An AWC was issued in which the firm was censured and required to provide FINRA with a remediation plan to remediate eligible customers who qualified for, but did not receive, an applicable mutual fund sales-charge waiver. As part of this settlement, the firm agreed to pay restitution to eligible customers, which is estimated to total approximately $876,915 (the amount eligible customers were overcharged, inclusive of interest). The firm will also ensure that retirement and charitable waivers are appropriately applied to all future transactions. Without admitting or denying the findings, the firm consented to the sanctions and to the entry of findings that it disadvantaged certain retirement plan and charitable organization customers that were eligible to purchase Class A shares in certain mutual funds without a front-end sales charge.
The findings stated that these eligible customers were instead sold Class A shares with a frontend sales charge or Class B or C shares with back-end sales charges and higher ongoing fees and expenses. Many mutual funds waive the up-front sales charges associated with Class A shares for certain retirement plans and/or charitable organizations. Some of the mutual funds available on the firm’s retail platform offered such waivers and disclosed those waivers in their prospectuses. Notwithstanding the availability of the waivers, the firm failed to apply the waivers to mutual fund purchases made by eligible customers and instead sold them Class A shares with a front-end sales charge or Class B or C shares with back-end sales charges and higher ongoing fees and expenses. These sales disadvantaged eligible customers by causing them to pay higher fees than they were actually required to pay.
The findings also stated that the firm failed to establish and maintain a supervisory system and procedures reasonably designed to ensure that eligible customers who purchased mutual fund shares received the benefit of applicable sales-charge waivers. The firm relied on its financial advisors to determine the applicability of sales-charge waivers, but failed to maintain adequate written policies or procedures to assist financial advisors in making this determination. In addition, the firm failed to adequately notify and train its financial advisors regarding the availability of mutual fund sales-charge waivers for eligible customers. The firm also failed to adopt adequate controls to detect instances in which they did not provide sales-charge waivers to eligible customers in connection with their mutual fund purchases. As a result of the firm’s failure to apply available 10 Disciplinary and Other FINRA Actions October 2017 sales-charge waivers, the firm estimates that eligible customers were overcharged by approximately $769,054 for mutual fund purchases made since July 1, 2009. (FINRA Case #2016050259301)