FINRA Settles with Five Firms for Supervisory Failures, Improper Mutual Fund Sales to More than 5,300 Households; Tens of Millions of Dollars to be Returned to Customers
Washington, DC — FINRA announced today that it has settled cases against five firms for mutual fund sales and supervisory violations - including improper sales of Class B and Class C mutual fund shares and failure to have supervisory systems designed to provide all eligible investors with the opportunity to purchase Class A mutual fund shares at net asset value (NAV) through NAV transfer programs.
For the share class sales violations, FINRA imposed an $800,000 fine against Prudential Securities and a $750,000 fine against UBS Financial Services, Inc. for improper sales of Class B and Class C mutual fund shares. A $100,000 fine was imposed against Pruco Securities for improper sales of Class B shares. In resolving the Class B and Class C share matters, these firms also agreed to remediation plans that will address over 27,000 fund transactions in the accounts of 5,300 households.
To resolve the NAV violations, Merrill Lynch, Prudential Securities, UBS and Wells Fargo agreed to remediation plans for eligible customers who qualified for, but did not receive, the benefit of NAV transfer programs. It is estimated that total remediation to customers will exceed $25 million.
In addition, FINRA fined Prudential Securities, UBS, and Merrill Lynch $250,000 each for failure to have reasonable supervisory systems and procedures to identify and provide opportunities for investors to obtain sales charge waivers through NAV transfer programs. From 2001 through 2004, many mutual fund families offered NAV transfer programs that eliminated front-end mutual fund sales charges for certain customers. Customers who redeemed fund shares for which they had paid a sales charge were permitted to use the proceeds to purchase Class A shares of a new mutual fund at NAV - that is, without paying another sales charge. FINRA found that, as a result of inadequate supervisory systems at Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo and UBS from 2002 through 2004, and at Prudential Securities from 2002 to 2003, certain customers eligible for the NAV programs incurred front-end sales loads that they should not have paid, or purchased other share classes that unnecessarily subjected them to higher fees and the potential of contingent deferred sales charges.
Although FINRA found that Wells Fargo Investments failed to have reasonable supervisory systems and procedures relating to NAV transfer programs, FINRA did not impose a fine because of the firm's proactive remedial actions taken upon its discovery of - and before FINRA's inquiry into - the violative conduct. When Wells Fargo discovered it had failed to provide certain eligible customers with NAV pricing, the firm initiated a review of its mutual fund sales and acted promptly and in good faith to repay customers and correct its system and procedures. As part of this process, Wells Fargo paid more than $612,000 in restitution to investors in Class A shares.
"Firms have an obligation to consider all relevant factors when recommending mutual fund investments, to ensure that they recommend the share class that is most advantageous to the customer," said Susan L. Merrill, Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement. "The supervisory problems here led not only to the sales of inappropriate mutual fund share classes, but to the failure to identify special sales charge waiver programs on mutual fund purchases. We are pleased that through these settlements, millions of dollars will be returned to customers."
In recommending the purchase of mutual funds, a firm must assess the suitability of the class of shares to be purchased as well as the suitability of the particular fund. Primary considerations include the investment amount, the expected holding period of the investment, the applicable sales loads, fees and expenses associated with each class and the effect of such factors on the ultimate return on investment to the investor.
Each firm settled these matters without admitting or denying the allegations, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.
For information about the differences in mutual fund share classes, see the FINRA Investor Alerts, Understanding Mutual Fund Classes and Class B Mutual Fund Shares: Do They Make the Grade? NAV transfers are explained in the Investor Alert Net Asset Value Transfers: Look Before You Leap Into Another Mutual Fund.
Investors can obtain more information about, and the disciplinary record of, any FINRA-registered broker or brokerage firm by using FINRA's BrokerCheck. FINRA makes BrokerCheck available at no charge. In 2007, members of the public used this service to conduct 6.7 million reviews of broker or firm records. Investors can access BrokerCheck at www.finra.org/brokercheck or by calling (800) 289-9999.
FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is the largest non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. Created in 2007 through the consolidation of NASD and NYSE Member Regulation, FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity through effective and efficient regulation and complementary compliance and technology-based services. FINRA touches virtually every aspect of the securities business - from registering and educating industry participants to examining securities firms; writing rules; enforcing those rules and the federal securities laws; informing and educating the investing public; providing trade reporting and other industry utilities; and administering the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and registered firms.
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