WASHINGTON — The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it has ordered Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. and LPL Financial LLC to pay more than $30 million in restitution, including interest, to affected customers for failing to waive mutual fund sales charges for certain charitable and retirement accounts. Wells Fargo, Raymond James and LPL will pay affected customers an estimated $15 million, $8.7 million and $6.3 million, respectively. In addition to this amount, LPL will be paying restitution to eligible customers who purchase or purchased mutual funds without an appropriate sales charge waiver from January 1, 2015, through the date that the firm fully implements training, systems and procedures related to the supervision of mutual fund sales waivers.
Brad Bennett, FINRA’s Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement, said, “In this case, FINRA is ordering meaningful restitution to adversely affected investors consistent with our commitment to ensure that mutual fund investors get the full benefit of available fee and expense reductions. While Wells Fargo, Raymond James and LPL failed to ensure that customers received these discounts, FINRA’s sanctions acknowledge that the firms detected and self-reported these errors, and will provide full restitution to customers.”
Mutual funds offer several classes of shares, each with different sales charges and fees. Typically, Class A shares have lower fees than Class B and C shares, but charge customers an initial sales charge. Many mutual funds waive their upfront sales charges on Class A shares for certain types of retirement accounts, and some waive these charges for charities.
Mutual funds available on the retail platforms of Wells Fargo, Raymond James, and LPL offered these waivers to charitable and retirement plan accounts under limited circumstances and disclosed them in their prospectuses. However, at various times since at least July 2009, Wells Fargo, Raymond James and LPL did not waive the sales charges for affected customers when they offered Class A shares. As a result, more than 50,000 eligible retirement accounts and charitable organizations at these firms either paid sales charges when purchasing Class A shares, or purchased other share classes that unnecessarily subjected them to higher ongoing fees and expenses.
Wells Fargo, Raymond James and LPL failed to adequately supervise the sale of mutual funds that offered sales charge waivers. The firms unreasonably relied on financial advisors to waive charges for retirement and eligible charitable organization accounts, without providing them with critical information and training.
In concluding these settlements, Wells Fargo, Raymond James, and LPL 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 firms, 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.