By introducing an inappropriate amount of risk into your investment portfolio through oil and gas MLP stocks (or any other publicly or privately-traded security or product, for that matter), you may be able to pursue your losses due to bad advice through the FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the securities industry’s self-regulating body) arbitration process.
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.
SInce The Green Firm is currently pursuing a case involving a particularly egregious abuse of non-traditional ETFs, we thought it might be useful to revisit these exotic investment products and explain why they tend to be misunderstood and misused by stock brokers more accustomed to a traditional "buy-and-hold" strategy. Traditional investing principles urge brokers to "buy low and sell high." Often this means holding onto a specific financial product or stock for a long period of time while waiting for it to arrive at its "true," projected, or peak value, at which point the product is sold before it has a chance to decline. Generally, this type of traditional "value" investing is stable, low risk and low return; it also happens to be suitable for customers with a low-risk tolerance. Non-traditional ETFs, on the other, are complex, high-risk financial products that are designed to perform radically differently. According to FINRA's website, leveraged and inverse ETFs "commonly represent an interest in a portfolio of securities that track an underlying benchmark or index [not the stock market as a whole]. A leveraged ETF generally seeks to deliver multiples of the daily performance of the index or benchmark that it tracks. An inverse ETF generally seeks to deliver the opposite of the daily performance of the index or benchmark that it tracks. Inverse ETFs often are marketed as a way for investors to profit from, or at least hedge their exposure to, downward-moving markets. Some ETFs are both inverse and leveraged, meaning that they seek a return that is a multiple of the inverse performance of the underlying index." One should note that inverse ETFs are particularly tricky, since they are hedging instruments, and thus are intended to perform well in volatile markets. While a financial advisor may describe these non-traditional ETFs as a product that would be suitable in a down market, given the fact that these products "reset" daily (meaning they are designed to meet their objectives on a daily basis), even in a declining market these non-traditional ETFs should not be held for longer than one trading session. Here are some helpful examples from FINRA's Regulatory Notice 09-31:
Many an unfortunate customer has lost money due to an uninformed or negligent broker keeping them invested in leveraged and inverse ETFs inappropriately. We have found in our cases that oftentimes the individual financial advisor does not understand the nature or use of non-traditional ETFs, and so are forced to look at the firm they work for in seeking an answer to the question of why they are investing customers in products they themselves have no grasp of. In many cases, branch managers and even the brokerage firms are not nearly familiar enough with these complex products. Clearly, ETFs can be counterintuitive and risky financial products that are not suitable for every investor, nor understood or properly used by every financial advisor or firm.
If you or someone you know has lost money as a result of improper use of non-traditional ETFs, please contact us.