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Archive for February, 2014


FINRA fines Berthel Fisher and affiliate $775,000 for supervisory failures

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it has fined Berthel Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. and its affiliate, Securities Management & Research, Inc., of Marion, Iowa, a combined $775,000 for supervisory deficiencies, including Berthel Fisher’s failure to supervise the sale of non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), and leveraged and inverse exchange-traded funds (ETFs). As part of the settlement, Berthel Fisher must retain an independent consultant to improve its supervisory procedures relating to its sale of alternative investments.

Brad Bennett, FINRA’s Executive Vice President of Enforcement, said, “A strong culture of compliance is an essential element of the proper marketing of complex products. Berthel’s supervision of the sales of non-traded REITs, inverse ETFs and other products fell short of this standard, as it failed to ensure that its registered representatives understood the unique features and risks of these products before presenting them to retail clients.”

FINRA found that from January 2008 to December 2012, Berthel Fisher had inadequate supervisory systems and written procedures for sales of alternative investments such as non-traded REITs, managed futures, oil and gas programs, equipment leasing programs and business development companies. In some instances, the firm failed to accurately calculate concentration levels for alternative investments, thus, the firm did not correctly enforce suitability standards for a number of the sales of these investments. Berthel Fisher also failed to train its staff on individual state suitability standards, which is part of the suitability review for certain alternative investment sales.

FINRA also found that from April 2009 to April 2012, Berthel Fisher did not have a reasonable basis for certain sales of leveraged and inverse ETFs. The firm did not adequately research or review non-traditional ETFs before allowing its registered representatives to recommend them to customers, and failed to provide training to its sales force regarding these products. The firm also failed to monitor the holding periods of these investments by customers, resulting in some instances in customer losses.

In settling this matter, Berthel Fisher and Securities Management & Research neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.

FINRA board approves rule prohibiting conditioning settlements of customer disputes on a customer’s agreement not to oppose expungement

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that its Board of Governors approved a rule proposal that would prohibit firms and associated persons from conditioning settlements of customer disputes on, or otherwise compensating customers for, an agreement not to oppose a request to expunge information from an associated person’s Central Registration Depository (CRD) record. This proposal is designed to help ensure that the CRD system continues to contain information that is critical to investor protection.

FINRA operates the CRD system, which is an online registration and licensing system. The CRD system contains information regarding members and associated persons, including information such as personal, registration and employment history, as well as disclosure information such as criminal matters, regulatory and disciplinary actions, civil judicial actions and information relating to customer disputes. Much of the information in that system is available to investors through FINRA BrokerCheck. Brokers who wish to have customer dispute information removed from the CRD system and, thereby, from BrokerCheck, must obtain a court order directing expungement or confirming an arbitration award containing expungement relief.

The rule proposal will be submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission for review, public comment, and approval.

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