Category: Securities Broker Misconduct

FINRA Sanctions MetLife Securities, Inc. $25 Million for Negligent Misrepresentations and Omissions in Connection With Variable Annuity Replacements

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced recently that it has fined MetLife Securities, Inc. (MSI) $20 million and ordered it to pay $5 million to customers for making negligent material misrepresentations and omissions on variable annuity replacement applications for tens of thousands of customers. FINRA alleged that each misrepresentation and omission propounded by MSI made the replacement appear more beneficial to the customer, even though the recommended variable annuities were typically more expensive than customers’ existing variable annuity. According to FINRA, MSI’s variable annuity replacement business constituted a substantial portion of its business, generating at least $152 million in gross dealer commission for the firm over a six-year period.

FINRA advises that replacing one variable annuity with another involves a comparison of the complex features of each security. Accordingly, variable annuity replacements are subject to regulatory requirements to ensure a firm and its registered representatives compare costs and guarantees that are complete and accurate.

FINRA found that from 2009 through 2014, MSI misrepresented or omitted at least one material fact relating to the costs and guarantees of customers’ existing variable annuity contracts in 72 percent of the 35,500 variable annuity replacement applications the firm approved, based on a sample of randomly selected transactions. Examples from FINRA’s review found that:

• MSI represented to customers that their existing variable annuity was more expensive than the recommended variable annuity, when in fact, the existing variable annuity was less expensive;
• MSI failed to disclose to customers that the proposed variable annuity replacement would reduce or eliminate important features in their existing variable annuity, such as accrued death benefits, guaranteed income benefits, and a guaranteed fixed interest account rider; and,
• MSI understated the value of customers’ existing death benefits in disclosures.

According to Brad Bennett, FINRA Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement, “Variable annuities are complex and expensive products that are routinely pitched to vulnerable investors as a key component of their retirement planning. Firms engaging in this business must ensure that the information on the costs and benefits of these products provided to customers is accurate, and that their registered representatives are sufficiently trained to understand and explain the risks and complex features of what they are selling. These obligations take on even greater importance when a significant part of a firm’s marketing effort involves switching customers out of existing annuities.”

FINRA also found that MSI failed to ensure that its registered representatives obtained and assessed accurate information concerning the recommended VA replacements, and did not adequately train its registered representatives to compare the relative costs and guarantees involved in replacing one variable annuity with another. According to FINRA MSI’s principals did not consider the relative costs and guarantees of the proposed transactions. FINRA alleged that MSI principals ultimately approved 99.79 percent of variable annuity replacement applications submitted to them for review, even though nearly three quarters of those applications contained materially inaccurate information.

FINRA further found that MSI failed to supervise sales of the GMIB rider, the firm’s bestselling feature for its variable annuities. The rider was marketed to customers (many of whom were already holding MetLife annuities) as a means of providing a guaranteed future income stream. The GMIB rider is complex and expensive—annual fees during the relevant period ranged from 1 percent to 1.5 percent of the variable annuities notional income base value. FINRA found that a frequently cited reason for MSI’s recommendation of variable annuity replacements was to allow a customer to purchase the GMIB rider on the new variable annuity contract. Nevertheless, MSI failed to provide registered representatives and principals with reasonable guidance or training about the cost and features of the rider.

In addition, FINRA found that since at least 2009, MSI customers have received misleading quarterly account statements that understate the total charges and fees incurred on certain variable annuity contracts. Typically, the quarterly account statements misrepresented that the total fees and charges were $0.00 when, in fact, the customer has paid a substantial amount in fees and charges.

If you have suffered investment losses as a result of investing with MetLife Securities, 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 or brokerage firm’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.

What is Securities Arbitration?

Securities Arbitration is the process, which takes place following a dispute with a broker or dealer. Prior to arbitration, the investor has determined that the broker engaged in some form of wrongdoing, or otherwise negligent action that resulted in a loss. Depending on the amount of the claim, the investor may or may not have to appear before an arbitrator or group of arbitrators. Arbitration is an alternative to settling in court and is often the preferred method of dispute resolution because it is typically faster and less expensive.

While typically a contract between a firm and investor is what provides ground for arbitration, the absence of a contractual agreement does not mean that the dispute cannot be settled through arbitration. If the broker or firm is registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, they are bound to FINRAs procedural guidelines, which include the duty to participate in arbitration when a conflict arises.

Arbitration is NOT an investor complaint. If you want to make FINRA aware of any suspicious activity then you should file an investor complaint. Arbitration is similar to a court case, with formal proceedings but for the reasons stated above is a simpler and quicker alternative to litigation. If a claim is under $50,000 then the dispute can be settled through what is known as “Simplified Arbitration”. In this scenario, parties provide case materials, which are reviewed by an arbitrator; this does not require parties to appear in person. For cases involving larger sums, arbitration takes place in-person and is reviewed by a panel of up to 3 arbitrators.

To initiate an arbitration, the investor must submit what is known as a “Statement of Claim”. The statement of claim must be articulate and while there is no standardized format, following the format of a suit in court is effective. The statement of claim should include all the pertinent information that the arbitrator(s) need to make an intelligent decision. This included the nature of the dispute, any background information, dates, types of securities at hand, names of the parties involved, the kind of transactions that took place and the damages sought.

Following the statement of claim, the respondents must answer to the allegations. This must also be detailed and simple denial will not suffice. At this point in time the respondent can file a counter-claim against the investor or a 3rd party involved. Once the submission of facts from either side is received by FINRA, a hearing location is chosen. Before the hearing is a discover period, where documentation is provided and exchanged amongst parties involved and FINRA officials. This stage is a window of opportunity for the assertive attorney as it is the opportunity to obtain any and all relevant information from the other party prior to the hearing. Often, the persistence of a dedicated attorney during the prehearing discovery phase can result in a favorable verdict for their client.

