The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has fined Berthel Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. and its affiliate, Securities Management & Research, Inc., of Marion, Iowa, a combined $775,000 for supervisory deficiencies, including Berthel Fisher’s failure to supervise the sale of non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), and leveraged and inverse exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
As part of the settlement, Berthel Fisher must retain an independent consultant to improve its supervisory procedures relating to its sale of alternative investments.
Brad Bennett, executive vice president of Enforcement, FINRA, said, "A strong culture of compliance is an essential element of the proper marketing of complex products. Berthel’s supervision of the sales of non-traded REITs, inverse ETFs and other products fell short of this standard, as it failed to ensure that its registered representatives understood the unique features and risks of these products before presenting them to retail clients."
FINRA found that from January 2008 to December 2012, Berthel Fisher had inadequate supervisory systems and written procedures for sales of alternative investments such as non-traded REITs, managed futures, oil and gas programs, equipment leasing programs and business development companies.
In some instances, the firm failed to accurately calculate concentration levels for alternative investments, thus, the firm did not correctly enforce suitability standards for a number of the sales of these investments.
Berthel Fisher also failed to train its staff on individual state suitability standards, which is part of the suitability review for certain alternative investment sales.
FINRA also found that from April 2009 to April 2012, Berthel Fisher did not have a reasonable basis for certain sales of leveraged and inverse ETFs. The firm did not adequately research or review non-traditional ETFs before allowing its registered representatives to recommend them to customers, and failed to provide training to its sales force regarding these products. The firm also failed to monitor the holding periods of these investments by customers, resulting in some instances in customer losses.
In settling this matter, Berthel Fisher and Securities Management & Research neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.