WASHINGTON — The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it ordered Santander Securities LLC to pay approximately $4.3 million in restitution to certain customers who were solicited to purchase Puerto Rican Municipal Bonds (PRMBs). Additionally, the firm will pay restitution of $121,000 and make offers of rescission to buy back the securities sold to certain customers impacted by the firm's failure to supervise employee trading. FINRA also censured and fined Santander $2 million for supervisory failures related to sales of PRMBs and Puerto Rican closed-end funds, and for failing to reasonably supervise employee trading in its Puerto Rico branch office.
Brad Bennett, FINRA's Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement, said, "This is a strong reminder to firms that they must focus on customers' exposure to market risks and suitability, particularly in those markets like Puerto Rico that present unique risks and challenges."
FINRA found that between December 2012 and October 2013, Santander did not ensure that its proprietary product risk-classification tool accurately reflected market risks of investing in PRMBs, and failed to adequately supervise its customers' use of margin and concentrated positions in their accounts. The firm's systems and procedures did not require a review or assessment of its product risk-classification tool, used by Santander's representatives when recommending products to customers, to determine whether it factored in the changed risks of investing in PRMBs. Most notably, Santander did not review or assess the tool's PRMB risk classifications following significant market events such as the December 13, 2012, Moody's downgrade of certain PRMBs to one level above junk. The day after the Moody's downgrade, Santander stopped purchasing PRMBs that its Puerto Rican customers wanted to sell and accelerated its efforts to reduce the firm's inventory of PRMBs.
During this same time period, Santander did not have systems or procedures in place to ensure that any comprehensive review of accounts with significant concentration in Puerto Rican bonds and closed-end funds was conducted to determine whether new purchases were suitable in light of existing positions.
Additionally, FINRA found that Santander failed to reasonably supervise employee trading in its Puerto Rico office with a view toward mitigating potential conflicts of interest where customer orders were filled through positions held in their own broker's personal brokerage account. Because Santander did not have adequate systems in place, approximately 400 of these types of transactions went undetected.
In concluding this settlement, Santander neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.
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 2014, members of the public used this service to conduct 18.9 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 firm, writing rules, enforcing those rules and the federal securities laws, and informing and educating the investing public. In addition, FINRA provides surveillance and other regulatory services for equities and options markets, as well as trade reporting and other industry utilities. FINRA also administers the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and firms. For more information, please visit www.finra.org.