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.