TAG | Finra enforces advertising
Comments off · Posted by Securities Lawyer in FINRA
Success Trade Securities, Inc. (CRD #46027, Washington, DC) and
Fuad Ahmed (CRD #2404244, Registered Principal, Washington, DC)
submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent in which the firm was censured and fined $100,000. Ahmed was fined $10,000, suspended from association with any FINRA member in any principal capacity for 60 days, and must complete 16 hours of continuing education related to AML compliance in a program acceptable to FINRA. The training must be completed within six months after the issuance of this AWC. Within 30 days following completion of the training, Ahmed must provide FINRA with written proof of completion.
Without admitting or denying the findings, the firm and Ahmed consented to the described sanctions and to the entry of findings that the firm and Ahmed, the firm’s president, CEO, CCO, AML compliance officer (AMLCO) and financial and operations principal (FINOP), did not implement an adequate customer identification program (CIP). The findings stated that out of a sample of accounts, the firm could not produce any customer information, and in fact, did not have an account record at all (such as a new account form) for some of the accounts. The firm could also not evidence that it had verified the identity of these accounts. For the accounts that did have proper identification paperwork, some of the customer identification paperwork provided to the firm and placed in the customer files was completely illegible. The findings also stated that there was little to no surveillance of accounts for suspicious activity. The firm did not utilize any exception reports. Ahmed obtained and manually reviewed biweekly reports from his clearing firm that included all incoming and outgoing wire activity at the firm for a two-week period, but were not conducive to detecting any patterns or to identifying exceptions. The findings also included that although Ahmed initialed the reports, there wasn’t a date to evidence that the reports were reviewed in a timely manner, and there weren’t any notes or other documents to indicate he had reviewed or looked into any wires. Ahmed sampled and reviewed firm accounts on a monthly basis, but did not do so based on a relevant assessment of risk.
The account review did not include customer accounts and was delegated to another principal of the firm who did not understand the review he was supposed to undertake and, therefore, did not conduct any meaningful review.
FINRA found that the firm’s procedures outlined red flags that required a follow-up review. These included transactions that lacked a business purpose, customers with questionable backgrounds, customers that exhibited a lack of concern for transaction costs, customers maintaining multiple accounts for no apparent reason, unexplained wire activity, wires to countries presenting a money-laundering risk, deposits followed by requests to withdraw the funds without apparent purpose, and inflows of funds beyond the customer’s known resources. FINRA also found that the firm did not follow up on any of the red flags noted in its AML compliance program (AMLCP), did not maintain a list of high-risk customers, and did not monitor a sufficient amount of account activity to permit identification of patterns of unusual size, volume, geographic factors, etc. The firm and Ahmed failed to detect and follow up on these red flags indicating that a customer might be engaging in improper and/or illegal activities. In addition, FINRA determined that the firm failed to maintain evidence that an AMLCP was approved in writing by a member of firm management as required. For two years, the firm AMLCP testing was patently inadequate. The test failed to review for suspicious activity, high-risk accounts, red flags or customer account verification; indicated that several areas were not applicable when they clearly were; failed to include an independent sample to ensure that the firm was conducting adequate reviews for AML activity; failed to identify any accounts that were missing customer identification verification; and failed to indicate that the firm was not utilizing any AML exception reports even though the clearing firm made available AML-related exception reports.
Also, FINRA found that in a year, the firm failed to conduct any independent testing of its AML program whatsoever. The firm failed to have an adequate training program for firm personnel with respect to AML issues for two years. Although a year’s annual compliance meeting superficially touched on AML, it was not adequately tailored to the firm’s business.
Furthermore, FINRA found that the firm conducted a securities business despite the fact that it failed to maintain its required minimum net capital. The firm failed to conduct accurate net capital computations and consequently maintained deficient net capital. The inaccurate computations were primarily due to inaccurate net capital treatment of a clearing firm deposit upon termination of the clearing relationship, improper booking of expenses and liabilities, and the firm’s failure to accurately classify allowable versus non-allowable assets. The findings also stated that because of these discrepancies, the firm failed to prepare an accurate general ledger and trial balance and quarterly Financial and Operational Combined Single (FOCUS) report for the quarters associated with the net capital deficiencies. As the firm’s FINOP, Ahmed was at all times responsible for ensuring that the firm complied with its net capital and books and records obligations, and therefore, caused the firm’s violations. The findings also included that during a sample review, the firm failed to report relevant customer complaints and failed to accurately and timely file some customer complaints.
