurrency market are the perfect conditions for bad actors to harm investors and cause investment losses. How? Fraud through market manipulation. Fraud through technical manipulation. Fraud through plain theft. Adverse terms and conditions on a clickthrough agreement. Technical failure, incompetence, malfeasance on the part of the provider. Cyberthreats from third parties online, vandals or burglars. Misrepresentations of the real possibility that cryptocurrency is an object of temporary interest, the bubble will pop, and prices will drop.

And, of course, bad actor conduct includes flawed recommendations by financial advisors to jump in and buy these new, complicated products related to cryptocurrency.  If your portfolio contains investments that, on closer examination, are not plausible or not understandable, that’s one of the ten red flags of financial fraud.

As a securities attorney, I represent investors nationwide who have lost money due to the conduct of a financial professional or a defective investment product.

The Investor Defenders at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP help investors get their money back from brokerage fraud, fraudulent investments, elder financial abuse, and other situations.  Our specialized investment litigation practice combines familiarity with complex financial modeling, experience with specialized FINRA arbitration rules and securities laws, and empathy for our clients whose financial losses have become personal.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or if your broker has stopped returning your calls, contact me for a free, confidential consultation at 1-800-647-8130.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice also includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes.

George Merhoff and Energy Stocks – The Investigation Continues

The Investigation of Klamath Falls Financial Advisor George Merhoff Jr. and Cetera Investments, Pacific West Securities, Inc. Continues

Customer Concerns Grow About Energy Stock Concentration and George Merhoff

Our office continues to investigate Cetera Investments and its representative George Merhoff Jr. Since our last reporting, even more investors have called us to report that they suffered significant losses in their accounts as a result of having virtually all of their investments in energy stocks. We continue to evaluate how widespread this problem is for our clients and potentially others who were customers of George Merhoff. Mr. Merhoff is currently a registered representative of Cetera Investments, and was previously a registered representative of Pacific West Securities, Inc.

If you are or were a customer of George Merhoff and are willing to share your information with us that might help us in this investigation, or if you have lost money in another investment or have concerns about the conduct of another financial advisor, please call our office at 800-647-8130 for a confidential, and free no obligation consultation.

Is Your Investment Portfolio Over-Concentrated in Energy Stocks?

Here is why we are conducting our investigation: When a portfolio is heavily weighted in one particular industry sector, we refer to it as a non-diversified, over-concentrated account. Over-concentration increases volatility and risk in investment portfolios. Licensed securities stockbrokers and have an obligation under the law and FINRA Rule 2110 to recommend only suitable investments and trading strategies, based upon the particular customer’s risk tolerance, investment objectives, investment experience, time frame, and other factors when recommending an investment. If a broker recommends the same types of concentrated energy sector portfolios to a broad array of clients, regardless of their needs for safety and moderation, that suggest that the securities laws may have been violated.

What is FINRA and what is the Suitability Rule?

FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) is the self-regulatory organization that is authorized by Congress to regulate the securities industry.

That includes brokers and brokerage firms. FINRA has various rules to do this including Rules 2110 and 2111, which provide that a broker’s investment recommendations must be “suitable” for the customer. Suitability includes reasonable-basis suitability (that the investment or investment strategy is suitable for at least some investors), customer-specific suitability (the recommendations are suitable for that specific customer), and quantitative suitability (that a series of recommended transactions, even if suitable in isolation, when considered together are not excessive and unsuitable for that customer). Violations of the FINRA suitability rules may implicate other laws such as negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, and financial losses caused by the unlawful conduct may be recoverable by the investor.

Do you have questions about losses in accounts managed by Cetera Investments or George Merhoff?

The fact that you invested with Mr. Merhoff or Cetera does not necessarily mean that there was wrongdoing. However, if your account was over-concentrated in energy stocks and you did not ask for those investments, we would like to hear from you. Bob Banks, a nationally recognized securities attorney, has fought for investors in court and FINRA arbitration since 1985. He has successfully represented investors in over-concentration cases where there has been a failure to diversify investments. He leads the Investor Defenders practice group at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP. If you have lost money in an investment, or if you have any concerns about the conduct of your financial adviser, please contact us, or call our office at 800-647-8130 for a free no obligation consultation.

