The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has fined H&R Block Financial Advisors (now Ameriprise Advisor Services) $200,000 for failing to put in place the proper system to supervise its reverse convertible notes sales to retail clients. FINRA also suspended H & R broker Andrew MacGill for 15 days while ordering him to pay a $10,000 fine and $2,023 in disgorgement for making unsuitable RNC sales to a retired couple. MacGill recommended that they invest close to 40% of their total liquid net worth in reverse convertible notes. Meantime, H & R Block has been ordered to pay the couple $75,000 in restitution for their financial losses. Without denying or admitting to the charges, the brokerage firm and MacGill consented to the finding’s entry.
According to FINRA, between January 2004 and December 2007, H&R Block sold reverse convertible notes without a system of procedures in place to properly monitor whether possible over-concentrations in reverse convertible notes were taking place in customer accounts. FINRA says that the brokerage firm relied on an automated surveillance system to monitor client accounts and review securities transactions for unsuitability but that the system was not set up to monitor reverse convertible note placement in customer accounts or reverse convertible note transactions. This caused H & R Block to miss signs of when there were potentially unsuitable levels of reverse convertible notes in client accounts. Furthermore, FINRA says that the firm failed to provide guidance to its supervisors regarding the assessment of suitability standards related to their agents’ recommendation of reverse convertible notes to the firm’s clients.
What is a reverse convertible note?
A reverse convertible note is a type of structured product. Structured products are securities created by investment banks that are derived from or based on a single security, a basket of securities, an index, a debt issuance, and/or foreign currency. As such, these investments come in many shapes and sizes and are typically very complex.
Most structured products pay an interest or coupon rate substantially above the prevailing market rate. Structured products also frequently cap or limit the upside participation in the referenced asset. These unique financial instruments are typically issued by investment banks or their affiliates and have a fixed maturity date. Some structured products are listed on a national securities exchange and some are not. Because they are so unique, however, even those listed on a national exchange are thinly traded.
As a result, once an investor purchases such an investment, it is difficult to get out of it prior to the maturity date without suffering a substantial penalty. Structured products typically have two components – a note and a derivative (often an option). The note pays interest to the individual at a specified rate and interval. The derivative component or option component establishes the payment upon maturity.
Reverse convertible notes offer a high coupon in return for the risk of getting shares valued at under the initial principal. Richard Ketchum, FINRA chief executive and chairman, has noted that it is not recommended for a client to place a significant chunk of one’s life savings into these kind of high risk, complex investments.
FINRA has issued Notice to Members 10-09 cautioning the entire brokerage community about their sales practice obligations to the investing public when it comes to reverse convertible notes and other risky “Complex Investment Vehicles.”
Recovery of Reverse Convertible Note Investment Losses
If you have suffered investment losses in a reverse convertible note or other structured product, The White Law Group may be able to help.
The White Law Group, LLC is a national securities fraud, securities arbitration, investor protection, and securities regulation/compliance law firm with offices in Chicago, Illinois and Boca Raton, Florida. With over 30 years of securities law experience, including experience working at FINRA (f/k/a the NASD) and the SEC, The White Law Group has the expertise to help investors defrauded in securities, investment and financial business transactions.
For more information on The White Law Group, please visit our website at http://www.whitesecuritieslaw.com.