WFG has recently been identified and fined as the result of allegations that its supervision of its brokers is lacking. To speak to an attorney to discuss your rights please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation.
FINRA asserts that during 2012 and 2013, senior personnel at WFG were aware of red flags that one of its brokers in its San Antonio office, who FINRA only identifies as “MB,” was engaged in unsuitable trading with respect to low-priced securities, which generally carry a high level of risk. Notwithstanding their knowledge of these red flags, the Firm consistently failed to take adequate supervisory steps to ensure that MB’s sales of low-priced securities to his customers were suitable.
Unsuitable investments are investments a broker recommends that are either more aggressive than an investor’s risk tolerance, inconsistent with an investor’s objectives, too risky given an investor’s financial condition, too complicated for an investor given the investor’s lack of investment sophistication, or otherwise inconsistent with the wants and needs of an investor. There are many incentives that a broker may have for recommending unsuitable investments, but the most common is that risky investments often pay a higher commission.
Brokerage firms have a duty to ensure that only suitable investments are sold. FINRA’s action alleges that WFG failed to respond appropriately when it should have been aware that a broker was recommending unsuitable investments.
For instance, in August 2012, the Firm held a meeting at WFG’s headquarters that was attended by senior supervisory and compliance personnel, as well as a supervisor FINRA identifies only as “WG,” MB’s direct supervisor. During this meeting, compliance personnel noted that MB was unsuitably concentrating his customers’ portfolios in low-priced securities. WG was instructed during this meeting not to permit MB or other representatives in the San Antonio branch office to purchase any more positions in a specific security, LB, on behalf of their clients.
WG, however, failed to enforce this directive. In fact, MB continued to sell low-priced securities, including LB, in his WFG and RIA (investment advisory) accounts. The Firm and its personnel also failed to follow up appropriately on red flag information that they learned about MB’s sale practices during this meeting.
ln September 2012, the Firm conducted an inadequate inspection of MB’s branch office in San Antonio. The Compliance Manager assigned to conduct this audit, JA, another supervisor, had participated in the August 2012 meeting. Notwithstanding his knowledge of potential sales practice violations involving low-priced securities, the audit conducted by JA related only to non-sales practice issues, such as the review of change of address requests and a check of controls over the receipt of incoming mail.
During this audit, JA did not review: (1) advisory activity by representatives in this branch office, including MB, (2) trading in low-priced securities, including LB; or (3) suitability of transactions recommended or executed in this branch office. In January 2013, the Firm held another meeting at its headquarters with senior supervisory and compliance personnel, as well as WG and MB. During this meeting, compliance personnel raised continuing concerns about ongoing unsuitable trading in low-priced securities in MB’s accounts and about undisclosed complaints against MB from his time with his previous employer.
Ultimately, FINRA censured the firm and ordered it to pay a $150,000 fine for their supervisory lapses. Such lapses in supervision can make the firm responsible for other broker misdeeds. If you suffered a loss, call toll-free 1-866-817-0201.