Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC) will pay a $42M penalty to New York State to settle allegations that it engaged in fraudulent practices involving electronic trading services. According to a press release issued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the bank admitted that over five years, it “systematically” hid from clients that it was “secretly routing” their equity securities orders to electronic liquidity providers, including Knight Capital, Citadel Securities, Two Sigma Securities, D.E. Shaw, and Madoff Securities, which then executed the transactions.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which is Bank of America’s corporate investment banking division, had “undisclosed” agreements with these providers. Its “masking” strategy was used in more than 16 million client orders that involved over 4 billion shares that were traded.
According to the probe by Schneiderman office, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s own admission, starting in 2008, the corporate investment banking division purposely took steps to hide that it was sending a number of equity securities orders made by clients to the electronic liquidity providers. Bank of America Merrill Lynch told investors that the orders were executed “in-house.” Meantime, it committed fraud by modifying its electronic trading systems to “automatically doctor” the trade confirmation that clients received after these other firms executed the transactions. Internally, Bank of America Merrill Lynch called this action “masking,” which consisted of replacing the electronic liquidity provider’s identity with a code to make it appear is if a trade execution had taken place through the bank instead.