The hearing itself is scheduled in advance and follows a similar format to a case in court. Witnesses are interviewed, cross-examined and evidence is produced. A series of questions are asked and there are multiple stages before the process is concluded. The arbitrators will determine what awards are served usually within 30 days of the last hearing. The award will include the basic facts of the dispute but does not have to provide justification or rationale behind the actual dollar amount awarded. The opportunity to appeal a decision exists on the state and federal level but it is rarely ever successful.

The Hanley Law is a Naples, Florida based firm who have an extensive track record of successfully securing awards for their clients. The arbitration process is complex and difficult to navigate without the guidance and advocacy that skilled attorneys can provide. Hanley Law offers a free case evaluation to determine the best course of action for you.

Fraud Lawyers in Florida

Investing in securities can be a great way to secure your financial future; however, it’s important to understand the ways your investments can be mishandled. Understanding the different types of fraudulent activity that can occur is crucial if you plan to invest your money. Making an arrangement with a stockbroker should be carefully considered, as there are many ways that your investments can be mishandled. Stockbroker fraud constitutes a large portion of all lawsuits related to securities, so understanding the different ways your broker could be mishandling your accounts is essential for investors.

You might feel that your investments are unsuitable to your portfolio, over-concentrated in one area or industry, were misrepresented to you (either by purposefully withholding information or presenting misleading information), or that your broker was churning your investments. Churning refers to when a broker trades excessively on your behalf to increase their commissions. Insurance and annuity fraud is often subject to this; annuities, for example, offer some of the highest commissions for stockbrokers, and as such can be misrepresented or sold to investors when it is not in their best interest.

In addition to stockbroker fraud, there are other abuses that regulatory agencies like FINRA & the SEC (Securities & Trade Commission) look out for. Insider trading, fraud and market manipulation also occur in the industry, when individuals privy to certain company information use that information to help theirs or others investments. Investment schemes need to also be considered – these include methods for stealing investor’s money, using misrepresentation and instilling false hope into the investor. A well-known example of an investment scheme is the Ponzi scheme – Where brokers will use the money from new investors to pay their current clients, rather than money generated from the investment. To this end, when the Ponzi scheme is shut down, there isn’t enough real money that can be used to pay back investors. Pyramid schemes are another example of an investment scheme.

Securities violations come in many different forms and carry severe punishments. The process for solving these issues can come in the form of litigation or, more commonly, arbitration, and anyone looking to recover damages from a securities lawsuit should fully understand both options and the prerequisites to filing a claim. If you feel your investments have been mishandled or you may have been subject to securities abuses, it’s important to speak with an attorney who specializes in securities arbitration and litigation. The Hanley Law offer free case evaluations and can help you navigate through your claim.

Hanley Law Investigating Claims Involving Fredrik Magnus Virgin and Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith, Inc.

Hanley Law is currently investigating claims against Fredrik Magnus Virgin (CRD No. 2743410) and Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith, Inc. (“Merrill Lynch”) (CRD No.: 7691). The Hanley Law recently filed a FINRA Arbitration claim on behalf of Claimants in which it was alleged that the broker, Fredrick Magnus Virgin, sold an elderly investor a single life Nationwide annuity. On the date of issuance, the investor was 77 years old and legally blind.

The Nationwide Annuity Application lists the investor’s nephew as the primary beneficiary. Furthermore, the application provides that the nephew is to receive 100% of the benefit, confirms that he is the annuitant’s nephew, and also confirms his social security number and birth date. Upon the investor’s passing, the nephew was denied any death benefit payment by Nationwide. Nationwide advised that the annuity contract had a single life payout option which guaranteed the payments for the lifetime of the annuitant only. In a single life payout option, all payments cease with the last payment due prior to the death of the annuitant. Claimants allege that the investor clearly intended to elect a beneficiary to his Nationwide annuity since he completed the beneficiary section on his annuity application and provided all necessary information to elect a beneficiary to his annuity.

The annuity contract at issued was entered into when the investor was 77 years old. The investor lost a significant portion of his originally invested principal, plus the loss of a reasonable return on his investment, because he did not live long enough for his monthly annuity payments to equal to the original purchase price of the annuity. In order for the investor to have broken even on his investment, he would have had to live to be over 85 years old. Claimants allege that there was no reasonable basis to recommend a single life payout annuity to a senior who was 77 years old at the time of purchase. Furthermore, it is alleged that the policy application clearly evidences that it was the investor’s intention to name a beneficiary to the annuity as all the necessary information to elect a beneficiary was provided on the annuity application.

Claimants have alleged that Respondent violated industry rules, including but not limited to FINRA’s customer suitability standard (Rule 2111) as well as FINRA rules 3110 and 2010. Thus, it is alleged that Merrill Lynch violated the duty of care and was negligent. Claimants further allege that Merrill Lynch breached the contract that was entered into and also breached the fiduciary duty that a securities firm and its employees/agents owe to their clients. Claimants alleged that Respondent’s misconduct constitutes common law fraud. Moreover, Claimants allege that the account at issue was handled negligently and Merrill Lynch was negligent in their supervision of Virgin. As such, Claimants allege that Merrill Lynch is liable for their conduct and the conduct of their employees by virtue of the doctrines of agency, respondeat superior, and vicarious liability.

If you were a client of Fredrik Magnus Virgin or Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith, Inc. and have suffered investment losses, please contact the Hanley Law to explore your legal options. The Hanley Law is dedicated to helping investors who have been victims of securities fraud. If you have lost money as a result of securities fraud, you may be able to recover your financial losses. Contact us today toll free at (239) 649-0050 for a free initial consultation.