Two investment advisory firms will pay six-figure fines to settle charges that they failed to inform clients of trading costs incurred within their separately managed wrap-fee program.
Milwaukee-based Robert W. Baird & Co. and St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Raymond James & Associates agreed to settle the SEC’s charges in an administrative proceeding, the commission announced on Thursday.
As part of the settlement, Raymond James will pay a $600,000 penalty, while Baird will pay $250,000.
In its complaint, the SEC alleges that the companies lacked procedures and policies to determine themselves the amount of commission charged when sub-advisors traded away with a broker-dealer outside of their wrap-fee programs.
Both firms offer their advisory clients opportunities to invest in separately managed wrap-fee programs where they pay annual fees in exchange for receiving access to sub-advisors and their trading strategies, advice from the firms’ own financial advisors, and trade execution services at no cost.
If the sub-advisors chose to trade away—that is, not direct their trades through Raymond James or Baird—and the executing broker charged an additional commission or fee, the clients were often charged for those fees.
The SEC alleges that Baird did not track trade-away fees and expenses until 2013, and when it did start monitoring such trading, it failed to adopt policies and procedures to notify and provide ongoing information to its clients.
When Baird did start collecting information from sub-advisors regarding the frequency and costs associated with their trading away practices, it found that many sub-advisors were placing nearly all of their client trades with broker-dealers outside of the wrap-fee program, including some who traded away more than 90 percent of the time, according to the SEC.
Raymond James, in its Raymond James Consulting Services program, did notify clients that they would be responsible for costs incurred in trades away within its From ADV Part 2A, but allegedly failed to obtain information on the amount of commissions charged for the transactions or whether the amount was “material.”
According to the SEC, Raymond James did provide information about net trading costs on account statements, but clients were unaware of the actual commissions incurred because the statements only disclosed the net prices charged per equity trade.