TAG | UIT
FINRA Announces Merrill Lynch to Pay More Than $2.5 Million Related to UIT Sales Charge Discount Failures
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WASHINGTON — It was announced today that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has fined Merrill Lynch $500,000 for failing to provide sales charge discounts to customers on eligible purchases of Unit Investment Trusts (UITs). FINRA also found that Merrill Lynch failed to have an adequate supervisory system in place to ensure customers received appropriate UIT discounts. The firm also agreed to provide remediation of more than $2 million to affected customers.
”Firms have been on notice since at least 2004 that they must develop and implement procedures to ensure customers receive appropriate sales charge discounts for UIT investments,” said James S. Shorris, FINRA Executive Vice President and Acting Chief of Enforcement. “In this case, it was critical for the firm to ensure that its brokers were diligent in providing sales charge discounts to which customers were entitled. This failure resulted in increased investment costs to Merrill’s customers.”
A UIT is a type of investment company that offers redeemable units, of a generally fixed portfolio of securities, that terminate on a specific date. UIT sponsors generally offer sales charge discounts to investors, known as “breakpoint discounts” and “rollover and exchange discounts.”
A breakpoint discount is a reduced sales charge based on the dollar amount of the purchase – the higher the amount the greater the discount. Breakpoints generally function as a sliding reduction in the sales charge percentage available for purchases, usually beginning at $25,000 or $50,000 (or the corresponding number of units).
A rollover or exchange discount is a reduced sales charge that is offered to investors who use the termination or redemption proceeds from one UIT to purchase another UIT.
It was noted that on March 31, 2004, FINRA issued a Regulatory Notice to firms titled, Unit Investment Trust Sales. The Notice reminds broker-dealers that they should develop and implement procedures to ensure customers receive appropriate sales charge discounts for UITs.
Also, prior to May 2008, however, Merrill Lynch’s written supervisory procedures had little to no information or guidance regarding UIT sales charge discounts. Even after the firm established procedures addressing UIT sales charge discounts, the procedures were inaccurate and conflicting.
Merrill Lynch also approved for distribution, and for use in client presentations, inaccurate and misleading UIT sales literature. The presentation discussed sales charge discounts, but led clients to believe that they were only entitled to a discount if they used UIT proceeds to purchase a new UIT offered by the same sponsor.
Merrill Lynch’s procedures lacked substantive guidelines, instructions, policies or steps for brokers or their supervisors to follow to determine if a customer’s UIT purchase qualified for and received a sales charge discount. As a result of its defective procedures, between October 2006 and June 2008, the firm failed to appropriately apply discounts on rollover and breakpoint purchases resulting in customers being overcharged on their UIT purchases.
As part of the settlement, Merrill Lynch is providing restitution to all customers who were overcharged when purchasing UITs through the firm, from January 2006 to the present. Merrill Lynch settled this matter without admitting or denying the allegations, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.
This information was obtained from FINRA’s website.
If you feel you have become a victim of the alleged overpricing of Merrill Lynch’s UITs, call a FINRA Securities arbitration lawyer for a free consultation on how to recover your losses. To speak with an attorney, call 888-760-6552, or visit www.stockmarketlawsuit.com. Soreide Law Group, PLLC., representing investors nationwide before FINRA and the NFA.
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SunTrust Investment Services Ordered by FINRA to Pay $1.44 Million for Unsuitable UIT, Closed-End Fund and Mutual Fund Transactions
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WASHINGTON — On July 22, 2010, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that it ordered SunTrust Investment Services, Inc. of Atlanta, GA, to pay $1.44 million to resolve charges related to unsuitable unit investment trust (UIT), closed-end fund (CEF) and mutual fund transactions. Of that amount, $900,000 is a fine that includes nearly $224,000 in disgorgement of commissions earned on the unsuitable trades. The remaining $540,000 represents restitution to 17 customers who incurred losses.
As part of this settlement, SunTrust must also review all UIT purchases and provide remediation to all eligible customers who did not receive the maximum sales charge discount.
“Firms must monitor for patterns of UIT and closed-end fund sales to ensure that such sales are suitable for the customer,” said James S. Shorris, FINRA Executive Vice President and Acting Chief of Enforcement. “SunTrust failed to meet that obligation, which caused its customers, including elderly customers, to incur significant losses.”
