This week a number of articles suggested that, as we feared, Wall Street has learned nothing from the recent financial crisis. Well, maybe not nothing. Rather than steering clear of the securitized debt responsible for the collapse of the real estate market and much of the financial market as well, Wall Street investment firms are working on new and innovative ways of resurrecting securitized financial products (you remember that stuff, right? Layer upon a layer of bad debt with an icing of good debt on top...).
Hopefully, we've all learned in the meantime to be more vigilant and skeptical of the finance world's "miracle" products. Not only that, but the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and its CEO, Richard Ketchum, are continuing to broadcast their message of "Heightened Supervision" by investment advisors and brokerage firms when it comes to complex financial products. As Ketchum plainly warns, if broker-dealer firms want their affiliated financial advisers to offer tricky investment opportunities like options trading, variable annuities, or complex products like leveraged and non-traditional ETFs, they MUST undertake greater supervision of the advisers and of the performance of the products themselves.
For investors who have already been the victim of the misuse or abuse of one of those products, it's not just a warning: it's a chance to win money back.
As we at The Green Firm have seen firsthand in recent cases, it can often be difficult to recover money from an individual broker's misconduct. Often it's simply a matter of "you can't get blood from stone." BUT, that advisor's misconduct often extends to the supervising broker-dealer. And thanks to Ketchum's strong message, it should become increasingly easy to hold broker-dealer firms responsible for failing to deliver the kind of "Heightened Supervision" that complex financial products require, according to FINRA. Not only does this supervision apply to the proper use of specific products; it also applies to the suitability of specific products to specific investors. In other words, FINRA's concept of "suitability" dictates that there must be an affinity between the investment product and the customer. If you're a risk-averse or conservative investor, your broker should not have you invested in high-risk, complex financial products.
Finally, in the article, Ketchum mentions that, "When a broker moves to a new firm and calls a customer to say, 'You should move your account with me because it will be good for you,' the customer needs to know all of the broker's motivations for moving. In some instances, recommendations to customers can be driven by direct and indirect compensation incentives to the financial advisor and the firm itself."
We at The Green Firm would just like to remind that your own interests and the interests of your broker are not always aligned. The best protection you have against broker misconduct is free: ask lots of questions. If your broker switches employers and insists you migrate with them, be sure to ask what's in it for them.