Before Hiring a Financial Professional – Ask These Questions

It’s a new year and you’re looking to hire a broker or investment advisor to help you with your financial planning and investment decisions. What questions should you ask at that first meeting? FINRA recently released an Investor Education top 5 questions to ask:

1. What experience do you have working with people like me?

2. Are you registered with FINRA, the SEC or a state securities regulator?

3. Do you or your firm have an overarching investment philosophy?

4. Do you or your firm impose any minimum account balances on customers?

5. How do you get paid?

Before you entrust your retirement or other savings with a financial professional, it’s important that you understand the answers to these and other questions.

The Investor Defenders attorneys at Samuels Yoelin Kantor represent investors each day who were unlucky in hiring the wrong adviser. We work to recover investment losses caused by negligent portfolio management, unsuitable product sales, excessive transactions (“churning”), and other bad acts.

Investor Defender attorneys Robert S. Banks Jr. and Darlene Pasieczny have the experience, knowledge, and dedication to help you. Since 1985, they have represented clients nationwide. If you have concerns about your investments or the conduct of your financial adviser, please contact us for a free, confidential initial consultation with an experienced securities litigation attorney. For more information about different types of securities claims, the FINRA arbitration process, current investigations, sample cases and results, and our attorneys, visit our website at InvestorDefenders.com and SamuelsLaw.com.

LPL Financial In Trouble Again For Improper Sales of Non-Traded REITs

The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) announced Wednesday a settlement with brokerage firm LPL Financial. The settlement is the result of a multi-state investigation led by the Nevada Secretary of State Securities Division into LPL’s failure to implement adequate supervisory systems and failure to enforce its own written procedures regarding sales of non-traded REIT shares.

Under the terms of the settlement, in addition to remediating certain investor losses, LPL will pay civil penalties of $1.425 million to be distributed among 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. LPL already reached a prior settlement with Massachusetts’s securities regulators in 2013, and a separate action by New Hampshire securities regulators is still pending.

This is only the latest sanction against LPL for improper sales of non-traded REIT shares to investors. In May, 2015, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ordered LPL to pay about $10 million for broad supervisory failures in the sales of non-traded REITs, non-traditional exchange-traded funds (ETFs), certain variable annuities and other complex products.

My advisor sold me a non-traded REIT…. I didn’t understand the risks. Can I get my money back from these state regulator settlements?

If you have any concerns about a sizable non-traded REIT purchase, contacting an attorney experienced in representing investors in securities litigation and FINRA arbitration is your first stop.   While the recent settlements between LPL and other brokerage firms with state securities regulators may include some limited compensation for certain investors, only a private action in court or FINRA arbitration is the best chance to rescind (unwind) an unsuitable investment sale, or otherwise recover your investment losses from improper investment recommendations.

What’s so Risky About Non-Traded REITs?

  • Not a “liquid” investment. Non-traded means not traded on a public securities exchange. It may be that the only way an investor can re-sell the shares is to take pennies on the dollar in a private secondary market.   A financial advisor should clearly explain this to you before you invest, and you should be willing to take the risk of not having access to your investment. Be wary if your advisor tells you not to worry, that the company will buy it back, or that they can make special arrangements for a sale. A non-traded REIT may occasionally offer to buy back a limited amount of investor shares at some highly discounted value, but the company is not required to do that and it is impossible to predict if or when it may happen.
  • Expected holding time can be long (7-10 years) and may never end. The idea behind a REIT is that it is a pooled investment fund for income-producing real estate with special tax breaks under the Internal Revenue Code. At some point, the real estate project may fully develop and the company has a “liquidity event” – the first date when an investor can sell his or her shares. But, that date can be years away – or never occur – if the underlying real estate investments are unsuccessful.   Retail investors are unsecured creditors if the company goes belly-up, putting you at the end of the line for a payout. Be wary if your advisor recommends a non-traded REIT without explaining the risk of a long time horizon or total loss of your investment, in particular if you are 60+ years old and thinking about retirement needs.
  • High front-end fees that may not be disclosed end up costing investors. Those fees can be up to 16%, so the $10,000 you put in is really only an $8,400 investment. That makes a big difference over time as to how dividend payments are calculated and your principal investment value.

