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FINRA

For Release:
Media Contact:
Thursday, February 15, 2001
Nancy A. Condon
(202) 728-8379


NASD Regulation Files Six Enforcement Actions Involving Marketing and Sales of Variable Annuities

Washington, DC — NASD Regulation, Inc. today announced the filing of six separate enforcement actions against firms for the improper marketing and sale of variable annuities. One individual was also named. These disciplinary actions represent the first cases resulting from a series of special examinations focusing on the sale of variable contracts, conducted by NASD Regulation during 1999 and 2000.

 

Monetary sanctions, including restitution, in the five settled actions filed today total more than $112,000.

 

The six cases include allegations and findings of violations in the following areas:

  • Misleading and unbalanced advertising and sales literature that failed to adequately disclose that variable contracts purchased in tax-deferred plans provide no additional benefit to the customer;
  • Use of a Web site that implied that tax benefits in tax-deferred plans are only available if they are funded with an annuity contract;
  • Unsuitable sales of variable annuities;
  • Failure to collect customer financial and other information for use in making suitability determinations; and
  • Deficient supervisory procedures with respect to suitability reviews.

The sanctions in this group of settled cases include censures and fines ranging from $10,000 to $32,500 and restitution to an affected public customer. These actions were investigated and filed by NASD Regulation offices in New Orleans and Dallas, and represent the continuing effort of NASD Regulation to address problem areas in the sale, distribution and marketing of variable products.

 

Sales of variable products have grown enormously over the past several years, and with the rise in new annuity products, investors may be inclined to replace their current annuity with a new one in a tax-free exchange. To help investors consider a replacement, NASD Regulation today issued an Investor Alert, offering investors key points to review before replacing a variable product. Over the past few years, NASD Regulation has also offered guidance to its members on the proper sale of variable products through the issuance of Notices to Members 99-35 and 00-44 and an article in the Summer 2000 issue of the Regulatory and Compliance Alert. These information pieces have given firms and their brokers sound guidance on how to sell variable annuity and life contracts, and also offer key points to consider when evaluating the suitability of these products for investors.

 

Mary L. Schapiro, President of NASD Regulation, said, "These enforcement actions demonstrate that variable annuities, like other securities products, must be properly sold and must be suitable investments for those who purchase them. Because these are complex products both for the broker who sells them, as well as the investor who buys them, it is extremely important that firms selling variable annuities have supervisory systems in place that will be able to detect if unsuitable sales are taking place."

 

The issuance of a disciplinary complaint represents the initiation of a formal proceeding by NASD Regulation in which findings as to the allegations in the complaint have not been made and does not represent a decision as to any of the allegations contained in the complaint. Because the complaints are unadjudicated, the respondents should be contacted before drawing any conclusion regarding the allegations in the complaints.

 

Under NASD rules, individuals and firms named in complaints can file a response and request a hearing before an NASD Regulation disciplinary panel. Possible sanctions include a fine, suspension, bar, or expulsion from the NASD.

 

Investors can obtain the disciplinary record of any NASD-registered broker or brokerage firm by calling 800-289-9999, or by sending an e-mail through NASD Regulation’s Web Site www.nasdr.com. For more information on NASD Regulation, visit the Web site.

 

The National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. (NASD® ), is the largest securities-industry, self-regulatory organization in the United States. It is the parent organization of NASD Regulation, Inc.; the American Stock Exchange, LLC; and NASD Dispute Resolution, Inc. For more information about the NASD and its subsidiaries, please visit the following Web sites: www.nasd.com; www.nasdr.com; www.amex.com; www.nasdadr.com.

 

Variable Annuity Enforcement Actions Include:

 

  1. American United Life Insurance Company - Case No. C05010011

    American United Life Insurance Company is named in this complaint, which alleges:

    1. Misleading and unbalanced advertising and sales literature that failed to adequately disclose that variable contracts purchased in tax-deferred plans provide no additional benefit to the customer;
    2. Use of a Web-site that implied that tax benefits in tax-deferred plans are only available if they are funded with annuity contracts;
    3. Failure to adequately disclose that the investment vehicles funding the plans are variable contract sub-accounts, as opposed to mutual funds; and
    4. Inadequate written supervisory procedures.

    Under the NASD rules, the individuals and the firms named in the complaints can file a response and request a hearing before an NASD Regulation disciplinary panel. Possible sanctions include a fine, suspension, bar, or expulsion from the NASD.

  2. Prudential Securities, Inc. - Case No. C05010005

    Prudential Securities, Inc. settled the following charges without admitting or denying NASD Regulation allegations. The findings include:

    Failure to enforce firm’s written procedures relating to the sale of annuities -- certain documentation (e.g., order tickets and other documents required under the firm’s own procedures) – missing in 201 transactions reviewed.

    The firm was censured and fined of $10,000.

  3. First Union Brokerage Services, Inc. - Case No. C05010010

    First Union Brokerage Services, Inc. settled the following charges without admitting or denying NASD Regulation allegations. The findings include:

    1. The firm failed to establish and maintain adequate written procedures to supervise the sale of variable annuity contracts in terms of how reviews were to be done, how to evidence the review, how to supervise the suitability of the allocation of premium payments to sub-accounts, and how certain of the review responsibilities could be delegated.
    2. The firm failed to obtain customer information required pursuant to its written procedures.
      The firm was censured and fined $32,500, which includes $5,000 of disgorgement.

  4. Allmerica Investments, Inc.- Case No. C05010004

    Allmerica Investments, Inc. settled the following charges without admitting or denying NASD Regulation allegations. The findings include:

    Deficient written supervisory procedures relating to annuity sales – routine procedure not in place to ensure adequate principal review of customers’ investment objectives.

    The firm was censured and fined $15,000.00.

  5. Ralph C. Evans - Case No. C05010009

    Ralph C. Evans settled the following charges without admitting or denying NASD Regulation allegations. The findings include:

    Evans sold a $325,000 annuity contract into a revocable trust for the benefit of a 76-year-old widow. Funds for the purchase were derived from the sale of Class B mutual funds, for which the account incurred contingent deferred sales charges, and from a margin loan. The transaction was unsuitable because Evans had not made any determination about whether the anticipated holding period was long enough such that the tax-deferred benefits would be likely to outweigh the fees imposed on the annuity relative to other investments. These included the contingent deferred sales charges paid in connection with the sale of the mutual fund shares and the margin interest.

    Evans was censured, fined $10,000, and ordered to pay restitution to the affected customer in the amount of $20,130.61.

  6. Lutheran Brotherhood Securities Corp. - Case No. C05010003

    Lutheran Brotherhood Securities Corporation settled the following charges without admitting or denying NASD Regulation allegations. The findings include:

    1. Failure to collect investment objective information in connection with 12 of 99 annuity transactions reviewed; and
    2. Deficient written supervisory procedures concerning annuity sales with respect to (i) collection of investment objective information, (ii) supervisory review of financial status information, and (iii) supervisory review of allocation of premium payments to sub-accounts in relation to investment objectives.

    The firm was censured and fined $25,000.