The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently announced that it has ordered Barclays Capital, Inc. (CRD # 19714) to pay more than $10 million in restitution, including interest, to affected customers for mutual fund-related suitability violations. These suitability violations relate to a variety of mutual fund transactions, including mutual fund switches. Additionally, FINRA alleged that the firm failed to provide applicable breakpoint discounts to certain customers. Barclays was also censured and fined $3.75 million.
According to FINRA rules, broker-dealers are obligated to ensure that any recommendations to switch mutual funds are evaluated with regard to the net investment advantage to the investor. FINRA advises that “switching among certain fund types may be difficult to justify if the financial gain or investment objective to be achieved by the switch is undermined by the transaction fees associated with the switch.” A “mutual fund switch” involves one or more mutual fund redemption transactions coupled with one or more related mutual fund purchase transactions.
FINRA found that from January 2010 through June 2015, Barclays’ supervisory systems were not sufficient to prevent unsuitable switching or to meet certain other firm obligations regarding the sale of mutual funds to retail brokerage customers. In particular, the firm incorrectly defined a mutual fund switch in its supervisory procedures to require three separate transactions within a certain time frame. Based on this incorrect definition, Barclays failed to act on thousands of automated alerts for potentially unsuitable transactions, excluded transactions from review for suitability and failed to ensure that disclosure letters were sent to customers regarding the transaction costs. As a result, during the five-year period, there were more than 6,100 unsuitable mutual fund switches resulting in customer harm of approximately $8.63 million.
Additionally, FINRA found that the firm failed to provide adequate guidance to supervisors to ensure that mutual fund transactions for its retail brokerage customers were suitable based upon customer investment objectives, risk tolerance and account holdings. During a six-month look back review, 1,723, or 39 percent of mutual fund transactions were found to be unsuitable, with 343 customers experiencing financial harm totaling more than $800,000, including realized losses.
In addition, FINRA alleged that during the same five-year period, Barclays’ supervisory system failed to ensure that purchases were properly aggregated so that eligible customers could be provided with breakpoint discounts. A six-month look back review by FINRA found that the firm failed to provide eligible customers discounts in Class A share mutual fund transactions.
If you have suffered investment losses as a result of your broker’s or brokerage firm’s misconduct, contact the Hanley Law to discuss your legal options. The Hanley Law is dedicated to helping investors nationwide. If you have lost money as a result of your broker’s recommendations, you may be entitled to recover your investment losses. Contact our office toll free at (239) 649-0050 for a complimentary initial consultation.