Articles Posted in Mutual Funds

UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) has agreed to settle US Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the brokerage firm of not ensuring that certain charitable brokerage accounts and retail retirement accounts received the sales charge waivers or reduced fee share classes to which they were entitled when they purchased certain mutual funds. However, despite settling, including agreeing to pay a $3.5M penalty, the firm did not admit to or deny the SEC’s findings.

The regulator’s order states that from at least 1/2010 through 6/2015, UBS did not confirm certain customers’ eligibility to purchase from a less costly mutual fund share class and instead recommended that they buy more expensive ones. The customers that were affected purportedly did not have enough information at their disposal to understand that UBS had a conflict of interest when recommending the costlier share classes, such as Class A shares that came with an upfront sales fee and Class B/C shares that charged contingent deferred sales fees at the back-end plus came with costlier ongoing expenses and fees. All of the customers affected had been eligible to buy either no-load Class R shares or load-waved Class A shares.

As a result, claims the Commission, 15,250 customer accounts paid more than $18.5M in excess fees and expenses, upfront sales fees, and “contingent deferred sales charges.” Also, by selling investors the more expensive share classes, UBS earned higher compensations. The brokerage firm is accused of not disclosing to these customers that buying the costlier share classes would hurt their investments’ returns.

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In a settlement with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a number of Cetera Financial Group brokerage firms have agreed to collectively pay $3.3M for not properly supervising whether mutual fund sales charge waivers were applied correctly clients at charitable organizations and in retirement plans. The firms that have settled include Cetera Financial Specialists, Cetera Investment Services, Summit Brokerage Services, First Allied Securities, and Girard Securities.

The $3.3M is how much these clients were excessively charged plus interest for the mutual funds that they bought from July 2009 to July 2017. According to the self-regulatory organization, the brokerage firms either: charged front-end sales charges to charitable organization and retirement plan customers that bought A shares in mutual funds even though they were eligible to have these fees waived or sold them class C/B shares while charging them back-end sales charges and “higher ongoing fees and expenses.”

FINRA accused the Cetera firms of not reasonably supervising the way the sales charges waivers were applied to the mutual fund sales and leaving it up to financial advisers to decide whether the waivers should be applied. The SRO also contends that the broker-dealers did not maintain written policies and procedures that were adequate enough to help financial advisers in making such determinations.

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Voya Accused of Not Disclosing Revenue Received for Mutual Fund Sales
The US Securities and Exchange Commission said that Voya Financial Advisors (VOYA) would pay approximately $3.1M to regulators and investors for not telling customers about revenue the firm was paid related to a mutual fund program that didn’t bill transaction fees. Voya’s clearing broker-dealer paid the firm a percentage of the money made from the mutual fund sales. This was information that should have been shared with investors.

Also, since 2014, Voya and the third-party brokerage firm were involved in a separate agreement under which Voya provided certain administrative services in return for a percentage of service fees involving certain mutual funds. The regulator said that these payments were a conflict because they gave Voya incentive to preference these funds over other investments, which could have impacted what the firm recommended to advisory clients. As part of the settlement, Voya will pay about $2.6M of disgorgement, approximately $175K of interest, and a $300K penalty. The firm is not, however, denying or admitting to the SEC’s findings.

Fired Waddell & Reed Broker is Barred from the Securities Industry
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred an ex-Waddell & Reed Inc. broker from the industry. Paul D. Stanley was fired from the firm last year for allegedly violating its policies regarding supervision, compensation, and conduct.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission has arrived at a global settlement with State Street Bank and Trust Company. According to the regulator, State Street misled custody clients, including mutual funds, about hidden markups that were added to foreign currency exchange trades. The firm will pay $382.4M, including $167M in penalties and disgorgement to the Commission, a $155M penalty to the U.S. Justice Department, and at least $60M to ERISA plan clients.

Among the other services it provides, State Street facilitates indirect foreign currency exchange trading for clients so that they can sell and purchase foreign currencies in transactions involving foreign securities. An SEC probe found that State Street made a substantial chunk of money in revenue when it misled some clients about Indirect FX, claimed that it offered the most competitive rates on trades, charged “market rates,” and provided “best execution.” The Commission contends that the company did not try to get the best prices for clients.

The SEC believes that State Street concealed markups so that custody clients would not notice. It also found that registered investment company custody clients were given monthly transaction reports and trade confirmations that were materially misleading because of misrepresentations about foreign currency exchange transaction pricing.

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Securities and Exchange Commission to Audit RIAs Over Mutual Fund Share Classes
The SEC has announced that it will audit registered investment advisers so that it can examine the kinds of mutual fund share classes that they sell to clients. Share class recommendations and compliance are of particular interest to the regulator.

Because RIAs are fiduciaries, they have a duty to uphold their clients’ best interests. This includes selecting the lowest-cost share classes and 529 plan investments on a client’s behalf, depending on the latter’s investment goals. The Commission wants to see whether conflicts of interest exist, such as when an adviser is also the brokerage firm or is affiliated with a firm that garners fees from selling certain mutual fund share classes.

The SEC also wants to look at whether RIAs are disclosing if there is anyone getting paid compensation for the sale of either mutual fund share classes or other investment products. The fee might be a charge for the actual sale or a fee incurred according to the assets sold.

SEC Adopts Amendments to Regulation SBSR
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has adopted guidance and amendments for Regulation SBSR, which includes rules for the public dissemination and regulatory reporting of security-based swap transactions. The rules and guidance were created to enhance transparency in the market for security-based swaps. They were mandated under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

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BNY Mellon to Pay Massachusetts $3M Over Computer Problem That Impacted Mutual Funds
Bank of New York Mellon (BK) will pay $3 million to the state of Massachusetts to resolve a probe that found that a computer glitch did not calculate net asset values for over 1,000 mutual funds. Although the bank hired SunGard InvestOne to calculate these values, there was one weekend last year when a malfunction occurred.