It was reported that FINRA found that SunTrust, through two brokers in the firm’s Maryland Region, engaged in a pattern of unsuitable short-term UIT, CEF and mutual fund transactions in accounts of 17 customers, most of whom were elderly and/or disabled. The brokers also engaged in unsuitable margin transactions in the accounts of 10 of the 17 customers. In addition, FINRA found that SunTrust failed to ensure that eligible customers received the maximum sales charge discount on UIT purchases and lacked adequate systems and procedures for monitoring and supervising UIT, CEF and margin transactions.
FINRA previously sanctioned one of the individual brokers involved in this matter, David Bredenburg of Timonium, MD, permanently barring him from working in the securities industry. FINRA has filed a complaint against the second broker, charging him with numerous violations, including unsuitable recommendations, sales and use of margin; failure to provide maximum sales charge discounts on UIT transactions; and, engaging in discretionary trading in customer accounts without written authorization. FINRA also suspended the two brokers’ former supervisor, Donald Mattran of Bel Air, MD, for six months in any principal capacity and fined him $10,000.
FINRA found that between February 2004 and November 2006, SunTrust, through Bredenburg and, it is alleged, the second broker, recommended 294 unsuitable short-term UIT, CEF and mutual fund transactions in the accounts of 17 customers. The two brokers repeatedly recommended that the customers sell UITs and CEFs less than one year – and sometimes as soon as one month – after purchasing the securities at the broker’s recommendation, with little or no economic benefit to the customer.
FINRA further found that SunTrust, through the two brokers, recommended to 10 of those customers unsuitable purchases and sales of securities on margin – failing to adequately disclose the risks and costs of trading on margin and lacking a reasonable basis for their recommendations. As a result, the customers paid over $133,000 in margin interest.
FINRA also found that SunTrust lacked adequate systems and procedures to monitor UIT and CEF transactions and margin accounts, and to ensure that customers purchasing UITs received applicable sales charge discounts.
FINRA’s action barring Bredenburg found that between February 2004 and March 2009 – while he was registered first with SunTrust and later with Merrill Lynch – Bredenburg recommended at least 167 unsuitable short-term UIT and CEF transactions, including switches, to 13 customers who were elderly, retired or disabled and who had conservative to moderate investment profiles. He also recommended unsuitable transactions on margin and unsuitable variable annuity liquidations. FINRA further found that Bredenburg failed to disclose to customers the costs and fees associated with short-term CEF and UIT transactions, failed to ensure that customers received maximum sales charge discounts on UIT purchases and engaged in discretionary trading without prior written authorization.
Furthermore, FINRA found that between February 2004 and December 2005, Mattran and SunTrust approved each short-term transaction, including transactions placed using margin, and did not respond adequately to red flags suggesting that the transactions were unsuitable. For example, the trade blotter listed over 200 sales of UITs and CEFs among the 17 customers’ accounts and compliance reviews in August 2004 and April 2005 alerted Mattran and the firm to questionable short-term UIT and CEF transactions by both brokers.
FINRA found that between August 2008 and February 2009, while registered with Merrill Lynch, Bredenburg accessed a customer’s Merrill Lynch brokerage account through the internet and, without the customer’s knowledge, transferred funds from the customer’s account to pay Bredenburg’s personal expenses, including mortgage, car loan and credit cards. Merrill Lynch has compensated firm customers affected by Bredenburg’s misconduct.
In concluding these settlements, SunTrust, Bredenburg and Mattran neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings. FINRA’s charges against the second broker alleged to be involved are pending.
This information was obtained from the FINRA website.
If you have invested into UTI’s and have had significant losses or if you feel you are a victim of the alleged fraudulent schemes of David Bredenburg, Donald Mattran, or SunTrust Investment Services, Inc, call a FINRA Securities arbitration lawyer for a free consultation on how to recover your losses. To speak with an attorney, call 888-760-6552, or visit www.stockmarketlawsuit.com. Soreide Law Group, PLLC., representing investors nationwide before FINRA and the NFA.
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