Morgan Stanley Gets $5M Fine for Supervisory Failures Involving 83 IPO Shares Sales

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (MS) will pay a $5 million fine for supervisory failures involving its advisors soliciting shares in 83 IPOs to retail investors. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority says that the firm lacked the proper training and procedures to make sure that salespersons knew the difference between “conditional offers” and “indications of interest.”

By settling, Morgan Stanley is not denying or admitting to the securities charges. It is, however, consenting to the entry of findings by FINRA.

FINRA believes these issues are related to Morgan Stanley’s acquisition of Smith Barney from Citigroup (C) a couple of years ago. In addition to inheriting more high net worth clients, the SRO contends that Morgan Stanley ended up with financial advisers who might not have gotten the needed training.

Firms are allowed to solicit for “indications of interest” in an initial public offering before the registration statement becomes effective. These are not binding and may only lead to the purchase of shares if the investor reconfirms the intent to buy after the date that the statement went into effect. As for “conditional offers to buy,” these can result in a binding deal after the date that the statement becomes effective as long as the investor doesn’t do anything to rescind it before the firm accepts.

FINRA says that beginning in February 2012, Morgan Stanley put into place a policy in which these two terms were used interchangeably and without appropriate consideration for whether the customer needed to confirm its interest prior to the execution of a sale. The SRO claims that the financial advisers did not get the training or materials they needed to make sure the policy was clear to them. Because of these violations, customers and staff may not have properly comprehended which commitment was solicited.

The SRO is accusing Morgan Stanley of failing to properly monitor compliance and not installing procedures to ensure that conditional offers were solicited in a way that met FINRA rules and federal securities law requirements. The supervisory failures purportedly continued through May 1, 2013. Some of the shares were even sold via social media, including Yelp and Facebook.

Read FINRA’s Action to Morgan Stanley (PDF)

Finra Fines Morgan Stanley $5 Million Over IPO Rules, The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2014

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