WASHINGTON — The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it has fined Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. $2.8 million for supervisory failures that resulted in overcharging customers $32 million in unwarranted fees, and for failing to provide certain required trade notices. Merrill Lynch has provided $32 million in remediation, plus interest, to the affected customers.
Brad Bennett, FINRA's Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement, said, "Investors must be able to trust that the fees charged by their securities firm are, in fact, correct. When this is not the case, investor confidence is threatened."
FINRA found that from April 2003 to December 2011, Merrill Lynch failed to have an adequate supervisory system to ensure that customers in certain investment advisory programs were billed in accordance with contract and disclosure documents. As a result, the firm overcharged nearly 95,000 customer accounts fees of more than $32 million. Merrill Lynch has since returned the unwarranted fees, with interest, to the affected customers.
Merrill Lynch also failed to provide timely trade confirmations to customers in certain advisory programs due to computer programming errors. As a result, from July 2006 to November 2010, Merrill Lynch failed to send customers trade confirmations for more than 10.6 million trades in over 230,000 customer accounts. In addition, Merrill Lynch failed to properly identify whether it acted as an agent or principal on trade confirmations and account statements relating to at least 7.5 million mutual fund purchase transactions. At various times, Merrill Lynch also failed to deliver certain proxy and voting materials, margin risk disclosure statements and business continuity plans.
In concluding this settlement, Merrill Lynch neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.
FINRA's investigation was conducted by Gerard Murphy and Tracey Seraydarian, under the supervision of Richard Best and Michael Choi.
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 2011, members of the public used this service to conduct 14.2 million reviews of broker or firm records. Investors can access BrokerCheck at www.finra.org/brokercheck or by calling (800) 289-9999. Investors may find copies of this disciplinary action as well as other disciplinary documents in FINRA's Disciplinary Actions Online database.
FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. 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 all 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 firms. For more information, please visit www.finra.org.