Ameriprise Financial has agreed to pay $17.3 million to settle charges that it received millions of dollars in undisclosed incentive payments to sell certain REITs to its brokerage customers, according to the SEC.
Ameriprise demanded and received about $30.8 million in "revenue sharing" payments related to its sales of REITs and failed to disclose the payments as required, the SEC said in a statement released today.
In a prepared statement on behalf of the company, Amerprise spokesman Paul Johnson said the disclosure problems described by the SEC are not an issue today at the firm. "This is a very old case that hinged on issues of revenue sharing disclosure that ended in early 2004. We long ago expanded our disclosures to ensure that our clients received the information from us directly as well as through the prospectuses of the product issuer," Johnson said.
The REIT sales, and associated payments, were conducted during the period spanning 2000 to May 2004, according to the SEC.
Ameriprise, the successor entity to American Express Financial Advisors Inc., also sold more than $100 million of unregistered shares of one particular REIT in violation of federal securities laws, according to the SEC.
The payments were received for the sale of REITs sold by New York-based W.P. Carey & Co. LLC and CNL Holdings Holdings Group Inc. of Orlando, Fla., according to the complaint filed by the SEC.
The SEC also charged that Ameriprise used mislabeled invoices that made the undisclosed revenue appear to be legitimate reimbursements for services rendered by Ameriprise.
"Few things are more important to investors than getting unbiased advice from their financial advisors," Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC's Division of Encorcement, said in a prepared statement. "Ameriprise customers were not informed about the incentives its brokers had to sell these investments."