NEXT Financial Group recently entered into a regulatory settlement with FINRA, the regulator that oversees securities brokerages, concerning lapses in supervision that have allegedly led to fraud in investor accounts. This is part of a continuing and ongoing series of supervisory lapses of NEXT to ensure that its brokers do not commit fraud or other misdeeds. These lapses may serve as a basis for investors to recover losses.
Most recently, on December 26, 2019, the Massachusetts Securities Division disclosed it had reached a settlement and fined Next Financial $150,000 for sales practice violations and a failure to supervise, including allegedly unsuitable sales of REITs.
Certain REITs are not publicly traded, causing them to be very high-risk. To sell these high-risk investments, the REITs often pay extremely high commissions. Regulations prevent these investments from being sold to unsophisticated investors. Even the most sophisticated investors are limited by most states from having more than 20-30% of their portfolios invested in such investments.
Like Massachusetts, the New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation stated it had also reached a settlement with Next Financial in which the broker-dealer agreed to pay a fine of $235,000 and costs of $90,000 for failing to reasonably supervise the sale of certain alternative investments to a number of clients, including unsuitable sales of non-traded REITs.
On December 6, 2017, entered into its most recent regulatory settlement. Under that settlement, NEXT was censured and received a $750,000 fine. The current allegations leading to the action included the failure to monitor and control investment churning and inappropriate sales of variable annuities. The size of the fine was do to the ongoing and continuing supervisory deficiencies and regulatory violations that NEXT continued to commit. The supervisory problems extend not just to these investments but extend to other supervisory issues. This is evidenced by the string of regulatory violations that NEXT has been accused over the past several years.
On November 22, 2011, FlNRA issued a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (an “AWC” is a regulatory settlement ), in which NEXT was censured, fined $50,000 and ordered to pay $2,000,000 in restitution to investors for violations of FINRA Rule 2010 and NASD Rules 2110, 2310 and 3010 arising out of its sales of certain private offerings and related supervisory deficiencies. Additionally, NEXT was censured and fined again for supervisory issues in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
In response to prior disciplinary actions, NEXT adopted new measures in an attempt to correct prior supervisory deficiencies. The new procedures, however, employed flawed methodologies and allowed misconduct to occur. The current regulatory action involves various supervisory and other violations during the period August 2012 through September 2015 that arose in part from NEXT’s inadequate response to prior FINRA disciplinary actions.
The primary violation in the current regulatory action occurred between May 2014 and September 2015 when NEXT used faulty exception reports, reports of potentially fraudulent activity, to detect excessive trading (commonly referred to as “churning”), failed to perform any review of those exception reports for a 14-month period, and allowed churning to continue due to inadequate oversight. The failure by some compliance personnel to fulfill their job duties was not detected due to an absence of procedures requiring follow-up on delegated supervisory tasks. These supervisory failures allowed a registered representative to excessively trade a senior investor’s accounts, resulting in losses of approximately $391,893.
NEXT had similar deficiencies between August 2012 and April 2014 concerning its supervision of variable annuities (VA). The Firm failed to have a surveillance system that monitored for problematic rates of exchange regarding VAs. In addition, NEXT also had inadequate exception reports, reports used to detect fraud, and NEXT’s procedures ignored risks associated with multi-share class VAs. The Firm also had information on its website.