The Massachusetts Securities Division conducted an investigation and discovered that BNY Mellon lacked a back-up plan to deal with such a malfunction. Because of this, non-uniform and untimely information was sent to clients and funds. As Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin noted, it is the job of financial institutions like BNY Mellon to oversee third-party vendors and put into place a back-up plan in the event a vendor’s system fails. The bank says that in the wake of the outage, it took action to protect client interests and ensure that the daily net asset values were issued.

BNY Mellon said that it has since made investors and the funds that sustained losses because of the computer error whole. The bank has made changes to supervisory procedures.

WedBush to Pay $675K Fine to Nasdaq and FINRA over Trading and Clearing Errors Involving Exchange-Traded Funds
Wedbush Securities Inc. will pay a $675K fine to the Nasdaq Stock Market and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. over clearing and trading mistakes involving redemption and trading activities related to leveraged ETFs. Wedbush served as Scout Trading, LLC’s clearing firm.

According to FINRA, from 1/10 to 2/12, Scout Trading was not long enough in the shares that made up the redemption orders. Scott Trading turned in more than 250 naked redemption orders via Wedbush. These involved nearly a dozen ETFS that totaled over 295 million shares. This activity and ETF shortselling on the second market by Scout Trading led to Wedbush’s failure to deliver on a number of occasions. (This could have led to a naked short sale in which the seller does not arrange to borrow the securities in a manner timely enough for the buyer to receive the delivery within the standard three days.)

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The Securities and Exchange Commission says that Virtus Investment Advisers will pay $16.5M to resolve charges accusing the investment management firm of misleading mutual fund investors and others using ads with false historical performance information about exchange-traded fund portfolio strategy AlphaSector. According to the regulator, the firm publicized a performance track record that it got from F-Squared that was substantially overstated. Virtus had hired F-Squared as a mutual fund subadvisor as well as a subadvisor for those that followed AlphaSector.

The SEC, following its probe, said that Virtus falsely stated in SEC filings, client presentations, marketing collateral, and other communications that the AlphaSector’s strategy had a performance history going as far back as 2001 and had for a number years outperformed the S & P 500 Index. The investment management firm is accused of accepting F-Squared’s misrepresentations as fact while disregarding the red flags that raised doubts about these statements.

Six years ago Virtus recommended that shareholders of specific mutual funds and the boards of trustees approve a modification in strategy and management to AlphaSector and F-Squared. This recommendation was made because of the false historical data on AlphaSector.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority says that another five firms must pay restitution to specific retirement and charitable accounts for overcharging them for mutual funds. Edward D. Jones will pay $13.5M, Stifel Nicolaus (SF) will pay $2.9M, AXA Advisors will pay $600K, Janney Montgomery Scott will pay $1.2M, and Stephens Inc. will pay $15K.

The announcement comes just a few months after the self-regulatory organization fined five other firms over $30M for similar violations. Those firms were LPL Financial LLC (LPL), Raymond James Financial Services (RJF), Raymond James & Associates, Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC (WFC), and Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC. Due to their purported oversight, over 50,000 charitable organizations and retirement accounts ended up paying too much for their mutual fund shares.

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SEC to Propose Reforms to Improve Liquidity Management for Open-End Funds
The Securities and Exchange Commission voted to propose a package of rule reforms to improve effective liquidity risk management for open-end funds, including exchange-traded funds and mutual funds. If approved, both would have to put into place liquidity risk management programs and improve disclosure about liquidity and redemption practices. The hope is that investors will be more able to redeem shares and get assets back in a timely fashion.

The liquidity risk management program of a fund would have to include a number of elements, including classification of the fund portfolio assets liquidity according to how much time an asset could be converted to cash without affecting the market, the review, management, and evaluation of the liquidity risk of a fund, the set up of a fund’s liquidity asset minimum over three days, as well as board review and approval. The proposal also seeks to codify the 15% limit on illiquid assets that are found in SEC guidelines.

Commission Looks for Comment on Regulation S-X
The SEC announced last month that it is looking for public comment regarding the financial disclosure requirements in Regulation S-X and their effectiveness. The comments are to focus on form requirements and the content contained in financial disclosure that companies have to submit to the regulator about affiliated entities, businesses acquired, and issuers and guarantors of guaranteed securities.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging First Eagle Investment Management and its distribution arm FEF Distributors with improperly using the assets of mutual fund shareholders to pay two broker-dealers to market and distribute its funds. To settle the charges, both entities will pay $40 million, which will go toward repaying shareholders that were impacted. The SEC said the violations took place from 1/08 to 3/14.

While it is typical for mutual fund managers to pay money to brokerage firms and other financial intermediaries to get funds placement on platforms and distribution through financial advisers, the payments are only allowed to come from the assets of an actual fund if they are part of a 12-1b plan that involves apprising shareholders and fund boards of such payments. Also, while funds are allowed to pay broker-dealers for services rendered, again they can only come out of a fund’s assets for said services and not for access to a brokerage firm’s clients.

The SEC has been looking into whether funds are being illegally paid to broker-dealers under the pretense that their money was going toward other services. The regulator’s efforts are related to its Distribution-in-Guise Initiative, which involves investigating whether certain mutual fund advisers are using fund assets improperly by disguising distribution payments as sub-transfer agency payments. The Commission contends that First Eagle and FEF distributors illegally caused the asset managers to pay close to $25 million for services that were related to distribution as opposed to using its own assets to pay firms for this access.

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