A recent study by the Securities Litigation & Consulting Group found that investors are about $50 billion worse off for having put money into non-traded REITs, versus exchange-traded REITs (which do exist).

  • Those same front-end fees mean big commissions for the financial advisor. Your broker might earn 8 – 10% on the sale of a non-traded REIT. This can create an incentive to recommend unsuitable products to the investor. Be wary if your advisor does not (or cannot) explain the illiquidity, long time horizon, higher risk of loss of investment, and high costs of purchasing a non-traded REIT.

These are some of the most prominent risks of non-traded REIT sales. Many brokerage firms, not only LPL Financial, have been sanctioned for supervisory failures and other sales practice violations regarding these risky products. Whether a non-traded REIT is a suitable component of an investment portfolio is a case-by-case analysis, and the Investor Defender attorneys at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP may be able to help recover your money.

Investor Defender attorneys Robert S. Banks Jr. and Darlene Pasieczny have the experience, knowledge, and dedication to help you. Mr. Banks himself has over 30 years experience representing investors in recovering millions of dollars in investment losses, and he has served on FINRA’s own National Arbitration and Mediation Committee. If you have concerns about your financial advisor or investment portfolio, please contact us and visit our website at investordefenders.com.

New FINRA/SEC Report: Sales Practices Targeted at Seniors

As part of the “National Senior Investor Initiative”, in 2013 FINRA and the SEC conducted 44 examinations of brokerage firms that focused on how firms conduct business with senior investors (defined as age 65 and older) as they prepare for and enter retirement.  A newly issued report gives the results.

The exams found that among the top five revenue-generating securities based on sales to senior investors were the following:

  • Open-end mutual funds (77% of the examined firms)
  • Variable annuities (68% of the examined firms)
  • Equities (66% of the examined firms)
  • Fixed income investments (25% of the examined firms)
  • Unit Investment Trusts (UITs) and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) (almost 25% of the examined firms)
  • Non-traded REITs (almost 20% of the examined firms)
  • Alternative investments such as options, exchange-traded notes, hedge funds, private placements, Business Development Companies (BDCs), and leveraged inverse ETFs (about 15% of the examined firms)
  • Structured products such as structured notes and other market-linked securities, reverse convertible notes, principal-protected notes, and collateralize debt obligations. (11% of the examined firms)

Variable annuities, UITs, ETFs, non-traded REITS, alternative products and structured products often carry increased risks of investment loss and penalties for early withdrawal or an inability to liquidate that are inappropriate for senior investors needed access to retirement funds. These are complicated products that are not always explained when sold to investors. And many of these products are inappropriate for an individual retirement account (IRA). Variable annuities in retirement accounts are often completely unsuitable because any tax advantages of those products are lost in an IRA account.

The report notes that in the 44 exams:

“Staff found evidence indicating that 34% of the [examined] firms made one or more potentially unsuitable recommendations of variable annuities.”

“Approximately 14% of firms made potentially unsuitable recommendations to purchase alternative investments, which can be difficult to value, involve high purchase costs, have limited historical data, and often lack liquidity. For example, at one firm, representatives failed to consider the age (90) and low income of one investor, and the limited investment experience and ‘growth and income’ investment objectives of another. These senior investors held the positions for less than ten days and experienced significant realized losses.”

If you are a senior investor concerned about your investment portfolio or particular products, contact us for a free consultation.

Investor Defender attorneys Robert S. Banks, Jr. and Darlene Pasieczny represent investors in securities industry disputes in FINRA arbitrations across the U.S.   Bob Banks himself has over 33 years of experience in securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, and has served multiple times on the National Arbitration and Mediation Committee, an advisory board to FINRA on its rules, regulations, and procedures.  We know the rules, and we fight for our clients in recovering investment losses.

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