The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced fraud charges against a Houston-based investment advisory firm accused of recommending that clients invest in particular mutual funds without disclosing a key conflict of interest: the firm was in turn receiving compensation from the broker offering the funds.
An SEC Enforcement Division investigation found that Robare Group Ltd. received a percentage of every dollar that its clients invested in certain mutual funds through an undisclosed compensation agreement with the brokerage firm.
Therefore, unbeknownst to investors, Robare Group and its co-owners Mark L. Robare and Jack L. Jones Jr. had an incentive to recommend these funds to clients over other investment opportunities and generate additional revenue for the firm. Robare Group ultimately received approximately $440,000 in such payments from the brokerage firm during an eight-year period.
"Payments to investment advisers for recommending certain types of investments may taint their ability to provide impartial advice to their clients," said Marshall S. Sprung, co-chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit. "By failing to fully disclose its agreements with the brokerage firm, Robare Group deprived its clients of important information they were entitled to receive."
The Asset Management Unit has undertaken an enforcement initiative to shed more light on undisclosed compensation arrangements between investment advisers and brokers. For example, the SEC previously charged an Oregon-based investment adviser for failing to disclose revenue sharing payments and other conflicts of interest to clients.
According to the SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings against Robare Group and its co-owners, the firm revised its Form ADV in December 2011 to disclose the compensation agreement, but this and later disclosures falsely stated that the firm did not receive any economic benefit from a non-client for providing investment advice. The disclosures also were inadequate because they stated that Robare Group may receive compensation from the broker when in fact the firm was definitively receiving payments.
The SEC Enforcement Division further alleges that Robare Group and the broker entered into a new agreement in late 2012 that provided similar payments. But it wasn’t until June 2013 that the firm disclosed the conflict of interest associated with its arrangement with the broker, and even then it failed to disclose the incentive to recommend buying and holding certain mutual funds through the broker’s platform or the magnitude of the conflict. Robare reviewed and approved the Forms ADV, and Jones reviewed and signed all but one of the filings.
The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Robare Group and Robare willfully violated Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, and Jones aided and abetted these violations. The Enforcement Division further alleges that Robare Group, Robare, and Jones each willfully violated Section 207 of the Advisers Act.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Catherine Floyd and Barbara Gunn of the Fort Worth Regional Office along with John Farinacci. Ms. Gunn and Mr. Farinacci are members of the Asset Management Unit. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Janie Frank.