Articles Posted in Variable Annuities

Investor Awarded Over $1M After Allegedly Misleading Sales Pitch by Wilbank Securities Broker

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority panel has awarded investor Grace S. Huitt over $1 million in her broker fraud claim against Wilbanks Securities. According to Huitt, one of the firm’s brokers presented her with a sales pitch about the ING Landmark Variable Annuity that not only was misleading but also promised too much and then under-delivered. She alleged breach of contract, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent supervision.

Huitt claims that when she bought the variable annuity in 2008, she was told that it came with a guaranteed 7% compound yearly return. Other investors who also had made investment puchases through Wilbanks Securities reportedly claimed similar problems with what they were promised.

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FINRA Bars Registered Rep For $15M In Unauthorized Trades
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred Craig David Dima, a former registered representative with KC Ward Financial, for making about $15M in unsuitable and unauthorized trades in the account of a 73-year-old retiree. According to the self-regulatory organization, there were 11 times when Dima sold nearly all of the customer’s stock in Colgate-Palmolive that she’d accrued from working with the company for nearly thirty years and he did that without permission.

After the elderly client told Dima not to sell the stock, he proceeded to sell them anyways. When the customer confronted Dima, he purportedly misrepresented that a computer or technical mistake had caused the sale. Meantime, the client was “deprived” of the “substantial dividends” from the Colgate shares she used to own. Dima charged the customer over $375K in fees, mark-downs, and mark-ups.

By settling, Dima is not denying or admitting to FINRA’s charges.

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Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Galvin has filed charges against LPL Financial (LPLA) for its alleged failure to supervise one of its brokers. Roger Zullo is accused of bilking clients for years by selling variable annuities to retirees even though the investments were not suitable for them.

In his complaint, Galvin contends that Zullo lied to supervisors and generated false client financial suitability profiles so he could sell scores of high-commission, illiquid VAs to make money for himself and the firm. Because of these investments, said the state regulator, many older clients were unable to access their funds for years.

The complaint notes that for three years, Zullo and LPL received over $1.8M in VA commissions from sales. The Polarius Platinum III (B Shares) VA appeared to be the source of a large chunk of the commissions. Galvin said that of the more than $1.8M in VA annuity commissions that Zullo was able to generate, over $1.7M of it came from this particular variable annuity, which paid a 7% commission. 90% of this went to Zullo, while his firm received the rest. Also, clients whom Zullo could convince to move to the Polaris Platinum variable annuity usually had to pay surrender charges.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering VALIC Financial Advisors Inc. to pay a $1.75M fine for purported conflicts of interest that impacted the way that the firm compensated brokers for selling annuities. According to the self-regulatory organization, from 10/2011 through 10/2014, the Houston-Based financial firm established a conflict of interest when it said registered representatives would receive financial incentives for recommending that clients transfer their money from VALIC variable annuities into a Valic fixed index annuity or onto its fee-based platform. FINRA said that the firm created even more conflict when it told representatives they would not get compensation from moving customer money to a non-Valic product from a Valic variable annuity.

FINRA said that because of these conflicts, a significant amount of assets were moved to the firm’s advisory platform and sales of  VALIC ’s proprietary fixed index annuity increased by over 610% after it was included in the firm’s compensation policy.

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Secretary of State William Galvin is accusing Texas-based brokerage firm Investment Professionals of selling investment products to elderly customers even though the investments were not suitable for them. The San Antonio broker-dealer allegedly ran high-pressure sales contests at several partner community banks in the New England state between 2013 and 2016. Galvin said that the purported “sales gimmicks” were  “unacceptable” and that his office would not tolerate them.

The Texas-based brokerage firm allegedly prioritized sales volume over whether or not the investments they were selling were suitable for the older customers. The customers had accounts at the local Massachusetts banks. For example, one bank customer, who was suffering from terminal cancer, saw so many of her assets placed in a variable annuity that she could not access her savings.

