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Archive for January, 2011

SEC Urges Uniform Fiduciary Duty For Brokers and Advisers

U.S. securities regulators on Friday called for a new uniform fiduciary standard for broker-dealers and investment advisers that would require them to put retail customers ahead of their own financial interests. The recommendations, laid out by the Securities and Exchange Commission in a study reviewed by Reuters late on Friday, would drastically alter the landscape for broker-dealers who under current laws are only required to recommend products that are “suitable” to mom-and-pop investors.

It could also potentially mean changes for investment advisers if the SEC opts to replace their fiduciary standard with a new one, although the study says it would be “no less stringent” than what they face today.

Under today’s standard, advisers must act in a client’s best interest. The study was required under the Dodd-Frank financial law, and its findings are likely to help shape future rule-making at the agency. SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro has long called for harmonizing regulations between brokers and advisers who offer retail customers advice, saying investors may not know the difference between those acting in their best interest and those who are just peddling products.

But both Republican commissioners issued a harsh critique of the study on Friday, saying it failed to provide evidence that investors are “being systemically harmed or disadvantaged”. They also questioned if a uniform standard would eliminate any investor confusion.

Securities America Loses $1.2 million FINRA Arbitration

A FINRA arbitration panel ordered Securities America to pay an investor more than $1.2 million in damages related to losses in promissory notes issued by Medical Capital Holdings Inc., which entered receivership in 2009. The sum included $250,000 in punitive damages.

The case, decided on Dec. 31, was the first among dozens of arbitration cases against Securities America involving its sale of Medical Capital notes to proceed to an arbitration hearing, a Securities America spokeswoman confirmed. Private placements are sales of unregistered securities that are supposed to be marketed only to institutions and sophisticated individuals who meet certain income and net worth requirements.

Josephine Wayman, a California-based investor, filed the case against Securities America and one of its brokers, Randall R. Talbott of Newport Beach, Calif., in late 2009, alleging misrepresentation and fraud, among other things, according to the ruling. She sought $729,000 plus interest, legal fees, punitive damages and other relief. The panel ruled that Securities America and Talbott as jointly responsible for more than $905,000 of the total award, including $734,000 in damages plus interest, $111,465 in legal fees and $59,883 in expert witness fees, according to the award. The firm and Talbott must also pay an additional $17,000 in hearing fees, which are typically split between the parties in most cases.

Securities America, however, is solely responsible for the $250,000 in punitive damages. The panel didn’t fully explain its decision, as is customary in arbitration rulings. One paragraph of the ruling, however, suggests that issues related to witnesses and the discovery phase of the proceeding, when parties exchange information, may have prompted the punitive damages.

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