FINRA ordered Barclays Capital, Inc. to pay over $10 million in restitution, including interest, to affected customers for mutual fund-related suitability violations. These suitability violations relate to an array of mutual fund transactions including mutual fund switches. Further, the firm failed to provide applicable breakpoint discounts to particular customers and was censured and fined $3.75 million.
Broker-dealers have an obligation to ensure that any recommendation to switch mutual funds be evaluated with regard to the net investment advantage to the investor. FINRA noted that “switching among certain fund types may be difficult to justify if the financial gain or investment objective to be achieved by the switch is undermined by the transaction fees associated with the switch.”
FINRA found that from January 2010 through June 2015, Barclays’ supervisory systems were insufficient to prevent unsuitable switching or to meet certain of the firm’s obligations regarding the sale of mutual funds to retail brokerage customers. In particular, the firm incorrectly defined a mutual fund switch in its supervisory procedures to require three separate transactions within a certain time frame. Based on this incorrect definition, Barclays failed to act on thousands of automated alerts for potentially unsuitable transactions, excluded transactions from review for suitability and failed to ensure that disclosure letters were sent to customers regarding the transaction costs. As a result, during the five-year period, there were more than 6,100 unsuitable mutual fund switches resulting in customer harm of approximately $8.63 million.
Brad Bennett, FINRA’s Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement said, “The proper supervision of mutual fund switching and breakpoint discounts is essential to the protection of retail mutual fund investors, and this case highlights FINRA’s commitment to ensuring that firms meet these obligations.”
Additionally, FINRA found that the firm failed to provide adequate guidance to supervisors to ensure that mutual fund transactions for its retail brokerage customers were suitable based upon customer investment objectives, risk tolerance and account holdings. During a six-month look back review, 1,723, or 39 percent of mutual fund transactions were found to be unsuitable, with 343 customers experiencing financial harm totaling more than $800,000, including realized losses.
In addition, during the same five-year period, Barclays’ supervisory system failed to ensure that purchases were properly aggregated so that eligible customers could be provided with breakpoint discounts. A six-month look back review found that the firm failed to provide eligible customers discounts in 98 Class A share mutual fund transactions.
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