Articles Tagged with Schwab

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating cases where investors have suffered losses from “robo-advisors.” In recent years, the rise of robo-advisors has been dramatic. These highly automated platforms will not only recommend securities and mutual funds, but create entire portfolios online or through a do-it-yourself (DIY) phone app.

The convenience and speed of making trades on your smartphone, however, doesn’t always reduce the chance that you’ll lose money. Many of the algorithms used to push securities don’t pay close attention to personal risk tolerance and are often loaded with hidden fees. And many robo accounts may automatically funnel customers funds into cash accounts, which are a money-losing proposition when you account for inflation.

The mega-brokerage Charles Schwab, which operates one of the largest robo platforms (Intelligence Portfolios), recently disclosed that it will take a $200 million charge in the second quarter regarding the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) probe into its robo practices.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. represents clients nationwide in securities and investment arbitrations and litigation. One area we are very familiar with, is to look for all liable parties when investment advisors commit securities fraud. In many instances, there are multiple potentially liable parties beyond the primary bad actors, including banks that facilitate the illegal movement of funds and brokerage/clearing firms that facilitate illegal trading schemes.  Cherry-picking is one of those trading schemes that brokerage or clearing firms are geared to supervise for and prevent. In the event you are a victim of a cherry-picking scheme orchestrated by your trusted investment advisor, you may have a viable claim against the brokerage firm or custodial firm that executed the trades on behalf of the investment advisor.

According to published reports, Barrington Asset Management and Gregory D. Paris executed an allocation scheme which resulted in profits to the firm and losses to firm advisor clients.  In a civil complaint filed June 28, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Barrington Asset Management and Gregory D. Paris, who was the firm’s chief compliance officer, executed this “cherry-picking scheme” in violation of several federal securities laws including Sections 17(a)(1), 17(a)(2) and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act (“Exchange Act”) and Rules 10b-5(a), 10b-5(b) and 10b-5(c) thereunder; and Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act (“Advisers Act”). According to the SEC complaint, Barrington Asset Management executed this scheme through a pooled trading fund called the Barrington Opportunity Fund.

As investment advisors, Barrington Asset Management cannot execute securities transactions. They must use a FINRA registered broker/dealer to do so. In this circumstance, this brokerage firm plays the role of “custodial” firm, where the firm physically holds cash on behalf of the RIA’s clients and also executes or brokers securities trades. These are generally back-office functions and these companies, like Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, and Interactive Brokers, typically disclaim away any responsibility to supervise for the suitability of the transactions at issue. What they cannot disclaim away, however, are their obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act and Patriot Act to supervise for illegal activities. One of the most common schemes executed by RIAs like Barrington Asset Management is the “cherry-picking” scheme, and these firms typically do have compliance and supervisory systems in place to check for and prevent such illegal activity. When they fail to detect this sort of scam, they could be secondarily liable for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, or for negligent supervision.  Here, the facts also reflect that Barrington Asset Management trading in leveraged ETFs, which are extremely high risk and volatile investments.  According to the SEC complaint, the manner in which trades were allocated statistically represented a 1 in a billion outcome for the Advisor – Paris. The SEC identifies these firms as “clearing broker A”and “clearing broker B”.

Brokerage firms are required to only distribute money to people who are authorized by the owner of the account. Sometimes brokerage firm’s allow funds to be withdrawn or taken from an account without the account holder’s approval or authorization. Sometimes the people who abscond with the funds are family or friends. Other times the people who take the funds are unknown to the account holders. This week Ameriprise got tagged in a FINRA arbitration claim for $435,000when the farm made an improper distribution to a person Who was not a proper beneficiary of a nonqualified account and to two IRAs

If you were a client of Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Ameriprise, E*TRADE, Wells Fargo, Scottrade, Schwab, Fidelity, Vanguard, or any other brokerage firm, and funds were illegally taken from your account through hacking, fishing or simply a brokerage firm allowing funds to be taken, stolen or converted you have legal options to recoup those funds through the FINRA arbitration process. Please call our law firm in Chicago Illinois at 312-332-4200 for a no-cost review by an attorney to see whether those losses can be recovered on a contingency fee basis.

As federal regulators crack down on exchange-traded funds (ETFs) because of the high risk they pose to investors and the markets, Fidelity Investments’ brokerage is restricting opening transactions in some exchange-traded products. Fidelity is claiming that its decision to bar retail customers from buying the products stems from suitability concerns, rather than regulatory pressure. Fidelity spokesman Robert Beauregard stated: “as part of our responsibilities to our retail account holders, we continually review security products being offered to our retail brokerage customers to ensure that they are at least generally suitable for some customers, and that we are able to support them appropriately.” This could include ETFs that exceed a 10% tracking error on their benchmarks or when they have traded at a 10% or greater discount or premium the previous 30 days. Other factors that could affect this are whether there are excessively complex or unique features, or unusual risks, and whether comparable securities that are less complex may be available, liquidity in the marketplace, quality and ease of access for retail customers to material information available about the securities and fess associated with the product.

Other brokerage firms such as Schwab will occasionally warn investors that a particular ETF might be appropriate for the average investor, but wont keep the investor from making the purchase. Instead, the firm provides a lengthy warning about inverse or leveraged ETFs. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has also been warning about leveraged and inverse ETFs for a long time. The SEC is currently pondering placing sharp restrictions on funds that use excessive leverage. This seems to be the first step in holding brokers and brokerage firms to a higher standard of fiduciary duty, by steering clients away from products with high risk, illiquidity and structural unreliability.

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