Articles Posted in Churning

This week the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which oversees brokers fined Milwaukee based brokerage firm Robert W. Baird & Co. $150,000 and censured the firm for failing to disclose a conflict of interest arising from the interview where there was substantial likelihood that a reasonable investor would have considered the conflict important to his or her investment decision. In a consent decree, Baird neither admitted nor denied the charges.

Here’s the story: Six years ago, the CEO of a company being followed by a research analyst at Robert W. Baird, a broker, asked the professional if he or she would like to come in for a job interview with the company’s chief and its chief financial officer. The interview came off favorably.

The meeting escalated into a conflict of interest that drew the attention of FINRA when the CEO told senior Baird management about the interview; that the chances were good it could lead to the analyst jumping ship for the company he or she  was writing on and asked Baird if the firm had any objections.  When the analyst told management at his brokerage about the interview, he was told he could still write about the company he was interviewing at and following, but try to avoid learning about any material, non-public  information.

Merrill Lynch has paid $40,000,000 to settle a case involving Boston financial advisor Charles Kenahan.  According to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, two other clients have pending claims, one for over $42,000,000.  These cases all allege that, for many years, Charles Kenahan excessively traded and churned their accounts, resulting in extraordinary losses. Pursuant to an article published in InvestmentNews, one of those clients was the former New Hampshire governor, Craig Benson.

Churning or excessive trading is an all too common tactic used by unscrupulous brokers and financial advisors to generate commissions.  Especially in consistently “up” stock markets like the one currently being experienced, clients may not notice the deleterious impact this volume of trading has on their accounts. Churning/Excessive trading is considered a fraudulent act under state securities statutes.

Whether an account has been churned or excessively traded starts with the numbers. The two key components are turnover rate – meaning the rate at which the balance of the account is traded on an annualized basis.  The second important number is the cost/equity ratio, which is the rate of return your account must generate simply to cover fees and commissions. Courts traditionally look to the “2-4-6” rule to determine firstly whether trading is in fact excessive. The higher the number, the more likely a trier of fact will determine the account has been churned. Similarly, the higher the cost/equity ratio, the more likely there could be a finding of churning. If your account has to generate 15% returns just to pay your broker, chances are you’re being churned.

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