Galvin charged that these sales contests were not in alignment with Investment Professionals’ own procedures and policies and his office accused the firm of inadequate supervision, in particular of the Texas broker-dealer’s representatives who worked out of the Massachusetts banks. He noted that sales contests are “contrary to investor protections.”

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FINRA has issued a complaint against Stanley Clayton Niekras accusing the broker of elder financial abuse. According to the regulator, Niekras allegedly cheated a couple, who are in their nineties and in failing mental and physical health, out of over $70K in financial panning services fees.

Even though Niekras didn’t have an investment advisory or financial planning agreement with the elderly couple, he allegedly billed them for hundreds of hours of time that he purportedly spent working on their “financial future” –work that he claimed to have done over four years. The purported elder fraud would have taken place while he worked for MML Investors Services. FINRA said that Niekras charged the couple  $250/hr in retroactive compensation. The couple received their bill for these supposed services in 2013.

FINRA contends that Niekras knew that he had no right to the “financial planning fees or the “estate planning” fees he was charging the couple. The self-regulatory organization said that the broker, who had been contending with tax liens, had told MML Investors Services that he could cover the liens because of commissions he was expecting. Niekras purportedly thought that he could sell variable annuities to the children of the older couple, who had gifted them with about $500K in securities and cash each.
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Texas-Based Brokerage Firm Accused of Inadequate Supervision Involving VA Exchanges
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering IMS Securities Inc. to pay a $100K fine. The Texas-based brokerage firm is accused of failures related to its monitoring of variable annuity exchanges. By settling, however, it is not denying or admitting to the allegations. 
 
According to the self-regulatory authority, the firm exhibited inadequate supervisory procedures for “problematic rates of exchange” in transactions involving variable annuities. FINRA claims that from 7/ 15/13 through 7/8/14, IMS Securities depended on its CFO to review annuity exchanges but did not provide tools or guidance to help look for “problematic rates of exchange.”  The broker-dealer is accused of not probing possibly “problematic patterns” of VA exchanges and not enforcing written supervisory procedures related to consolidated reports. 

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is fining Prudential Annuities Distributors Inc. $950K for not identifying and stopping a senior fraud scam that allowed a broker to steal $1.3M from an older investor’s variable annuity account. The self-regulatory organization said that the firm failed on numerous occasions to properly investigate “red flags” indicating that Travis Weitzel was moving money from the 89-year-old’s VA account to a bank account listed under the maiden name of Wetzel’s wife.

According to FINRA, from 6/10 until 9/12, Wetzel turned in 114 forged annuity withdrawal requests to Prudential Annuities. He initiated up to five withdrawals a month, totaling close to $50K. He asked for the money to be wired from the elderly customer’s account to the third-party account of his wife.

The SRO said that Prudential Annuities did as Wetzel instructed without properly investigating the warning signs. When the firm looked at certain withdrawals during several quarterly audits, it saw that the money was going to a third party and determined that these were legitimate transactions. Prudential also purportedly failed to discern what the relationship was between the elderly customer and the third-party account holder.

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FINRA has banned Winston Wade Turner from the securities industry. The former Prudential (PRU) and MetLife (MET) broker is accused of engaging in deceptive variable annuities sales. Turner was fired from Pruco Securities, a Prudential subsidiary, in 2015. The cause of his firing was deceptive sales practices.

Now, FINRA has barred him for a number of causes, including giving false information to clients about variable annuity sales, the fraudulent misrepresentation and omission of key facts to customers about the sales, providing false information in VA-related documents, and not giving testimony to the self-regulatory organization during its probe into this matter.

According to the SRO, Turner fraudulently misrepresented and omitted material facts about VA sales and concealed that he had persuaded a lot of customers to give up existing variable annuities or other investments so that they would buy the newer VAs that he was selling. He is accused of persuading at least 12 clients to trade their existing investments for this purpose, costing them over $150K in surrender charges.

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