FINRA found that the firm implemented material changes to its business model without obtaining prior FINRA approval; the firm engaged in municipal securities trades without obtaining the appropriate approval from FINRA. FINRA also found that the firm and Ahmed failed to establish and implement an adequate supervisory system and enforce its written procedures; the firm and Ahmed failed to maintain current information regarding Uniform Applications for Securities Industry Registration or Transfer (Forms U4) and Uniform Branch Office Registration (Forms BR), failed to obtain fingerprints when required to do so, and failed to prevent non-registered individuals from acting in a registered capacity. Unlicensed individuals had day-to-day responsibilities that required the firm to take their fingerprints, yet the firm failed to do so. In addition, FINRA determined that the firm and Ahmed failed to maintain advertising material, failed to timely file advertising material with FINRA Advertising Regulation, and failed to comply with the content standards for advertising material. Moreover, FINRA found that the firm failed to establish WSPs governing variable annuity (VA) exchanges.
Ahmed’s suspension is in effect from March 19, 2012, through May 17, 2012.
(FINRA Case #2009016309801)
Ahmed Success Trade Securities · AML compliance by brokers · AMLCP · b-d failing to meet standards in advertising · Brokerage inadequate customer identification of customers · compliance records for brokers · Customer Identification Program · failure to file FOCUS Reports · failure to keep account information by brokers · failure to supervise brokers · Financial Industry Regulatory Authority · Fines to brokerages for improper advertising · FINRA · FINRA arbitration · FINRA brokercheck · Finra enforces advertising · finra lawyer · finra securities arbitration · finra securities arbitration lawyer · Firm failure to supervise broker · fort lauderdale securities lawyer · Fuad Ahmed Washington DC · inadequate supervisory procedures by broker/dealers · inadequate training program for brokerages · Lars K. Soreide · Lars K. Soreide Soreide Law Group · securities lawyer · Soreide Law Group PLLC · Stock fraud lawyer · stockbroker misconduct · Success Trade Securities Inc
Comments off · Posted by Securities Lawyer in FINRA
In a March 12th., 2012, article in InvestmentNews.com, Mark Schoeff, Jr., writes that enforcement actions and fines by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. or Finra, jumped sharply in 2011, with the latter rising to $68 million, from $45 million in 2010, a new study shows. The greatest proportion of that figure was penalties for improper advertising.
In 2011, Finra filed 1,488 disciplinary actions, up from 1,310 cases in 2010, according to the Finra sanctions survey released on Monday by Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP. The number of brokers barred by Finra rose to 329 in 2011, from 288 in 2010.
Schoeff writes that last year was the third in a row in which Finra substantially boosted enforcement activity, according to the report. The crackdown reflected Finra’s effort to ensure that investor rip-offs, such as the multibillion-dollar Ponzi schemes perpetrated by R. Allen Stanford and Bernard Madoff, don’t happen again, according to one of the study’s authors.
We learn that Finra’s chief enforcement officer said the numbers show that the regulator is achieving good production from its staff. The 1,488 cases were pursued by about 320 enforcement professionals.
“What makes me most proud of it is that we’re getting through that caseload,” said Brad Bennett, Finra executive vice president. “We’re bringing a lot of cases where the market meets the investor.”
The biggest enforcement increase was registered in advertising, according to the Sutherland report, with sanctions zooming to $21.1 million in 2011, from $4.75 million in 2010. Within this area, Finra has been zeroing in on inaccurate or fraudulent internal communications.
“If for example, firms are telling their representatives internally that products are not risky, [Finra is concerned that] representatives will turn around and make these claims to investors,” Mr. Rubin said.
Fines also were increased substantially for short selling and auction rate securities cases. In both areas, however, the pipeline may start to slow down.
The InvestmentNews.com article says that fines more than doubled from 2010 to 2011 — $3.75 million to $7.7 million — for suitability violations. The number of cases filed also doubled — from 53 to 106. A new suitability rule, which is due to be finalized this summer, will help Finra maintain pressure on brokers to offer only products that fit a customer’s investment needs, timeline and risk appetite.
“We anticipate this will continue to be a hot area for Finra,” Mr. Rubin said. “The new rule gives Finra additional ammunition.”
Schoeff adds that Finra is looking not just at whether complex structured investments are suitable for a customer but also whether they are reasonably suited for the market.
“If you see products being sold by people who don’t understand them to people who don’t understand them, that’s a supervision and suitability problem,” Mr. Bennett said. “That is a common theme that will underline product cases coming out this year.”
Finra also is placing an emphasis on microcap and private-placement offerings, as well as ensuring that firms do the basics — such as internal compliance — the right way.
“The cost of doing business incorrectly has to be greater than the cost of doing business correctly, or you give a competitive advantage to a non-compliant firm,” Mr. Bennett said.
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